Friday, February 27, 2015

LGC Newsletter – February 2015


The last British resident held at Guantánamo entered his 14th year of detention there without charge or trial on 14 February; Shaker Aamer, a Saudi national, who has a British family in south London, has been cleared for release on several occasions since 2007.
Following a meeting between David Cameron and Barack Obama in Washington last month, the US president said he would prioritise Aamer’s case, however as Aamer marked his 13th anniversary at Guantánamo, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel admitted that his case was not a priority and was not on his desk. This is in spite of the special relationship between the US and the UK and growing concerns following a law tabled and passed by the US Senate to prevent any more prisoners being released before the next US election at the end of 2016.

On 14 February, more than 100 people joined the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign at a protest it held to mark 13 years of Shaker Aamer being held at Guantánamo without charge or trial. The demonstration started at around midday with a colourful display opposite the Houses of Parliament and stopped traffic in Parliament Square and on Westminster Bridge as it progressed to Downing Street. Short speeches were given opposite Downing Street and a letter was delivered to the Prime Minister’s residence at the end of the demonstration. Media of the demonstration:

Guantánamo Bay:
On 4 February, a 38-year old Yemeni prisoner, Khalid Ahmed Qasim, who has been held at Guantánamo without charge or trial since May 2002, had his ongoing detention reviewed by the prison review board. After more than 13 years, the best excuse the Pentagon can come up for his continued detention is he “may have fought for the Taliban in Afghanistan and is suspected of joining al Qaeda.” At Guantánamo, he has taken part in hunger strikes and has been involved in many “disciplinary infractions including attacking and threatening guards and splashing bodily fluids on them”.
Egyptian prisoner, 57-year old Tarek El-Sawah, who had his review in January, has been cleared for release. El-Sawah, who has contracted a number of illnesses at Guantánamo and is reported to be morbidly obese, once faced charges which were later dropped without reason by the US government.

There has been good and bad news for former Canadian child prisoner Omar Khadr this month: in early February, King’s University in Edmonton offered him a place to study as a mature student provided his application for bail, which will be heard at the end of March, is successful. For the past 6 years, teachers from the university have helped Khadr to study for his high school diploma equivalent by correspondence when he was at Guantánamo and in person since his return to Canada.
On 13 February, a federal judge rejected an application brought by several media organisations to be able to interview Khadr in prison, claiming that the ban by wardens, as the facilities are unsuitable, was not political or a breach of their rights. Omar Khadr has never been given the opportunity to present his side to his own story – either in court or to the public – which has instead allowed the questionable claims made about him by the US and Canadian governments to dominate.

Following the quashing of the military commission conviction of a former Sudanese prisoner in January, following a major decision in the ongoing case of Ali Hamza Al-Bahlul last year, on 18 February, former Australian prisoner David Hicks, who was first prisoner to be convicted in 2007 had his conviction quashed on the sole charge of providing material support for terrorism, which is not recognised as a war crimes and was applied with retroactive effect.
Under a plea bargain, which was his only way out of Guantánamo after the Australian government refused to make representations on his behalf, Hicks entered an Alford plea whereby he pleaded guilty without admitting the charges, thereby maintaining his innocence. According to the US, he waived his right to appeal as part of the plea bargain, however his lawyers later demonstrated that the paperwork had been filed after the deadline and thus he had not waived this right. Hicks returned to Australia in 2007, where he served the rest of his sentence in jail there.
The Australian government which was aware of and complicit in his torture has continued to vilify him and the media in Australia has continued to brand him a “terrorist” and call for his prosecution, even though there is no legal basis for this. No apology has been offered by the Australian or US governments and Hicks has said he will not seek compensation. In an editorial in The Age on 27 February, Hicks stated, “To just focus on why I was in Afghanistan and ignore the crimes committed against us in Guantanamo, seems to be a diversionary tactic to try to prevent people from asking more pressing questions around my case – like why the Australian government sold out one of its own citizens to protect the Bush administration, and why successive Australian governments have refused to independently investigate what happened to me. What really worries me is that because of the careless and blatantly political way my case was handled, it means that others are more likely to be subjected to the same treatment because those involved got away with it.”

