Thursday, July 01, 2010

LGC Newsletter – June 2010

British Residents:
On 18 June, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign (SSAC) organised the hand in of a letter to Downing Street demanding the return of Shaker Aamer to the UK. The letter was delivered by former prisoner and director of Cageprisoners Moazzam Begg, journalist Victoria Brittain, John Clossick from Wandsworth Stop The War, Bruce MacKenzie (SSAC) and Jane Ellison MP (Conservative for Battersea). The letter called on the Coalition government to make the “strongest representations possible to the US administration to secure Shaker’s release and return to this country".

Guantánamo Bay:
At the end of May, in a long-running case involving several Uighur prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit rejected their claims to be released to the US, upholding an earlier decision that it was only for the US government to decide who can and cannot enter the country and on what terms. This case involves five men, who have received offers of resettlement but have rejected them. Other Uighur prisoners have been released and resettled in Bermuda, Palau and Switzerland. The Uighur prisoners are afraid that if released, China will ask the countries they are resettled in to repatriate them. The judge also held that since the men had been offered to be resettled elsewhere, they held “the keys to their release from Guantanamo”. Following habeas corpus reviews (allowing the men to know why they were being imprisoned), it was held that all the Uighur prisoners had been wrongly captured and imprisoned. However, once tarred with the brush of association with terrorism and terrorist organisations, their return to their native China, where they are already a persecuted minority, was made almost impossible.

The US government has ordered the repatriation of Yemeni prisoner Mohamed Al-Odaini to his country. Al-Odaini was captured aged 18 in Pakistan where he was studying. In 2005, a military review approved his release and in May this year, a US judge found that his imprisonment was unlawful. The US government has agreed that there is no evidence of any links between Mr. Al-Odaini and any terrorist organisation. His repatriation comes although the US government is still strictly refusing to allow any Yemeni prisoners, who make up the single largest nationality of prisoners and of those who are actually free to leave, to be returned to their country, following a halt to this at the beginning of the year on the ground of security concerns. The Yemeni government is calling for the return of all its nationals. Amnesty International issued an Urgent Action for Mr. Al-Odaini calling for his release, which was circulated by the LGC. Amnesty thanks everyone who took part in this action. Although allowing the release of Mr. Al-Odaini, the US administration is maintaining the suspension of the transfer of other prisoners back to Yemen, stating that Mr. Al-Odaini’s release was court-ordered.

In early June, the American NGO Physicians for Human Rights published a report Experiments in Torture: Evidence of Human Subject Research and Experimentation in the “Enhanced” Interrogation Program: The report, which used an extensive range of government reports and documents about the involvement of medical personnel at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere in the design and use of techniques on terrorism suspects that are in breach of national and international law and ethical principles medical professionals must follow. The doctors assisted the government knowingly in redefining definitions and methods to make them appear ethical and safe when used on suspects. This involved determining how far one could go in an interrogation before the techniques used were illegal and designing interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, to make it less likely that the subject would die or suffer permanent noticeable damage. Based on the medical advice given, interrogators could then claim they had acted in accordance with recognised medical standards. Doctors have also been known to withhold information about the physical condition of prisoners and involved in torture in other ways that are in breach of their professional ethics.

At a hearing on 14 June in Washington DC, 24 activists from the American NGO Witness Against Torture were acquitted of unlawful entry, following their arrest at a demonstration on the steps of Capitol Hill on 21 January 2010, the date that President Obama had promised to close down Guantánamo Bay. They were arrested for holding banners stating “Broken Promises, Broken Laws, Broken Lives”. One of the persons acquitted, Ellen Graves said, “Our acquittal is a victory for free speech and for the right of Americans to stand up for those falsely imprisoned and abused at Guantánamo. We tried to shine a light on the unconstitutional policies of the Bush and now the Obama administrations. That light shone brightly today.” On the day following their acquittal (15 June), a coalition of groups, including Witness Against Torture and the Center for Constitutional Rights met with Portia Roberson, the head of the Office of Public Liaison at the US Department of Justice to discuss their “frustration with detention policies under the Obama administration and articulate … [the steps they would]… like to see the Justice Department take”. Those attending felt the meeting to be positive and delivered a letter of their demands to the US Justice Department, which can be read at:

Three former prisoners released to Slovakia have announced that they are going on hunger strike, due to the poor living conditions they face in the country. They told the director of Amnesty International Slovakia that it is worse than Guantánamo Bay. The three men are being held at a detention facility in Medvedov and claim they have been mistreated by the prison authorities, only have a bed and sink as facilities, are only allowed to leave their rooms for an hour each day and are not allowed to communicate with anyone except their lawyer and prison staff. The Slovak authorities have stated that the prisoners are looked after well. For more on this news:

In an editorial in the New York Times on 26 June, it was reported that closing Guantánamo Bay is no longer a priority for the Obama administration and it is unlikely that it will close before the end of his first term in 2013: Lack of political will and legislative blocks to plans to move prisoners to the US mainland as well as more recent attempted attacks on the US, such as the failed Christmas plane bombing and the failed Times Square bombing have changed priorities and shifted the focus from what President Obama himself had called a “failed experiment”, not to mention the illegality of the prison. A recent study by the Pentagon has also shown that Guantánamo Bay cost US taxpayers over $2 billion in 2002-2009 and with shifting rhetoric in the media and government, there is currently strong support for it remaining open in the US.

Extraordinary Rendition:
On 2 June, at the ongoing Baha Moussa inquiry, into the death of an Iraqi citizen who was tortured by British forces, former armed forces minister Adam Ingram told the inquiry that he had misled parliament over prisoners being hooded by British troops. Following a review into practices against Republicans in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s, hooding was one of the practices that was banned and the government has since assured the public that such practices, which amount to inhumane treatment, have not been used since by British troops. Mr Ingram had told the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) that hooding had only been used during the transport of prisoners, however he revealed at the inquiry that he had documents that proved that Mr. Moussa had been hooded for 24 out of the 36 hours he had been held in custody prior to his death. Other documents Mr. Ingram had access to at his ministry show contradictions with statements he made in parliament concerning whether or not the British army used such practices. Baha Moussa, a hotel receptionist, died aged 26 in 2003 after being arrested with several colleagues and tortured by British troops in Basra. He was beaten to death and had sustained almost 100 injuries. The inquiry is ongoing.
For more on this news:

Following statements last month by Foreign Secretary William Hague that the coalition government would hold an inquiry into allegations of British involvement in torture and extraordinary rendition, on 29 June, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that he had agreed to the terms this inquiry would take, which will be announced publicly soon. The inquiry may take place soon. It is widely reported that the inquiry may offer compensation to victims and is likely to be judge-led. On 25 June, Andrew Tyrie MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition published a legal opinion he had obtained from two barristers that although there are currently several court cases, with criminal and civil charges, pending against the Intelligence Services for involvement in torture abroad, there were safeguards in place that could prevent these cases being prejudiced by any official government inquiry. The opinion can be read at: It concludes that an inquiry can be started immediately. Commenting on the news that the terms of the inquiry had been approved, Mr. Tyrie said, “The Government should commence this inquiry without further delay” and “This inquiry can only be of lasting benefit if its remit is wide enough to include not only complicity in the torture of terrorist suspects, but also allegations of complicity in extraordinary rendition. Its reach must also be broader than just the security services and must include other government officials.” Moreover, on 28 June, in a judicial review brought by Reprieve at the High Court to have the legality of guidance given to MI5 and MI6 officers involved in questioning suspects abroad, the action was dismissed by the judge as the government has now said that it will rewrite and publish this policy soon. The former Labour government has promised to published new guidelines in March 2009 but failed to, leading Reprieve to bring an action against it in the courts instead, as without new guidelines, suspects questioned abroad are left largely vulnerable to abusive treatment and torture. The earlier guidelines, revised in 2004, are considered to be illegal but the revisions made have been kept secret. In early June, Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, praised the coalition government’s calls for an inquiry and said that it provided an example to other countries, particularly as "if well done it could set an example for other countries". He called for this inquiry to be thorough and particularly urged all Council Members (all European countries except Belarus) to investigate their role in rendition flights urgently and thoroughly.

On 14 June, the US Supreme Court dismissed a case by Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen of Syrian origin who was a victim of extraordinary rendition. Mr. Arar has already successfully sued his own government which also apologised for its involvement in his rendition and torture. Seized by the CIA in New York while returning from a family holiday in 2002, Mr. Arar was taken to Syria as an alleged Al Qaeda member, where he was tortured for over a year. He was later put on a terrorism blacklist by the US government. He sued Attorney General John Ashcroft, the head of the FBI and several members of the US government in 2004. Lower courts claimed that he did not have standing to sue the American government and prior to this dismissal of his claim, President Obama had urged the Supreme Court to reject the claim. The US has never apologised for Mr. Arar’s ordeal. For more details on this news:
An interview with BBC World Service a few days after his case was rejected:

On 29 June, the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a new report No Questions Asked: Intelligence Cooperation With Countries That Torture, concerning the UK, France and Germany: The report states that these countries use intelligence obtained through torture to combat terrorism. It states that intelligence services in these countries cooperate with regimes that torture, such as Syria and Algeria, and also use the evidence obtained in domestic trials, which is in breach of international law.

Rangzieb Ahmed, currently facing a life sentence for terrorism-related offences, has won the right to appeal his convictions, following allegations that the security services were involved in his torture in Pakistan. He claims that while imprisoned in Pakistan he was beaten and had his finger nails pulled out. Following that, he was questioned, in Pakistan by MI5 and MI6 agents. Last year, using parliamentary privilege, David Davis MP read out a statement in parliament of the torture Mr. Ahmed had faced. Commenting at the time, Mr. Davis said, “I cannot imagine a more obvious case of the outsourcing of torture, a more obvious case of 'passive rendition'." More on this news:

LGC Activities:
The June monthly Shut Down Guantánamo! will be on Friday 2 July at 6-7pm outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, Mayfair, W1A 1AE. Three people attended the June demonstration.

The LGC asked residents of the Brent Central constituency in northwest London to add their names to a letter to be sent to local MP Sarah Teather concerning the case of Ahmed Belbacha, who faces the imminent risk of being returned to Algeria. Around 35 local people added their names to the letter. Many thanks to everyone who did.

The LGC held a demonstration outside the US Embassy on 26 June, International Day in Support of Victims of Torture in solidarity with victims of extraordinary rendition. Around 70 people attended the action which was addressed by several speakers. A report of the action can be read at

The LGC will be holding a campaigns meeting which all are welcome to join on Thursday 29 July at 7pm at the Tricycle Café, 269 Kilburn High Road, NW6 (nearest underground: Kilburn). The café is in the Tricycle Theatre and is fully accessible.

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