Friday, December 31, 2010

LGC Newsletter - December 2010

LGC Newsletter – December 2010

British Residents:
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.

Guantánamo Bay:
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.

Extraordinary rendition:
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.

LGC Activities:
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:!/event.php?eid=156090414425731&index=1

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!

No comments:

Post a Comment