The pre-trial hearing in the case of five prisoners accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks in New York in 2001 resumed on 9 February, for the first time in six months, only to recess after one hour after one of the defendants identified an interpreter used by his defence team as an interpreter who had worked for the CIA when he was “disappeared” into secret CIA prisons. Other defendants confirmed having seen him at such facilities too.
The hearing did later resume and now that the Senate’s redacted report into CIA torture has been published, defence lawyers can talk about the torture their clients faced. The next hearing is scheduled for April.
Ongoing hearings also resumed in the separate military commission pre-trial hearings of Abd Al-Nashiri on 25 February.

On 12 February, the US Senate passed a bill that could prevent the release of more prisoners before 2016. During the vote in a closed meeting, the bill was passed with measures including the prohibition of transfers to Yemen for the next two years, continuation of the ban on transfers to the United States and would suspend international transfers of prisoners. President Obama has threatened to veto the bill.

Extraordinary Rendition:
In a new resolution by the European Parliament, the civil liberties, foreign affairs and human rights committees will resume their investigation into European collusion in torture and extraordinary rendition following new information from the Senate report into CIA torture. The European Parliament is calling for an end to impunity and for member states to investigate allegations of torture made against them.

On 17 February, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg rejected an appeal by the Polish government made last year against a judgment finding it complicit in running torture facilities for the CIA in Poland where prisoners such as Abu Zubaydah and Abd Al-Nashiri, currently held at Guantánamo, were held and tortured. No reasons were given for why Poland’s appeal was rejected and the state will now have to pay the two defendants a total of €230,000, to include legal costs. According to the Bureau for Investigative Journalism:
However, Abu Zubaydah’s US lawyer confirmed to the Bureau that if the money was made available they would not claim the legal costs, and that Abu Zubaydah would be donating the full €100,000 in damages to victims of torture.
Poland is the first EU member state to be found guilty of complicity in the CIA’s secret detention programme and responsible for multiple violations of the detainees’ rights.
The case concerned the treatment of the two detainees, who were held by the CIA in Poland and subjected to torture, incommunicado detention and secret transfer to other CIA black sites.
Both men were secretly rendered to Poland on December 5 2002. Al-Nashiri was taken to Morocco on June 6 2003. Abu Zubaydah was transferred from Poland to a black site in Guantánamo Bay on September 22 2003.
Helen Duffy, European lawyer for Abu Zubaydah, told the Bureau the decision means that “Poland is required to finally conduct a thorough and effective investigation, make public information concerning its role and hold those responsible to account”.
She added: “This is an opportunity for Poland to reengage constructively, to address the crimes of the past and reassert its position as a supporter of the rule of law.””

LGC Activities:
The LGC marked eight years of regular demonstrations outside the US Embassy on Thursday 5 February. Four people attended.
Media of demonstration:
Our March “Shut Guantánamo!” demo will be on Thursday 5 March:

Friday, January 30, 2015

LGC Newsletter – January 2015

Courtesy of Hannah Igbinidion
In mid-January, British Prime Minister David Cameron met US president Barack Obama in Washington to discuss various issues. During the talks, Cameron raised the case of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident held at Guantánamo Bay. During the meeting, Obama said that he would “prioritise Aamer’s case” but would still act in a manner consistent with US national security. This cryptic public exchange follows the fact that Aamer was cleared for release in 2007 and has never been charged, and the British government has been seeking his release since then. It has now been 10 years since the last British nationals were released from Guantánamo and almost 6 since the last British resident returned to the UK. No further information was given about why Aamer remains at Guantánamo.

