Monday, May 31, 2010

LGC May 2010 Newsletter

British Residents:

On 4 May, a Court of Appeal ruling overturned a decision, made in November last year, to allow the government to have a compensation claim brought by 6 ex-prisoners heard mainly in secret. This would mean that the men and their lawyers would not have access to information concerning the security services’ involvement in their torture and abuse abroad. The case, to seek damages for the British government’s awareness of and involvement in the men’s torture and illegal detention abroad and to force an inquiry into what the British government knows, was brought by lawyers acting for six ex-prisoners and Shaker Aamer (still held at Guantánamo Bay). The government tried to have controversial information in the case heard in secret to not damage “national security”. In November, it won a court order to this effect but this was overturned. Lord Neuberger, hearing the case, ruled that the Court of Appeal would take a “clear stand” against secrecy. The judges held that such closed proceedings, where evidence is withheld from one of the parties, undermine the “most fundamental principles of common law” and that the court did not have the power to allow it. It also prevents the men from getting a fair trial. Given the seriousness of the claims against the government, including involvement in torture, it is in the public interest, particularly that of the men bringing the case, to know the evidence. The government usually relies on public interest immunity (PII) certificates in such cases, as it tried to do in the Binyam Mohamed case, to keep any information it does not want disclosed secret to protect “national security”; it cannot then use this information as evidence in the case. However, in this case, this is exactly what it is seeking to do. The government may appeal this ruling.
For more details on this news:

On 25 May, the state opening of parliament, around a dozen people joined a demonstration organised by the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign (SSAC) in Parliament Square. The protesters wore orange jumpsuits and handed out leaflets. After the Queen’s speech, the SSAC were joined by the new Conservative MP for Battersea Jane Ellison who spoke to the SSAC and expressed her concern for her constituent’s plight.

Guantánamo Bay:
The Maldives has reportedly offered to accept two unnamed Guantánamo prisoners. The US and the Maldives government have held talks on the matter and later stated that the offer was being made on “humanitarian grounds”. However, the move has been opposed by an opposition political party, claiming that it will hurt the island’s reputation as a tourist destination.

At the beginning of the month, on 4 May, two prisoners were released, a Yemeni national to Spain and a Syrian national to Bulgaria. The Bulgarian government has stated that the man they have allowed to settle in their country has been joined by relatives.

In the US, proceedings are going ahead for Omar Khadr’s military trial in July. His defence team had tried to delay the hearing until August but this was rejected. There are apparently some calls from within the Obama administration to halt the hearing, given that Khadr was only 15 at the time that he was detained, making his trial illegal under international law. Omar Khadr has consistently refused to admit to the attack on American troops in Afghanistan he allegedly carried out when he was 14, which is what prosecutors are pushing for. On 27 May, the head of UNICEF, the UN agency for children, Anthony Lake, who had been a national security adviser to the Clinton administration, spoke out against any trial involving Khadr, stating that it could set a "dangerous international precedent," as Khadr was detained as a minor. If the trial goes ahead, he will be the first person to be prosecuted by a US military tribunal for actions allegedly committed by a minor and his will be the first trial since President Obama took power and pledged to close down Guantánamo Bay and act in accordance with international law with respect to the prisoners held there.

Extraordinary Rendition:
This month, the BBC received confirmation from the Red Cross that the US military is running a detention facility at the Bagram airbase that is distinct from the main prison. Former prisoners told the BBC that they were held and abused in a separate building on the site. Reports of the facility first emerged in November last year and statements of the abuse faced by prisoners, including sleep deprivation and exposure to extremes of temperature, have been consistent. The US military has however denied its existence. Earlier this year, it was reported that Bagram is being looked into as an option for the transfer of prisoners from Guantánamo Bay once it is closed down. It is one of the “least bad” options, according to the US military.
For more on this news:

Last month the LGC reported that the legal charity Reprieve has started a court case against the British government to force it to reveal the identity of one of the two men who was handed over by British troops in Iraq in 2004 to the US military and were subsequently rendered to Afghanistan; they have been held without access to their families and legal assistance since then at Bagram. Reprieve believes it has identified the second man, a Pakistani national called Younis Rahmatullah, who was studying in the Middle East. Mr. Rahmatullah has been identified by former prisoners in photographs. Prisoners who met Mr. Rahmatullah have also reported that during his time at Bagram he has become mentally ill. It has also been reported that the other man “rendered” by the British, believed by Reprieve to be Pakistani Amanatullah Ali has also suffered mentally and psychologically. The British government which denied handing over the men for several years has refused to identify them officially and even refuses to confirm their identities to their families.
For more on this news:

This month new allegations emerged about the involvement of British intelligence in the torture of British nationals abroad. Shortly after the election, it emerged that MI5 was involved in the detention and torture during detention of a 48-year old businessman from Birmingham of Bangladeshi origin, Gulam Mustafa, in Bangladesh. When he appeared in court a few weeks after being arrested in mid-April, he looked unwell and could not stand properly. His family and lawyers in the UK are angry that the Foreign Office failed to meet Mr. Mustafa in jail before early May. These allegations follow others of British intelligence colluding with their Bangladeshi counterparts to obtain information through coercion from a former civil servant, also a “terrorism suspect” against whom no actual charges were brought.

On 20 May, the new foreign secretary William Hague made a surprise statement in which he announced that the government would hold an inquiry into Britain’s involvement in torture. While in opposition, both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties called for an inquiry. Mr. Hague himself made a statement to this effect just two months ago. No further details have been announced, although Mr. Hague has insisted that it will be a judge-led inquiry. This is a positive step; however the scope of the investigation must be as impartial, open and broad as possible, and must look closely at what has gone wrong in a growing catalogue of involvement in crimes against humanity and human rights violations to ensure that this does not happen again.
Shortly after the election, the NGO Human Rights Watch called for a torture inquiry by the new government:
In its annual report, published on 27 May, Amnesty International also called for an independent and thorough inquiry into Britain’s role in torture and extraordinary rendition:

LGC Activities:
The June monthly Shut Down Guantánamo! will be on Friday 4 June at 6-7pm outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, Mayfair, W1A 1AE. Five people attended the May demonstration.

The London Guantánamo Campaign launched a letter-writing campaign shortly after the general elections asking people to write to their MPs to found out what their views on bringing Shaker Aamer back to the UK and an inquiry into extraordinary rendition. Following the election, there are a large number of new MPs in London, particularly from the Conservative Party and we would like to know their views on these issues. Please copy, paste and e-mail the letter to your MP. Please let us know what they say if they reply. Although the government has now stated that there will be a torture inquiry, it is important to continue pressing for it, so that it happens sooner rather than later, and to ask what kind of inquiry we are like to get.

You can now follow the latest news about Guantánamo Bay and London Guantánamo Campaign actions on our blog:
And Facebook:!/pages/London-Guantanamo-Campaign/114010671973111

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