Tuesday, August 31, 2010

LGC Newsletter - August 2010

Guantánamo Bay:
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.

Extraordinary rendition:
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:

LGC Activities:
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

Write to released Guantánamo Prisoners in Europe in Ramadan

Former prisoners speak. Ramadan was more spiritual in Guantanamo. It was our time to be with our brothers - especially the more educated ones. They would talk in low voices from cage to cage. All brothers gave each other Salam. Being in prison we studied the Koran well and many learnt Arabic. Through all our suffering we were being tested by Allah. So we became strong. Physically, too: doing press-ups and star-jumps. Who'd have guessed it? Guantanamo became our school. A madrassa. The place which made us grow up, become closer to Habib; where, in the single voice calling for prayer every day as the sun was rising, we created beauty out of ugliness. And in that we gained victory over the disbelievers who stood guard on us.”

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: contact@cageprisoners.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
08015 Nuoro

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

Guantánamo Bay: Military Tribunal for Child Soldier Starts Today

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.

Photographs: Copyright: RK Wolff