Guantánamo Bay:
Noor Uthman Muhammed, a former prisoner from Sudan, who was released in December 2013 after serving a 34-month sentence in addition to the time he had spent at Guantánamo after arriving there in 2002 after being convicted by a military tribunal of providing material support to a terrorist organisation and conspiracy, has had his charges acquitted. On 9 January the Pentagon said the conviction had been withdrawn after an appeals court rules that material support is not a legitimate war crime.
This news could lead to the conviction of former Australian prisoner David Hicks being overturned as well. Hicks’ US lawyer Stephen Kenny said that he is likely to see a similar outcome to his case soon. Charged with many offences, Hicks was found "guilty" only on the charge of conspiracy. He did not plead guilty; he entered an Alford plea, whereby he did not admit guilt. He was later jailed in Australia on his return to the country in 2007 as part of his plea bargain deal, which was his only way of Guantánamo, even though an Alford plea is not recognised under Australian law.
The US later said in January that it admits that Hicks is innocent. The quashing of his conviction is a formality.
On 15 January, five Yemeni prisoners were released: four to Oman and one to Estonia. There are currently 122 prisoners at the detention facility. The five men are all in the 30s and 40s and had been cleared for release since at least 2009.
Following the current unrest in Yemen, the US has said that it will not be returning prisoners to the country but that will not prevent the release of Yemeni prisoners who have been cleared for release for years to safe third countries.

A current prisoner, Mohamedou Slahi from Mauritania, has had a redacted version of his diary telling of his life in Guantánamo published following a battle to have it made public. He wrote it by hand in English when he was held in solitary confinement in 2005. The book details his journey to Guantánamo and tells of the torture and abuse he has faced, including gang rape and beatings. Since its release, the book has become a bestseller on Amazon and has been recommended by many writers and literary figures.
His lawyers at the ACLU have put together the following petition calling for his release:

As well as releases, periodic reviews of prisoners who are deemed too dangerous to release continued. On 22 January, Egyptian Tariq Mahmud Ahmad Muhammad al Sawah, 57, who is suspected of being involved in Al Qaeda operations against the US in Afghanistan had a hearing to decide whether the US should continue to hold him or transfer him back to Egypt. Although suspected, he faces no charges and the periodic review board is an arbitrary administrative process which has no legal weight.
On 27 January, Yemeni Saeed Ahmed Mohammed Abdullah Sarem Jarabh had his period review hearing. He too is suspected of having fought for Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, even though he has never been charged in 13 years and there is no actual evidence against him. His lawyers submitted that “he had studied Spanish and English at Guantanamo, had headed a prison farm planning project and had taken up painting” and was eager to reunite with his wife and children.
Lawyers for Canadian former prisoner Omar Khadr, who is currently held in prison in Canada and is going blind, will apply for bail in his case in March pending the outcome of an appeal against his military tribunal conviction in the US. As shown in the cases of Hicks and Muhammed, the validity of military tribunal convictions is on shaky ground, but in spite of action to overturn such convictions in the US, the Canadian government remains a strong believer in the torture evidence-based secret plea bargain conviction given to Omar Khadr and opposes all moves to alleviate his suffering.

Extraordinary Rendition:
New information has come to light in recent weeks about Lithuania’s role in the extraordinary rendition programme, including new flight logs and information about the transfer of prisoners as part of efforts by human rights NGOs to hold the state to account for its operation of torture prisons for the CIA.

LGC Activities:
The LGC marked the thirteenth anniversary of Guantánamo Bay with street theatre and talks at the US Embassy on 11 January. Around 150 people joined the demonstration, during which the public was given a public demonstration through artistic performance of the hypocrisy of Barack Obama over the closure of Guantánamo Bay. Speeches were given by Jean Lambert MEP, Ben Griffin from Veterans for Peace UK, Noa Kleinman from Amnesty International UK, Joy Hurcombe from the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign and solicitor Louise Christian.

