Friday, July 30, 2010

LGC Newsletter – July 2010

Guantánamo Bay:

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:
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:

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.

Extraordinary Rendition:
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: 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:
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: (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:

LGC Activities:
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:

London Guantánamo Campaign

No comments:

Post a Comment