Friday, December 31, 2010
Reprieve and Leigh Day solicitors have asked the High Court in London to review the British government’s failure to release crucial information to Ahmed Belbacha’s legal team in the US, which is currently trying to prevent the US government from deporting him forcibly to Algeria. In his native Algeria, Mr. Belbacha faces a 20-year prison sentence passed in his absence on the basis of flimsy evidence and the threat of torture. Another Algerian prisoner was forced to return to Algeria against his will earlier this year; he promptly “disappeared” for several days and now faces charges related to terrorism. This move could force the British government to take action which could save his life; Reprieve believes that the British government has “repeatedly declined to co-operate or to admit their part in Ahmed’s abuse and near-decade-long imprisonment.” Facing the imminent threat of a forced return to Algeria, Ahmed Belbacha has long expressed his desire not to be returned to that country, which he had fled in fear of his life.
The Save Shaker Aamer Campaign (SSAC) and other organisations, including the LGC, held a successful day of action in Battersea on Saturday 11 December to raise awareness about Shaker Aamer’s case and demand his release. Shaker Aamer has been held without charge or trial illegally for over 9 years. Deemed innocent by the British government, his release was demanded by Gordon Brown in 2007 along with four other prisoners who have all returned to the UK. Recently, both the Foreign Secretary William Hague and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg have raised his case with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, yet Shaker Aamer appears to be no closer to release. The day of action kicked off at midday with a symbolic demonstration and march from the site of the new American Embassy in Vauxhall, attended by around 70 people, to the Battersea Arts Centre for a public meeting, attended by over 100 people, and addressed by local MP Jane Ellison, Shaker Aamer’s UK lawyer Gareth Peirce, Moazzam Begg, journalist Yvonne Ridley and several others. In the evening, there was a film screening of Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo, which focuses on Shaker Aamer’s story, followed by a discussion with Andy Worthington and Omar Deghayes at the same venue.
Following the only civilian trial held so far in the US for a Guantánamo prisoner last month, in which Tanzanian national Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was convicted of one of 285 charges, the US Congress passed a law to prevent any other prisoners being transferred or tried on the US mainland. Although Ghailani, to be sentenced in late January, faces a life sentence, many in Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, would like to see prisoners, such as Khalid Sheikh Mohamed (KSM) face military trials at Guantánamo Bay rather than civilian trials, fearing that these are more likely to lead to an acquittal. However, as the Ghailani trial showed, they are also fairer and abide by recognised principles of law, such as the rejection of evidence obtained through the use of torture. This move was criticised by the US Attorney General Eric Holder, who had announced civilian trials for prisoners such as KSM in 2009. The transfer ban will apply until at least 30 September 2011. This bill, covering other military defence spending issues, including the war in Afghanistan, was passed by both houses in the US Congress on 22 December and also sets new conditions for the release of prisoners.
At the same time, the White House issued a draft executive order, yet to become law, which would allow the indefinite detention without trial of some prisoners held there. There are currently 174 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, of whom 48 would be affected by this order, whom it would be difficult to try before a civilian or military court largely due to the nature of the evidence against them and as they are deemed to be “too dangerous”. This would also involve a change in the prisoner status review system, giving prisoners greater rights to challenge their detention and more often.
Both of these measures are a major setback to plans to close Guantánamo Bay and in effect propose keeping the prison open for much longer to house the 48 prisoners for whom the US government is proposing “prolonged indefinite detention” and military trials for others. Almost a year since the deadline of President Obama’s broken promise to close Guantánamo Bay and nine years since the arbitrary detention and torture camp opened, it is still no nearer to closing and justice still fails to feature as a possible remedy for those held there. The White House has conceded that Guantánamo Bay is far from closing any time soon.
Instead, in order to defend the indefensible, in early December, the office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) issued a report stating that out of the 598 prisoners released by the US government, over 25% were now suspected or confirmed to have returned to committing crimes against the US. This is several times more than Pentagon reports two years ago. According to the report, more than 90 former prisoners were confirmed to have returned to armed combat against the US. The report does not provide the names of any prisoners as such and since more than 99% of these prisoners were released without trial or conviction, there cannot be any conclusive evidence that they are recidivists and have “returned” to a life of crime against the US.
More evidence has emerged this month on the issue of illegal drugs being used on prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay and experimentation on prisoners. Doctors who administered a controversial antimalarial drug, known as mefloquine, to prisoners, known to have serious neuropsychological side effects such as suicidal thoughts, seizures, depression and hallucinations, were told to keep quiet about its use, even though there was no medical reason for the drug to be given to prisoners. Albert J. Shimkus, a former commanding officer and chief surgeon at Guantánamo Bay, defended the use of high doses of the drug on prisoners in 2002-2003. There have been concerns and reports about the use of illegal and psychotropic drugs on prisoners and possible experimentation on prisoners in the past. The collusion of medical professionals in torture and abuse at Guantánamo Bay is documented, however due to the classification of medical records and silence over the treatment of prisoners, much vital information has yet to emerge.
Yemenis make up the largest single nationality at Guantánamo Bay with over 90 prisoners. The return of Yemeni prisoners who are cleared for release to their country has been blocked for over a year now on the ground that Yemen poses a security threat. Most have had little communication with their families over the past nine years, through letters and more recently telephone calls. However, since mid-December, the Red Cross in the US and Yemen have started facilitating video conferencing for prisoners and their families so that they can talk to each other for at least one hour at a time. Several prisoners and their families have since tried this facility.
A series of cases brought before the High Court in London seeking a fresh inquiry into alleged torture and abuse of Iraqi citizens by British soldiers in Iraq between 2003 and 2008 have been rejected. High Court judges upheld the Defence Secretary’s refusal to hold a wide-ranging inquiry into whether there was systemic abuse of Iraqis during this period by British troops. The judicial review brought on behalf of over 200 people was rejected as other inquiries are currently ongoing, however the judges did not rule out that such an inquiry may be necessary in the future, given the seriousness of the allegations.
The LGC is saddened to report the death of Salim Akbar, a member of the steering committee of the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign (SSAC). A board member of the Islamic Cultural and Education Centre in Battersea and a local community activist, Mr. Akbar was involved in various human campaigns, including that to seek the release of Shaker Aamer, a personal friend of his. Salim Akbar, aged in his mid-thirties, died of a heart attack on 17 December. He had played a key role in organising the Day for Shaker Aamer on 11 December and had hugely facilitated and contributed to an event held by the LGC at the Battersea Mosque for Shaker Aamer in Ramadan (August) in 2009 as well as many other demonstrations and events organised by the SSAC and others to raise awareness about Mr. Aamer’s case. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.
Two people attended the December monthly Shut Down Guantánamo! There is no demonstration in January.
The London Guantánamo Campaign invites you to join us for our action to mark the ninth anniversary of Guantánamo Bay on Tuesday 11 January 2011, Beyond Words: Silent Witness to Injustice. We will be holding a silent lunchtime vigil in Trafalgar Square, opposite the National Gallery. We would like to have 14 participants hold up a letter of the alphabet to spell out: S-H-U-T G-U-A-N-T-A-N-A-M-O. If you are attending and would like to volunteer to hold up a letter of the alphabet, please let us know.
The flyer is attached and the event is also up on Facebook:
If you are not in London and/or organising an anniversary event elsewhere, please let us know and we will be happy to help you publicise it. If you are unable to attend, please consider contacting your MP and asking them to sign EDM 1093 (and invite them to the 11 January vigil). The EDM is at:
An EDM is a motion signed by MPs in support; if enough MPs sign, a debate can be held in Parliament on the issue. Although this does not happen often, it is a good way of finding out how MPs feel about an issue and when asking your MP to sign, a good way for constituents to make them aware of the issue. It has been signed by 17 MPs so far.
Thank you for your support in 2010. Please join us in 2011 to up the pressure on politicians on both sides of the Atlantic to press for the closure of Guantánamo Bay sooner rather than later and the speedy return of prisoners like Shaker Aamer to their families. Let us not be looking forward to a decade of Guantánamo Bay this time next year!
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Campaigners from London and other parts of the UK took part in the day of action on Saturday 11 December, which kicked off at the site of the new American Embassy in Nine Elms in Vauxhall, south London. About 70 people took part in a rally at midday overlooking the River Thames which was addressed by former Labour MP for Battersea Martin Linton, who had campaigned for Mr. Aamer’s release while his MP, Chris Nineham from the Stop The War Coalition, Sheikh Suliman Gani from Tooting Mosque and Joy Hurcombe from Brighton Against Guantánamo, reading a message of support from Jeremy Corbyn MP. The rally then set off on an hour and a half long noisy procession from Vauxhall to the Battersea Arts Centre for a public meeting in the afternoon attended by around 100 people. Speakers at the meeting included current Battersea MP, Jane Ellison, who since being elected in May has also worked hard and pressed her government and others in parliament to take action for the release of Shaker Aamer, his solicitor Gareth Peirce, journalist Yvonne Ridley, Sheikh Suliman Gani, Lindsey German from the Stop The War Coalition, Moazzam Begg and others.
In the evening, there was a film showing of Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo, which focuses on Shaker Aamer’s story, followed by a discussion with Andy Worthington and Omar Deghayes.
Almost NINE years since it opened, Guantánamo Bay is still open for business. A vote in the US Congress last week has set back attempts to have those facing prosecution sent to the US mainland to face trial in civilian courts rather than the military-style kangaroo courts used at Guantánamo Bay. A report in Congress has also claimed that many prisoners who have been released – only two prisoners who have been sentenced have since been released – overwhelmingly return to terrorism-related crime, even though it has never been established – even through their torture and arbitrary detention for years at Guantánamo Bay, Bagram and elsewhere – that they had committed any identifiable crime in the first place. This has been a popular ruse by the American administrations of both Bush and Obama with each new “birthday” notched up by Guantánamo. However, the Americans are not alone in being responsible for the fact that Guantánamo Bay and its extralegal regime are still in operation. Much of the rest of the world has failed to do anything to help close Guantánamo Bay either.
In Shaker Aamer’s case, the British government MUST take further action and ensure he returns to his family in London. Write to your MP [find them at http://www.theyworkforyou.com/] and demand they express your concerns to the Foreign Office, write to the Foreign Office yourself firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for action to be stepped up for Shaker Aamer’s release, ask your MP to sign EDM 1093 http://edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/EDMDetails.aspx?EDMID=42093&SESSION=905 tabled by Caroline Lucas MP, calls for Shaker Aamer’s return to the UK and outlines all the demands the LGC is making of the current government.
More importantly, make a stand against Guantánamo Bay, torture and arbitrary detention by joining the London Guantánamo Campaign on Tuesday 11 January at lunchtime in Trafalgar Square London for a silent protest vigil to mark nine years of torture and abuse of human rights and due process at Guantánamo Bay: http://londonguantanamocampaign.blogspot.com/2010/12/beyond-words-silent-witness-to.html
Sunday, December 05, 2010
On 16 November, Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke announced in the House of Commons that the British government had reached a confidential out-of-court settlement with half a dozen former Guantánamo prisoners and had added a further half dozen to the recipients of an undisclosed compensation settlement. Dubbed “hush money” by the tabloid press and the end of the court case brought by former prisoners to force the government to disclose what it knew about their torture and arbitrary detention in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, it also means that uncertainty will prevail as to what the British government knew and did and leaves many questions open to those who doubt the integrity of prisoners held without trial, and without charges in some cases, for many years. In making his statement, Mr. Clarke stated “No admissions of culpability have been made in settling those cases and nor have any of the claimants withdrawn their allegations. This is a mediated settlement.” This means that the cases can be reopened at some later date. While the government said that no admission of guilt had been made in its case, it is quite clear that if there was no guilt no compensation settlement would have been made. As a result, most of the evidence of involvement in international wrongdoing by the British government which the case sought to have made public will remain secret. The case, brought at the High Court in May last year, never moved past the procedural stage, with much legal wrangling as to what the government was prepared to make public and how; the government demanded that large parts of the hearing be held in secret without the men bringing the case or their lawyers knowing the evidence being discussed or presented, effectively making it impossible for them to challenge it. This was allegedly on national security grounds. It has always been clear that the government was prepared to fight attempts to disclose the evidence in this case and that the case would be a drawn out affair without necessarily achieving its desired aims. One of the former prisoners bringing the case, Moazzam Begg, wrote in the Independent about why they chose to make the settlement:
The government hopes that the Gibson Inquiry, to which this case provided a major hurdle, would settle some of the questions raised by it. The Gibson Inquiry itself has been much criticised already and the actual terms of how it will operate have yet to be clarified. Unfortunately, in his announcement, Mr. Clarke continued to refer to the “mistreatment” of prisoners abroad, which the Gibson Inquiry is to look into. “Mistreatment” is not a legal term and the allegations are of human rights abuses, some of which, like torture, constitute crimes against humanity. Furthermore, the current government, which is wholly responsible, has given no reassurances whatsoever that its agents are not currently involved in similar practices abroad. At least one further allegation of British intelligence services being complicit in the abuse of a British national abroad has emerged since the May election.
In this statement, Mr. Clarke also referred to government plans, already mentioned by the Prime Minister, to publish a green paper next summer on the use of intelligence in judicial proceedings. The paper would “examine mechanisms for the protection and disclosure of sensitive information in the full range of civil proceedings, inquests and inquiries” and “will also consider complementary options to modernise and reform existing standing intelligence oversight mechanisms”. This proposal seeks to prevent litigation of the type mentioned above and cases similar to the Binyam Mohamed case, with the main aim being to protect Britain’s diplomatic relations with other countries.
Several other court cases are still ongoing before the Gibson Inquiry can start. In one of them, the criminal case concerning misconduct by the security services in Binyam Mohamed’s case, the director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmar QC, has advised the Metropolitan police not to prosecute an MI5 agent known as Witness B, who was singled out, due to insufficient evidence to prosecute him. However, a wider criminal investigation is continuing into the allegations made in this case, although that may not lead to any prosecution. Commenting on this decision, Andrew Tyrie MP, the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition said, “Any information that would have been available in the court cases and criminal investigations must be available to the inquiry”.
Another major obstacle to the government drawing a line under its involvement in Guantanamo Bay is that almost a decade later, British resident Shaker Aamer remains there. It emerged shortly after the announcement of the settlement that the former prisoners had offered to forego compensation if Mr. Aamer’s release could be secured. His release was also a major discussion point of the settlement. Since then, both the Foreign Secretary William Hague and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg have spoken to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about his release. Amnesty International has also started a campaign for Shaker Aamer’s release and the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign (SSAC) is holding a day-long event on 11 December to raise awareness about his case. Now is the ideal time for the British government to take action after having dragged its heels over Mr. Aamer’s release in the three and a half years since Prime Minister Gordon Brown wrote to the US seeking his release along with four other prisoners who have all since long returned to the UK.
In a first test for the Obama administration on how it would fare in putting prisoners on trial before civilian courts, the jury in the trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian former prisoner and victim of extraordinary rendition, found him guilty of only one charge, of conspiracy to damage or destroy US property with explosives, out of 285 charges, including murder and conspiracy to murder. He now faces a minimum of 20 years in prison. He was accused of involvement in the 1998 bombing of US Embassies in East Africa. Charged in 2001, he was kidnapped in Pakistan in 2004, after which he “disappeared” until he was sent to Guantánamo Bay in 2006. He will be sentenced on 25 January 2011. Considered a good day for justice, the verdict was not favourable to the US administration which was also planning to try others facing charges before civilian courts. It may now reconsider and change its plans. Some Republicans have called for future trials to be scrapped.
Former American president George W. Bush, currently on a book tour promoting his memoirs Decision Points, outed himself a war criminal by confessing to having authorised the use of waterboarding on at least three prisoners. He further claimed that the use of waterboarding helped to save lives by foiling attacks at Heathrow Airport and Canary Wharf; these claims have been denied by British officials. He has since failed to elaborate on how his vague claims managed to prevent these and other attacks elsewhere and how this was the only “viable” means of obtaining this information. The Mayor of London Boris Johnson has warned George Bush not to bring his book tour to European capitals stating that, as a result, “he might never see Texas again” after being prosecuted for war crimes. Commenting on the nature of George Bush’s admissions, Mr. Johnson said, “It is hard to overstate the enormity of this admission”. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/borisjohnson/8133411/George-W.-Bush-cant-fight-for-freedom-and-authorise-torture.html
The US Department of Justice has decided that there will be no prosecutions over the destruction of tapes in 2005 showing the torture faced by prisoners at a US black site in Thailand. 92 tapes in total were destroyed showing the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used to extract confessions from Abdul Rahman Al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah, both still held at Guantánamo Bay but who no longer face any charges. No reasons were given for why the prosecution was dropped, which would reveal whether soldiers acted of their own will or were following orders from above, or why the tapes were destroyed, although there is speculation that this was to avoid any further embarrassment for the US following the disclosure of photographs of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.
Amnesty International has published a report on the role played by European states in extraordinary rendition through secret prisons and facilitating torture flights, outlining the measures that have and should be taken to investigate and prosecute those involved.
An appeal hearing was held at the High Court in London in a case dubbed by MP David Davis as a clear “case of passive rendition” involving Rangzieb Ahmed who was jailed for life in 2008 for directing acts of terrorism. He was ordered to serve at least ten years. However, following a statement in Parliament last year by David Davis in which, using parliamentary privilege, he disclosed the nature of the allegations of torture Mr. Ahmed made about when he was interrogated in Pakistan, he was allowed to appeal his conviction. He claims the UK government was involved and much of his 2008 trial was held in secret due to the sensitivity of the intelligence evidence and how it was obtained.
The November monthly Shut Down Guantánamo! on Friday 5 November was attended by 4 people. There will be no demonstration in January as it precedes the ninth anniversary action by a few days. We invite you to join us for that instead.
The London Guantánamo Campaign launched an Early Day Motion (EDM) with MP Caroline Lucas this month on the closure of Guantánamo Bay, largely laying down what the British government should be doing now to help close Guantánamo Bay. An EDM is a motion signed by MPs in support; if enough MPs sign, a debate can be held in Parliament on the issue. Although this does not happen often, it is a good way of finding out how MPs feel about an issue and when asking your MP to sign, a good way for constituents to make them aware of the issue. Please ask your MP to sign the EDM and to join the London Guantánamo Campaign on Tuesday 11 January 2011 in Trafalgar Square to mark the ninth anniversary of Guantánamo Bay [flyer attached – please circulate].
The EDM is at:
http://edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/EDMDetails.aspx?EDMID=42093&SESSION=905 It has been signed by 10 MPs so far.
Following the verdict in the Ghailani case, the LGC had a letter published in The Guardian newspaper making largely the same demands: that the British must act and act now to help close Guantánamo Bay: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/nov/22/ghailani-warning-to-uk
The London Guantánamo Campaign invites you to join us for our action to mark the ninth anniversary of Guantánamo Bay on Tuesday 11 January 2011, Beyond Words: Silent Witness to Injustice. We will be holding a silent lunchtime vigil in Trafalgar Square, opposite the National Gallery. We would like to have 14 participants hold up a letter of the alphabet to spell out: S-H-U-T G-U-A-N-T-A-N-A-M-O. If you are attending and would like to volunteer to hold up a letter of the alphabet, please let us know.
The flyer is attached and the event is also up on Facebook:
Please join us and let others know about this event.
Wednesday, December 01, 2010
Tuesday 11 January 2011
The London Guantánamo Campaign
invites you to join
a silent vigil from 1-2pm
on the north side of Trafalgar Square, opposite the National Gallery (at the top of the steps from Trafalgar Square)
For more details and/or to register your interest in taking part, please call
07809 757 176 or e-mail email@example.com
Friday, November 26, 2010
The London Guantánamo Campaign has teamed up with Caroline Lucas MP (Brighton Pavilion, Green Party) to produce the following EDM:
EDM 1093: Guantanamo Bay
"That this House notes with regret that President Obama's pledge to close the US Military Detention Centre at Guantánamo Bay by January 2010 is almost one year overdue and little closer to realisation; welcomes gestures by other European States to accommodate and receive innocent prisoners who have been cleared for release to help close the facility; notes with dismay that on 11 January 2011 the detention facility will have been open for nine years and that British resident Shaker Aamer has now been held there without charge or trial for almost the same length of time; urges the Government to step up its action to secure his release without further delay; and further notes the case of Ahmed Belbacha, previously resident in the UK and facing the imminent threat of forced return to his native Algeria where there are fears he will face abuse of his human rights; applauds the lead taken by countries such as Ireland, France, Spain, Germany and Bulgaria, who have accepted prisoners cleared for release from Guantánamo Bay by the US authorities on humanitarian grounds but who cannot return to their country of origin; and urges the Government to take similar measures to accept a number of such cleared prisoners."
We urge everyone to ask their MP to sign this important EDM. On 16 November, when Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke made the official statement about the out-of-court settlement with former prisoners concerning the government’s collusion in their torture and illegal detention, support for the closure of Guantánamo by MPs across the board was unequivocal. Sadiq Khan MP (Tooting, Labour) stated: “The Labour party has been, and will remain, completely opposed to Guantanamo Bay” and Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood in whose Bournemouth East constituency Ahmed Belbacha lived declared, “I am sorry that we did not do more to speak out against Guantanamo Bay and everything that it stands for”. Ask your MP to take a stand against Guantánamo by signing the EDM and joining the LGC on Tuesday 11 January for a lunchtime vigil in Trafalgar Square to mark the 9th anniversary of Guantánamo Bay. Write to your MP [find their contact details at www.theyworkforyou.com] and ask them:
- to sign the EDM
- to join the 9th anniversary vigil on Tuesday 11 January 2011
A short e-mail should be enough.
Friday, November 19, 2010
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague reportedly raised Shaker’s case with US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton at a meeting in Washington on 17 November, which is very welcome news. Please contact your MP and ask them to raise Shaker Aamer’s case with UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, urging him to maintain the pressure on the US to release Shaker or give him a fair trial. Please use the text below (but feel free to personalise your letter to make a bigger impact and to add your own voice):
Dear [NAME] MP
I am writing to you about Shaker Aamer, the former British resident who has been detained without trial for nearly nine years in the US detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. He alleges that he has been tortured.
Shaker Aamer has never been charged or convicted of any criminal offence while in US custody. Despite this, he remains in detention. Shaker’s British wife and children live in London and his youngest child has never met his father.
President Obama has pledged to close Guantánamo Bay and the British government has asked the US for Shaker Aamer’s release – most recently in a November meeting in Washington, according to reports. Despite the seeming willingness of the UK authorities to permit his return to the UK and the absence to date of any charges, Shaker Aamer remains detained without trial at Guantánamo Bay.
But, the UK Government must maintain pressure on the US for Shaker Aamer’s release if his case is to be resolved.
Please raise Shaker’s case with the Foreign Secretary William Hague and:
-Welcome his statement in Washington that he has called on US Secretary of State Clinton to return Shaker Aamer to the UK and request that he reports back to parliament on these discussions;
-Urge the Foreign Secretary to continue to press the US to quickly agree a timetable for Shaker’s trial or return to the UK.
Jane Ellison MP is the Constituency MP for Shaker Aamer’s wife and children. She will be happy to brief you further on the case.
Yours sincerely, NAME, ADDRESS FOR REPLY (address optional)
Better still, of course, is to arrange a meeting with your MP and raise the concerns set out in this letter directly with them.
Please raise any queries about this action by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, November 01, 2010
The first civil trial of a Guantánamo prisoner was due to start on 6 October in New York. At a hearing on that day, Judge Lewis Kaplan, in the case of Tanzanian Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, accused of involvement in two US Embassy bombings in east Africa in 1998, ruled to prevent a key prosecution witness from giving evidence at the trial, as it was held that he had mentioned Mr. Ghailani when interrogated under duress. The bulk of the admissible evidence against him was to have come from this witness. Mr. Ghailani, 36, who denies all charges against him, was kidnapped and “disappeared” in Pakistan in 2004 and was taken to a CIA secret prison where he was tortured before being taken to Guantánamo Bay in 2006. The court already held that any evidence obtained while he was detained at secret prisons or at Guantánamo Bay is inadmissible. As several other witnesses for the prosecution in the case have died in the 12-year interim period, the US government’s case against him is increasingly weak. The trial was delayed for a week and started again on 12 October. After the jury was sworn in, the trial started with the prosecution accusing Mr. Ghailani of being an Al Qaeda operative intent on killing and his defence team claiming otherwise. The trial, which is expected to last weeks before the jury deliberates on its verdict, may be shorter than was originally anticipated. This is a key case to test how the Obama administration may deal with other prisoners facing charges at Guantánamo Bay through the civilian courts, instead of at a military tribunal. If convicted, Mr. Ghailani faces life imprisonment. Others previously tried and convicted in this case are currently serving life sentences in the US.
Following the postponement of 24-year old Canadian Omar Khadr’s military tribunal in August after his defence lawyer was taken ill, the case was due to resume on 18 October. However, moves have been made recently to reach a plea bargain, whereby Omar Khadr would plead guilty to all charges, including killing a US military officer when he was 15, and then be allowed to serve a shortened sentence in Canada. For this reason, the hearing on 18 October was adjourned again with a sentencing hearing set for 25 October, at which Omar Khadr pleaded guilty to the charges. On 31 October, he was sentenced by a military jury to 40 years’ imprisonment for war crimes. This was apparently a harsher sentence than the prosecution had hoped for. The details of the plea bargain were kept secret from the jury who passed the sentence. Under the plea bargain, Omar Khadr waived his right to challenge the charges or the sentence. Also under the plea bargain, he will only serve one more year in US custody, as the deal ensured that he would not serve more than eight years in total, and he may serve the other seven in Canada. Although not present or represented when the deal was negotiated between the US military and Mr. Khadr’s lawyers, the Canadian government has said, in leaked official documents, that it will consider this matter favourably, i.e. allow Omar Khadr to be repatriated and serve the rest of his sentence there. Omar Khadr’s Canadian lawyer, Dennis Edney, said after the verdict, that “fundamental principles of law and due process were long since abandoned in Omar’s case” and “We have over 1,200 American soldiers killed in Afghanistan, and we’ve made a 15-year-old boy pay for that” (Source: Vancouver Sun). He also reported that his client had said that he had not expected to get justice at Guantánamo Bay. As in a separate "guilty" plea entered by another prisoner a few months ago, the details of the deal will remain secret and the full evidence against Omar will not be made known. Omar Khadr had rejected a similar plea deal earlier this year. Although it claims to have played no part in negotiating the deal, through, it the Canadian and American governments have both avoided embarrassment over their illegal and abusive treatment of this young man. The US realised that given the circumstances (tortured child soldier) and the weakness of the evidence against him, in a case brought more than eight years after the facts were alleged to have taken place, Omar Khadr would and could not get a fair hearing and US prosecutors would end up looking ridiculous in the process, even though the judge had allowed torture evidence to be admitted in his case. Omar Khadr is still the loser in this process, having lost more than a third of his life so far and his youth in Guantánamo Bay, he is now also a convicted terrorist on the basis of a face-saving plea bargain for the US and Canada. He will not be released until he is at least 32.
A new documentary was released in Canada at the start of the resumption of his trial: http://www.youdontlikethetruth.com/
Amnesty International issued the following news after the guilty plea was made public: http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/usa-must-address-omar-khadr-rights-violations-following-plea-deal-2010-10-25
Alex Neve, the secretary general of Amnesty Canada has been attending the hearing and updating reports on his blog: http://www.amnesty.ca/blog_post2.php?id=2186
Eight years on, in spite of a change of government and cosmetic improvements to the detention facilities, there is still no interest in justice, due process or the basic rights and dignity of prisoners. Outside of the parallel “justice system” Guantánamo has created, which runs contrary to recognised international law, individuals such as Omar Khadr would never have even been brought to trial, let alone be accused of war crimes. As stated by the LGC when this case started in August this year, its ramifications for other child soldiers, of whom there are up to 500,000 in this world, will be disastrous. The prosecution stating that Mr. Khadr was not a “victim” but a “terrorist”, without providing substantive evidence to back this up, and circumventing the most basic procedures and standards of any criminal trial, henceforth sets a very dangerous precedent.
Estonia decided this month that it would not agree to accept prisoners from Guantánamo Bay. Like the British government, it supports the EU policy of accepting inmates, as various countries, like Ireland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovakia, France, Germany and others have done, but refuses to accept prisoners itself.
In mid-October, former Australian prisoner David Hicks published his book, currently only available in Australia, Guantánamo: My Journey, covering his five-year prison ordeal at Guantánamo from 2002 to 2007. He was released following conviction and served part of his sentence in Australia where he was banned from speaking to the media for one year. The book took two years to write and excerpts from it were published in Adelaide Now: http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/extracts-from-david-hicks-memoir-guantanamo-bay-my-journey/story-e6frea83-1225939306465
As well as courting controversy for writing the book, the book is also currently being investigated to see whether it comes under the procedures of crime laws which would make it illegal for Mr. Hicks to profit from his conviction. However, as the process at Guantánamo Bay is illegal, it may not apply. The Australian police and courts are currently considering this issue.
The latest terrorist bomb threat story from Yemen is a further set back for the release of over 80 Yemeni prisoners still held at the prison camp. As well as constituting the single largest nationality of prisoners, most of them are also free to leave if they can find somewhere to go to. Following similar threats in late 2009/early 2010, the US suspended the return of Yemeni prisoners to their country. Only one has been released after the US government was ordered to by a federal court. Recently, the US prevented another prisoner whose release to Luxembourg it was negotiating after the man expressed his wish to return to his country even if he was sent to Luxembourg first. Yemen, which has now been added to the list of most dangerous countries in the world and a sponsor of international terrorism, is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a high infant mortality rate, one of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world and where many have to live without the most basic of essentials. The prisoners just want to return to their homes and their families and are now being held hostage at Guantánamo due to world events they clearly have nothing to do with.
In early October, Reprieve announced that, along with other human rights NGOs in Pakistan, it was bringing legal action against the Pakistani government in the Lahore High Court on behalf of seven Pakistani nationals held prisoner indefinitely and without charge at Bagram, over its involvement in their kidnap, “rendition” and detention. Some of the prisoners have been held for years, one has been held there since he was 14 and others have been abused; all are held without knowing the reason why. They have limited contact with their families through the Red Cross and no access to lawyers.
In an unusual move, on 28 October, the head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, gave a first public talk about the work of his agency. In it, he stated that the UK was not involved in the use of torture but that it faced a “dilemma” over its use. He claimed that his agency always respects human rights. However, he criticised operational secrets of both the UK security services and foreign partners being made public in court cases, such as in the Binyam Mohamed case. While in the ongoing case brought by former Guantánamo prisoners from the UK, government lawyers urged the judiciary not to interfere in the executive’s role by seeking the disclosure of security secrets, Sawers felt it necessary to tell judges how to do their job by asking them to ban the disclosure of any secret evidence from the UK security services or the CIA. The involvement of the security services and senior officials in various ministries, including ministers, in torture in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, has already been clearly evidenced through the Binyam Mohamed case, the current Guantánamo case and the ongoing Chilcot Inquiry. Sir John Sawers also welcomed the forthcoming Gibson Inquiry into Britain’s involvement in “mistreatment” overseas but asked that any information concerning MI6 be kept confidential.
The October monthly Shut Down Guantánamo! on Friday 1 October was attended by 6 people. The next demonstration will be on Friday 5 November at 6-7pm outside the US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, W1A 1AE.
Many thanks to everyone who wrote to the prisoners released to Slovakia in August/September this year. Below is a message from Reprieve on their behalf. You can continue to write to the three prisoners by writing to Polly Rossdale, c/o Reprieve, PO Box 52742, London, EC4P 4WS:
Adel, Polad and Rafiq, the three men, former Guantanamo prisoners resettled in Slovakia, would like to send their salams and thanks to everyone who kindly sent them cards and letters of support.
It means a lot to them to know that people wish them well, especially after the difficult time they had when they first arrived in Slovakia.
The situation is getting better for them and they are beginning to enjoy their new lives after Guantanamo.
If anyone else would like to write to the men please send letters c/o Polly Rossdale at Reprieve.
Thank you, Chloe and Polly (‘Life After Guantanamo’ team at Reprieve)
For more on this action and the former prisoners in Slovakia:
Sunday, October 03, 2010
To mark the ninth anniversary of the opening of the illegal detention and torture camp at Guantánamo Bay on 11 January 2002, the London Guantánamo Campaign will be holding a silent lunchtime vigil from 1-2pm on Tuesday 11 January 2011 on the north side of Trafalgar Square, opposite the National Gallery (at the top of the steps).
We invite you to join us for part or all of your lunch break to mark this anniversary. Demonstrators are invited to wear orange jumpsuits (which we will provide) and to hold up placards in an otherwise silent protest.
Nine years since Guantánamo Bay opened, please join us to protest this unspeakable injustice, the silence of our government in its collusion in gross human rights violations and the deafening silence of the international community over the past nine years.
Please watch this space for more details or get in touch.
In the ongoing court case brought by six former British prisoners, residents and nationals, to force the government to reveal what it knew of their torture, abuse and arbitrary detention, more documents have come to light showing that former Prime Minister Tony Blair knew of the torture faced by British prisoners at Guantánamo Bay within weeks of the facility opening in 2002. A letter dated 18 January 2002 contained handwritten comments that were allegedly made by Tony Blair on the treatment of prisoners:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/interactive/2010/sep/28/foreign-office-memo-britons-guantanamo . The government was also made aware that prisoners had been tortured in Afghanistan. Several of the documents made public were heavily redacted: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/sep/28/torture-warnings-britain-us-ignored
On 29 September, the jury was sworn in the case of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, 36, a Tanzanian who is the first prisoner due to stand trial in a civilian court in New York as opposed to before a military tribunal. Charged with involvement in the 1998 bombing of US Embassies in east Africa, he is accused of purchasing the explosives used in those attacks. He was arrested in Pakistan in 2004 and was held at secret CIA "black sites" for two years, during which time American officials have admitted that he was subject to "enhanced interrogation techniques”. He was transferred to Guantánamo Bay in 2006 and then to the US mainland in June 2009 to stand trial before a Federal court. In May this year, his lawyers lost a case to have all charges against him dropped as he had been tortured at Guantánamo Bay and the 57 months that he was held there denied him the right to have a trial within a reasonable amount of time. However a Manhattan judge ruled that the national security interest in the case was overriding and it could go ahead. Ghailani, who has denied all charges, was due to start his hearing on Monday 4 October, however this has been set back to Wednesday 6 October. The trial has been set back as approval is pending for a key prosecution witness. The trial is likely to last several months and could set an important precedent for the civilian trial of other prisoners facing charges. Several other men prosecuted for the same crime in 2001 are currently serving life sentences.
In mid-September, Germany accepted two prisoners to settle in the country. This is in addition to the efforts it made to have its one resident repatriated several years ago. One of the men, now settled in Hamburg, is Ayman Al-Shurafa, a Saudi-born Palestinian prisoner, who was free to leave for several years but could not return to the Palestinian Territories. Another prisoner has been settled in another area. Both have been offered homes and medical care. Germany’s interior minister said that Germany has "made its humanitarian contribution to closing the detention centre”. Luxembourg, which had also expressed an interest in accepting a prisoner and had entered negotiations with the US government to accept a Yemeni prisoner backed down after the US rejected the release of the prisoner as he had expressed his intention to return to his own country. The US is refusing to repatriate Yemeni prisoners, who make up the single largest nationality of prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay. The Maldive Islands are also close to requesting the settlement of the last Palestinian prisoner, who also cannot return home, to settle there.
On 29 September, a federal judge in Washington dismissed a case brought by the family of two men who died in mysterious circumstances at Guantánamo Bay in June 2006. The families of Saudi prisoner Yasser Al-Zahrani and Yemeni Salah Al-Salami asked for the case into their deaths to be re-examined following new evidence that emerged this year. The Pentagon claims that the two men and a second Saudi prisoner committed suicide, however statements from soldiers on duty that night claim that the men were taken to another camp and later returned to their cells, shortly after which it was reported that they had committed suicide. The judge said that the allegations themselves were not enough to constitute evidence and that matters relating to conditions of detention at Guantánamo Bay were for Congress to resolve, due to national security concerns, as stated in another court ruling.
Journalist Andy Worthington is currently updating the information he has on the 176 remaining prisoner at Guantánamo Bay in eight instalments. The introduction and lead into the other parts can be read here:
http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2010/09/15/introducing-the-definitive-list-of-the-remaining-prisoners-in-guantanamo/ The articles update their legal status, new information about them as well as recent information about conditions at Guantánamo Bay and the lack of legal process there or any questioning about it.
On 9 September, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled narrowly (6-5) to prevent victims of extraordinary rendition, including British resident Binyam Mohamed from suing Jeppesen Dataplan, a division of Boeing, for its involvement in "torture" flights, organising and transporting them to and from “black sites” for the CIA. Last year, five victims of extraordinary rendition in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) were given leave to bring their case, however the Obama administration, following firmly in the footsteps of its predecessor, invoked the "state secrets doctrine", claiming that it was not in the interest of national security to have the case heard in public. The judges “reluctantly” accepted the government’s arguments to keep all the information secret due to national security concerns, however conceding that the CIA had acted wrongly, whether or not that information could be produced openly in court, it ordered the government to pay reparations to the plaintiffs, even though they had lost the case. The ACLU will now appeal the case to the US Supreme Court.
On 12 September, a group of 9 UK human rights NGOs wrote to the chair of the torture inquiry, Sir Peter Gibson, setting out the areas they believe the inquiry should cover in order to be thorough and effective. The letter can be read at: http://reprieve.org.uk/2010_09_12_letter_from_ngos_re_inquiry These measures include that the inquiry must be prompt, independent, thorough and subject to public scrutiny. It should also be as public as possible with publication made of the findings and with the involvement of NGOs and those affected.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition also wrote to Sir Peter Gibson in early October setting out the measures they believe need to be taken in the inquiry http://www.extraordinaryrendition.org The MPs also called for the role played by ministers, senior civil services and the intelligence officers to be taken into account.
Although the Prime Minister, who announced the inquiry in July, wishes to see it start its work this year and conclude next year, this is unlikely to happen with various ongoing court cases against the Foreign Office and intelligence services for their involvement in torture abroad.
At its annual party conference on 19 September, the Liberal Democrats passed a unanimous motion on the torture inquiry:
http://www.libdems.org.uk/policy_motions_detail.aspx?title=Human_Rights_and_the_%E2%80%98War_on_Terror%E2%80%99_-_carried&pPK=27c7bfe1-2904-4922-bc58-61f3f2537f35 It called for as much publication and as much evidence in the inquiry as possible to be made public. It also called for accountability.
Former Labour leadership contender and older brother of the current Labour leader, David Miliband, was consulted by MI6 during the three years that he was Foreign Secretary before proceeding with intelligence-gathering operations in foreign countries. This included gathering information from prisoners held in countries that torture. Although he blocked some operations, others were authorised. During his time as Foreign Secretary, several British nationals were tortured in foreign jails with the knowledge of the British government. These countries include Bangladesh and Egypt.
In July, when the Prime Minister announced the torture inquiry, he also published new guidelines for intelligence officers when interrogating suspects abroad. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is threatening to take legal action against the government if it does not take immediate steps to remedy loopholes in this guidance which could breach human rights law. The EHRC does not consider the guidelines to go far enough to prevent involvement in torture, for which agents could still be prosecuted in this country. The government was given until 30 September to respond to a letter from the EHRC or otherwise legal action would be taken.
The September monthly Shut Down Guantánamo! on Friday 3 September was attended by several people as was the October demonstration on Friday 1 October. The next demonstration will be on Friday 5 November at 6-7pm outside the US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, W1A 1AE.
The LGC is starting to plan its action for the ninth anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo Bay on 11 January 2011. Please get in touch with us if you would like to get involved and help out.
The LGC also urges concerned individuals to continue writing to their MPs and the Foreign Office about Ahmed Belbacha, and urging the UK to accept him. Given recent, positive measures by other states to accept prisoners and the urgency of Ahmed Belbacha's plight, please continue writing and demanding that the government takes action. Mr. Belbacha's immigration status over nine years ago is completely irrelevant to where he is now. The British government must act on humanitarian grounds. Please let us know if you get a response. Thank you.
London Guantánamo Campaign
Monday, September 20, 2010
In July, we launched a letter-writing campaign asking the public to write to their MPs and the Foreign Office demanding that the UK allows Ahmed Belbacha to settle in the UK. He faces the imminent threat of forced repatriation to Algeria where his life is at risk. Although a letter was initially sent by the LGC to the Foreign Secretary in June, there has to date been no response to any letters sent. It is unfortunate that the Foreign Office does not understand the concept of "urgency". The government continues to drag its heels over Guantánamo Bay. Britain has not "done enough" to help the Americans close the prison and with Germany accepting another prisoner just last week, we urge you to continue writing to your MPs and the Foreign Secretary. if you have not heard from your MP, write to them to ask why and if they have forwarded your concerns. It has been almost 10 years since Ahmed Belbacha left the UK; the previous government's argument that his immigration status was illegal is thus wholly irrelevant and Britain should accept Mr. Belbacha on humanitarian grounds. Please continue to use the points raised in our action letter as a guide when writing to your MP/the Foreign Office: http://londonguantnamocampaign.blogspot.com/2010/07/lgc-urgent-action-ahmed-belbacha-at.html
- Extraordinary Rendition
At the Liberal Democrat party conference yesterday in Liverpool, a motion was passed unanimously concerning the forthcoming torture inquiry: http://www.libdems.org.uk/policy_motions_detail.aspx?title=Human_Rights_and_the_%E2%80%98War_on_Terror%E2%80%99_-_carried&pPK=27c7bfe1-2904-4922-bc58-61f3f2537f35 While in part an attack on the former Labour government, the motion calls for the terms of the inquiry, as proposed by the current government, to be clarified and for "all evidence and questioning to be public and calls on the Prime Minister to commit to publish all the inquiry’s conclusions, except where such publicity or publication would genuinely compromise operational effectiveness" (6). The motion also calls for accountability which has previously been lacking in any talk about the inquiry since June. The passing of this motion is a positive step, however we ask supporters who live in constituencies with Liberal Democrat MPs to write to them (www.theyworkforyou.com) to ask them how their party, a part of the current coalition government, intends to have their motion upheld and supported by the government, to ensure these clarifications are made and that there is wider transparency and accountability in this process. While many relevant issues of concern to the public are raised in the motion, it fails to mention the fact that the inquiry, as set out by the Prime Minister, intends to look into "mistreatment by the security services" and not enforced "disappearance", rendition and torture. Mistreatment has no legal value and has yet to be defined or "clarified". Please write to your Liberal Democrat MP, if applicable, to raise your concerns.
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Omar Khadr’s military tribunal started on 11 August at Guantánamo Bay. On Monday 9 August, at a pre-trial hearing, legal precedents were already being set with the judge deciding that evidence obtained through torture was admissible in his case. The case was thus biased against Mr. Khadr before it even started as the “evidence”, his confessions to the charges against him, was obtained under duress and after threats of rape and death: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/khadrs-confessions-admissible-military-judge-rules/article1666620/ The following day, as the jury in the trial was sworn in, one juror, a serving lieutenant colonel in the US army, who had said that he agreed with President Obama that Guantánamo should be closed down, was removed from the jury, for lacking impartiality. The impartiality of the actual jury is questionable as those serving on it had volunteered to do so, further tipping the balance against Mr. Khadr:
Omar Khadr attended his trial on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Wednesday, there were opening statements from the prosecution and defence. Evidence, including video evidence, was presented to the courtroom and in the afternoon, while cross-examining a prosecution witness, Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, Khadr’s defence lawyer, collapsed in the courtroom and the trial has now been adjourned for at least one month. Jackson was hospitalised and has since been transferred to the mainland US. It is uncertain when the trial will start again. The trial was observed by the international media, including Al-Jazeera, Canada’s The Globe and Mail newspaper, the Independent and Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, covered each day of the hearing and posted his blogs at: http://www.amnesty.ca/blog_post2.php?id=1921 Amnesty International is calling on the US and Canadian governments to call an end to the trial before it resumes. On 27 August, the New York Times reported that senior officials in the Obama administration are unhappy with the first case being heard under the new military commissions regime being that of Omar Khadr, claiming that it “is undermining their broader effort to showcase reforms that they say have made military commissions fair and just” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/28/us/28gitmo.html The article also claims that they felt it would have been more satisfactory to reach a plea bargain in the case. A plea bargain was put to Mr. Khadr in July, in which he would be given a set prison sentence in return to confessing to killing a US soldier in 2002, which he rejected. At no time has the US actually taken measures to halt the commission, which without even surviving its first full day, has already set worrying precedents for trials involving minors and the level of evidence required in such trials.
On 12 August, in a separate trial, 51-year old Sudanese prisoner, Ibrahim Al-Qosi, became the first prisoner to be sentenced since Barack Obama became president. Mr. Al-Qosi pleaded guilty to conspiracy and providing material support to terrorism by doing his job as a cook and driver to Osama Bin Laden and his associates. He was sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment, however a secret plea deal was reached in his case, and he is likely to serve fewer years. He entered a guilty plea, under the plea bargain, in July, avoiding the need for trial. Mr. Al-Qosi has been held at Guantánamo Bay for more than eight and a half years and was one of the first people to be charged. Human Rights Watch, observing the proceedings, condemned the secretive nature of the proceedings and the plea bargain as a “farce”. More on this news:
On 19 August, the Independent reported that the closure of Guantánamo Bay is unlikely in President Obama’s first term as president. Admiral Jeffrey Harbeson, who took over running of the prison in June, gave an interview to the newspaper and reported that he has not received any direct orders to start transferring prisoners so that the prison can close:
The transfer of prisoners is problematic, with many in the US opposed to their transfer to the mainland and opposition from political parties and senators. The risk of prisoners being transferred to other similar sites elsewhere, such as Bagram in Afghanistan, still poses a major concern. The US has not expressed how it will deal with this issue. Around 180 prisoners still remain.
In an interview in the Independent on Sunday on 29 August, Labour leadership candidate and former Foreign Secretary David Miliband continued to peddle the myth that his ministry was unaware that it was complicit in involvement in extraordinary rendition and the abuse of British nationals and residents at Guantánamo Bay when it cooperated closely with the US following 9/11. Mr. Miliband admitted that abuses had occurred and British intelligence had been slow to act but did not admit to the knowing complicity of agents and ministry staff. Documents made public through the Binyam Mohamed case and statements by former prisoners show that there was awareness among senior ranks of the civil service and among agents of the very nature of the torture and abuse meted out and exactly what was happening to British prisoners held by the US. For more on this news:
The September monthly Shut Down Guantánamo! will be on Friday 3 September at 6-7pm outside the US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, Mayfair. On Friday 6 August, the LGC held an extended two hour demonstration outside the US Embassy in protest at Omar Khadr’s military tribunal. Ten people attended the demonstration. A petition calling for justice for Omar Khadr was later sent to the US ambassador to London and was signed by over 100 people. For a report and pictures of the demonstration, please see:
In August, the LGC launched a letter writing campaign asking people to write to some of the former prisoners who are currently settling down into new lives in Europe. Details were provided for three prisoners who are currently being helped by Reprieve to settle in Slovakia. Conditions after their release have not been easy. The LGC asks people continue writing to these men – a short card/letter – to help boost their morale and help them settle into their new life. For more details on the campaign: http://londonguantnamocampaign.blogspot.com/2010/08/write-to-released-guantanamo-prisoners.html
London Guantánamo Campaign
Monday, August 23, 2010
Based on statements by Moazzam Begg, Bisher Al-Rawi and the Tipton Three, and compiled by David Harrold.
Former prisoners in need of support. As part of his pledge in January 2009 to close Guantánamo Bay, Barack Obama’s government has been making arrangements to resettle prisoners in third countries when they cannot be safely returned to their country of origin. Many European countries including Ireland, Hungary, Belgium, France, Italy, Slovakia and Albania have agreed to settle ex-prisoners. However, life after Guantánamo can prove to be extremely challenging and difficult. Many men find themselves alone, attempting to rebuild their lives in countries where they are isolated and cannot speak the language, where they have difficulties making friends and accessing services.
In some cases their new living conditions are as bad as those they encountered in Guantánamo Bay. In January, three men were released to Slovakia. Upon entry into the country, they were interned at an asylum detention centre where they were only allowed to leave their room, consisting of a bed and a sink, for one hour a day. They were not permitted to speak to anyone other than their lawyer or staff at the centre. In June, in protest at their living conditions, the men went on hunger strike. The ensuing publicity finally resulted in them being released last month.
Over a dozen prisoners have been released in the last year. The Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which started on 11 August, can be a particularly lonely time for men who, while at Guantánamo Bay, at least had the companionship of fellow prisoners. Ramadan is a time for togetherness and social activity, as well as for abstinence. This is the first time in over 8 years that they will experience Ramadan alone.
Please consider writing to these ex-prisoners. A letter or card congratulating them on their release, wishing them well in their new life, asking them how they are, a short note, would all be greatly appreciated.
The three men released in Slovakia are:
Adel Al Gazzar, a 40-year Egyptian accountant who speaks fluent English, he has a wife and 3 children in Egypt whom he has not seen for over 9 years. He was captured while working for the Red Crescent in Afghanistan and was one of the first men to be cleared for release.
Rafiq Bin Al Hami, a 41-year old Tunisian who speaks English and Arabic, and who had previously worked in several European countries.
Polad Sirajov, a 35-year old economist from Azerbaijan who likes football., and who speaks English, Arabic and Russian.
You can send cards and letters:
FAO Chloe Davies
PO Box 52742,
London, EC4P 4WS
You can also write to other former prisoners whom Reprieve is working with. Details can be found on their website: www.reprieve.org.uk
Cageprisoners is also in touch with various former prisoners. Contact them for details: email@example.com
Two Tunisians who were transferred from Guantánamo Bay to Italy at the end of last year, are of particular concern. Although cleared for release by the US, the Italians sought their transfer in order to put them on trial on terrorism charges. Their trial is scheduled to take place next month. They are currently being held in prison at Macomer in Sardinia, under notoriously harsh and discriminatory conditions. Please write to them if you can:
Adil Bin Mabrouk and Riyad Bin Nasseri:
Casa Circondriale Macomer Nuoro
Zona Industriale Bonu Trau
Details of the stories of all these prisoners and others can be found on Andy Worthington’s website: www.andyworthington.co.uk
London Guantánamo Campaign
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
The first military trial since Nuremberg for alleged offences committed as a minor starts today at Guantánamo Bay and is expected to continue until 27 August at least. Although dozens of teenagers have been held at Guantánamo Bay and several have been charged, Omar Khadr, a 23-year old Canadian today becomes the first person to be tried at Guantánamo Bay under its flawed military commissions regime since Obama took power and the first person to be tried for war crimes allegedly committed as a minor since World War II.
Omar Khadr has never been treated as a child prisoner in over eight years at Guantánamo Bay. Beaten, abused, threatened with rape and death to coerce confessions, he has been denied his right to an education, adequate medical and legal representation and care and his constitutional rights as a Canadian through his government’s consistent refusal to help him through repatriation. Today he is being denied his right to a fair “trial”. Omar Khadr is under no illusion as to the illegal and unfair process he is being subjected to as the world watches with little concern.
In Germany, meanwhile, an 88-year old former Nazi prison guard about to stand trial for involvement in the deaths of over 400,000 Jews at Belzec will do so before a juvenile court as the alleged crimes were committed when he was 20 and was thus a minor at the time. International law considers child soldiers to be victims and not criminals. There are estimated to be over half a million children (under 18) involved in armed conflicts around the world and the precedent being set by the United States today in trying Omar Khadr could prove to be dangerous and prejudicial to others in a similar, precarious situation. Omar Khadr’s trial has been condemned by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children in Armed Conflict and the head of UNICEF.
After eight years of arbitrary detention, abuse, torture, threats and gross violations of his human rights, Omar Khadr faces the prospect of life imprisonment, a sentence prohibited under international law for crimes committed by minors. Last month he rejected a plea bargain by prosecutors who offered him a five-year sentence if he admitted to killing American soldiers in Afghanistan in 2002.
Omar Khadr is a victim of the war in Afghanistan, the “war on terror”, the misguided foreign policies of the US and Canada and the complacency of the international community, yet today he stands trial as an adult based on evidence coerced through torture and which even leaked Pentagon documents have admitted is tenuous at the very best.
The London Guantánamo Campaign, which holds a monthly demonstration outside the US Embassy in Mayfair calling for the closure of Guantánamo Bay, Bagram and other torture and arbitrary detention facilities around the world, held an extended two-hour demonstration on Friday 6 August outside the US Embassy. Ten people attended the demonstration. Although the US Embassy was the venue, the London Guantánamo Campaign also calls on the Canadian government to repatriate Mr. Khadr immediately which would have been the logical and most appropriate way of dealing with its human rights abuses and those of its southern neighbours in the USA.
The London Guantánamo Campaign has also set up the following petition which will be sent to the American ambassador in London Louis Susman at the end of this week: http://www.gopetition.com/petition/38137.html
Amnesty Canada’s Secretary General Alex Neve will be attending and blogging from the trial everyday. Updates can be read at: http://www.amnesty.ca/blog_post2.php?id=1900
Amnesty USA is likely to do likewise next week.
Friday, July 30, 2010
Student Mohamed Al-Odaini was the first prisoner to be returned to Yemen this year following an order to repatriate him by the US government after a court ordered his release. He was returned to his family in Yemen on 14 July. The US Department of Defense issued the following press release at the time:
The US government has maintained its position that it will not be releasing any further Yemeni prisoners in the near future citing security concerns. At a high-level meeting between the US and Yemeni governments earlier this year, the Yemenis pressed for the release and return to the country of all their prisoners still held at Guantánamo Bay. They comprise the single largest nationality of prisoners still held at the prison and over half of them (more than 40 prisoners) have been cleared for release.
In worrying news for British resident Ahmed Belbacha, 35 year old Abdul Aziz Naji, a fellow Algerian prisoner at Guantánamo Bay who had also chosen to remain at the illegal prison rather than return to Algeria where he faces a risk of torture, was forcibly repatriated by the US on 18 July. A Supreme Court ruling the week before (17 July) cleared the way for the return to Algeria of two men, the other being 49 year old Farhi Saeed bin Mohammed, who reportedly lived in the UK and Germany among other countries after fleeing Algeria in the 1990s. Farhi Saeed could also be repatriated at any time. The two men had argued that if returned to Algeria they would face a risk of being abused due to their alleged association with terrorism having been held at Guantánamo. Neither has ever been charged of any crime and both were cleared for release last year. The two are from a group of six Algerian prisoners, including Ahmed Belbacha, who would rather remain at Guantánamo Bay than be returned to Algeria. Mr. Naji had fled persecution in Algeria prior to going to Pakistan. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has reported that this is the first time a prisoner has been involuntarily repatriated by the Obama administration: http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/07/19/us-don-t-return-guantanamo-detainees-fearing-ill-treatment
Upon his return to Algeria, his lawyers reported that he had “disappeared”, which the Algerian government denied. On 26 July, the Algerian authorities officially announced he had been indicted (on unspecified charges) and was being held under “judicial supervision”. Previous returnees to Algeria have been held for up to two weeks by the government before being released or later sentenced.
At the same time as Naji’s release, a Syrian prisoner was released to Cape Verde. On 22 July two more prisoners were released to Latvia and Spain. They have not been named. 176 prisoners remain.
Journalist Andy Worthington has updated his definitive list of Guantánamo prisoners, providing information and articles about their cases as well as the latest news about the prisoners over this year. A useful source for research and general interest: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2010/07/12/guantanamo-the-definitive-prisoner-list-updated-for-summer-2010/
Canadian prisoner Omar Khadr, now 23 but 15 when he was captured, will be the first prisoner to be tried before a military commission next month. Mr. Khadr has slammed it as a “sham process” and tried to fire his American military lawyers in protest. He has now agreed to allow them to represent him. Charges against him include having killed a US soldier with a grenade in Afghanistan when he was 15. The evidence against him is considered to be tenuous at best and most countries, and international legal practice, is against bringing child soldiers to trial; this has not happened since World War II. A defence motion will be made before the commission starts to consider whether or not torture was used to obtain evidence. At a pre-trial hearing earlier in the month when the US tried to offer him a plea deal that would see him released in 5 years if he admitted to killing the soldier and committing other war crimes, Mr. Khadr rejected this plea. At an earlier hearing in this case, an interrogator admitted having threatened Mr. Khadr with gang rape and murder to make him comply and confess during interrogations. Omar Khadr’s trial will be the first of a child soldier since Nuremberg and the first military commission at Guantánamo Bay under the Obama administration.
North of the US border, much legal wrangling has gone on over this month with efforts by Mr. Khadr’s legal team in Canada to have him repatriated to the country, however the Canadian government has consistently blocked such moves. On 5 July, a Federal Court judge gave the Canadian government a week within which to think of alternative methods of remedying a breach of Mr. Khadr’s human rights under the constitution (as ruled in a case earlier this year) or to demand his repatriation. The Canadian government decided on 12 July to appeal this order, claiming that the courts could not provide direction on diplomatic matters. The appeal court judge agreed with the government after a quick hearing on 23 June paving the way for Mr. Khadr’s commission to go ahead. Either through conviction or acquittal at the trial, he still faces the prospect of continued arbitrary detention.
On 6 July, Prime Minister David Cameron made a statement in the House of Commons about the scope and intent of the forthcoming torture inquiry: http://www.number10.gov.uk/news/statements-and-articles/2010/07/statement-on-detainees-52943 A three-person team led by Intelligence Services Commissioner, former judge Sir Peter Gibson, will oversee the inquiry and decide the terms of it, the scope and what witnesses will be called, etc. The inquiry will focus on the role of the security services and while the prime minister emphasised its independence, he has given himself the final say on what will and will not be made public. The inquiry will have limited powers and effect; for example, the inquiry will not have the power to make witnesses appear before it and no mention has yet been made of any sanctions for complicity in crimes against humanity. On the same day, the government published new guidelines that were made public on how the security services are to operate, particularly with respect to questioning prisoners. However, the old guidance, which was operational during the alleged incidents of involvement in torture and rendition remain secret; this has been criticised by human rights organisations. The government also announced a green paper next year to try to limit the possibility of cases being brought such as the Binyam Mohamed case, which caused great embarrassment to the former Labour government and its diplomatic relations with the US. The prime minister also expressed his hope that the inquiry’s work would be wound up within a year.
There are various hurdles the government will have to overcome first; while the inquiry is welcome, much criticism has already been made of its degree of impartiality, scope and effect. Outstanding court cases, in particular the current case involving six former prisoners need to be settled first. The government is seeking an out-of-court settlement with the men and will offer them compensation. The men have stated that their silence cannot be bought: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1292832/Guantanamo-Bay-torture-victims-say-silence-bought-Cameron.html
In the week following the torture inquiry statement, this case went back to the courts where the disclosure was ordered of some of the documents that had previously been kept secret in the case. With over half a million documents, mainly obtained from MI5 and MI6, and over 60 government lawyers working on them, going through the evidence and the case itself could take years. The government has formally asked the courts to suspend the case to allow the men to hold talks with the government; it is not clear if lawyers for the men will agree to such talks until more is disclosed about what the government knew. The documents disclosed on 14 July, some of which can be read at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/interactive/2010/jul/14/toture-files-key-passages (although heavily redacted), show that the government was well aware of the transfer of prisoners to Guantánamo Bay in 2002 and approved of the detention of British nationals there. The British government backed the move and frustrated attempts at various levels to help British nationals and residents held there. In the case of Martin Mubanga, a British-Zambian national, one of the men involved in the case, who was kidnapped in Zambia before being taken to Guantánamo Bay, the government was fully aware of what was going on and failed to intervene in his case. The disclosed documents, the mere tip of the iceberg, show just how very much involved and approving Tony Blair’s government was of detention at Guantánamo Bay and extraordinary rendition. Senior ministers in Blair’s government denied the statements in these documents for years, claiming not to have any knowledge of what the Americans were doing.
On 20 July, Reprieve director Clive Stafford-Smith wrote to Sir Peter Gibson asking him to step down from leading the torture inquiry in the interest of independence. The letter can be read at:
Despite the government’s desire to conclude the inquiry within a year and draw a line under this episode, there are many obstacles the government has to overcome. The London Guantánamo Campaign is in particular concerned about the openness, independence and limited remit of the inquiry. In order to fulfil its stated aims and to do justice to the victims and the wider public, the inquiry must be independent, open and as broad as possible.
On 23 July, The Independent reported that MI5 had been openly involved in the rendition of a Moroccan national from Belgium to the UK where he was held and questioned. This is the first such case of active involvement in rendition. He had been brought to the UK against his will and granted the right to stay under extraordinary circumstances (for questioning) by the Home Secretary and was asked to work for the intelligence services in the UK. More on this news:
The August monthly Shut Down Guantánamo! will be on Friday 6 August at 5-7pm. Six people attended the July demonstration. The August demonstration has been extended in protest at the military commission of Omar Khadr which is to start on 10 August – the first trial since Obama became president and the first time a child soldier will be brought to trial for war crimes in over 60 years. It could set a dangerous precedent for the protection of children involved in armed conflict elsewhere.
The LGC launched an urgent action for Ahmed Belbacha on 28 August and urges everyone to write to their MP and the Foreign Secretary to take action to allow Ahmed Belbacha to settle in the UK: http://londonguantnamocampaign.blogspot.com/
London Guantánamo Campaign