Our next monthly “Shut Guantánamo!” demo, which marks eight years of our regular demonstrations outside the US Embassy and the second anniversary of the ongoing Guantánamo hunger strike will be on Thursday 5 February:

Courtesy of Hannah Igbinidion

Monday, January 12, 2015

“Is This Who We Are?”: London Marks 13 Years of Guantánamo Bay

Report by Aisha Maniar

courtesy of Faiz Baluch

Reading the Sunday newspapers on 11 January, one may be excused for not knowing that the date marks 13 years since the US-run concentration camp at Guantánamo Camp opened on 11 January 2002. The ongoing hunger strike and regime of indefinite detention for 127 prisoners almost all held wholly without charge or trial for so many years was barely worth a mention. To a media hungry for the next sensationalist scare story, torture and arbitrary detention are possibly too real. Providing little more than a pretext to justify the illegal actions of governments worldwide, the suffering of the remaining prisoners and their families otherwise lacks importance.
street theatre

This did not stop human rights activists across the world holding protest actions to mark this sombre anniversary. Protest actions were held in the UK, Ireland, Mexico and the US. In Australia, activists and singer-songwriter Les Thomas launched a new song “Guantanamo Blues” In the evening, activists around the world joined the London Guantánamo Campaign and Free Omar Khadr Now for an online Twitter storm.
street theatre

In the afternoon, around 150 people joined the London Guantánamo Campaign for a unique protest action outside the US Embassy in London. As organisers of the main UK protest to mark the anniversary of Guantánamo opening over the past 8 years, people often expect to turn up to a sea of orange jumpsuits, black hoods and angry chanting. This year we adopted a very different approach. Realising that 13 years on, not only are people immune and accustomed to the abuses that occur at Guantánamo Bay on a daily basis, many are simply unaware altogether. With such little coherent coverage it is hard to know what is really happening. To address this, we performed a piece of street theatre called “The Three Obamas”, in which three actors, and some support, re-enacted various statements and promises Barack Obama has made since 2008 about closing Guantánamo Bay. As president, his first action in 2009 was to sign a decree ordering the closure of Guantánamo Bay by 2010. Five years later, 127 men are still waiting.
Noa Kleinman, Amnesty International UK
courtesy of Faiz Baluch
The street theatre was in two parts to reflect the period between 2011 and 2013, when Obama acknowledged his broken promises with silence and the start of the ongoing hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay which brought the prison camp back under the spotlight.

Ben Griffin, Veterans for Peace UK
Joy Hurcombe, Save Shaker Aamer Campaign

Jean Lambert, Green MEP for London

During the “intermission” between the two parts, activists were addressed by speakers including solicitor for several British nationals held in Guantánamo Bay, Louise Christian, London Green MEP Jean Lambert, Noa Kleinman from Amnesty International UK, Ben Griffin from Veterans for Peace UK and Joy Hurcombe from the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign. It has now been 10 years since the last British nationals were released from Guantánamo Bay. 
Louise Christian, solicitor

While the street theatre performance highlighted the hypocrisy of the US administration over Guantánamo Bay and CIA torture, the speakers focused mainly on the collusion of the British government. Pointing out that this year also marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, it is ludicrous that British resident Shaker Aamer remains in Guantánamo Bay after 13 years without charge or trial. Speakers also called for an independent torture inquiry into the UK’s collusion with the US and transparency over Britain’s role in the US’s wars on terror. Joy Hurcombe reminded people that David Cameron will be meeting President Obama later this month and urged people to write to the prime minister and their MP to urge that the question of Shaker Aamer’s release to the UK feature high up the meeting agenda. In an election year, this is also a perfect opportunity to raise your concerns about Guantánamo Bay with local election candidates.

courtesy of Faiz Baluch
After 13 years, this is indeed who we are, along with the US and all its other allies. In the meantime, the campaign to close Guantánamo will continue and we hope you will join us. The London Guantánamo thanks everyone who joined us for a successful and enlightening event, in particular the actors, singers and props persons involved in the street theatre performance. Special thanks to our speakers for sharing their expertise and concerns with us and to Occupy London for providing live streaming throughout the event.

In case you missed or did not get enough yesterday, the Islam Channel will feature a one-hour special about the anniversary action on “The Report” at 9pm on Monday 12 January, on Sky channel 806 and Freeview.

Media of the event: