Sunday, December 05, 2010

LGC Newsletter – November 2010

British Residents:
On 16 November, Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke announced in the House of Commons that the British government had reached a confidential out-of-court settlement with half a dozen former Guantánamo prisoners and had added a further half dozen to the recipients of an undisclosed compensation settlement. Dubbed “hush money” by the tabloid press and the end of the court case brought by former prisoners to force the government to disclose what it knew about their torture and arbitrary detention in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, it also means that uncertainty will prevail as to what the British government knew and did and leaves many questions open to those who doubt the integrity of prisoners held without trial, and without charges in some cases, for many years. In making his statement, Mr. Clarke stated “No admissions of culpability have been made in settling those cases and nor have any of the claimants withdrawn their allegations. This is a mediated settlement.” This means that the cases can be reopened at some later date. While the government said that no admission of guilt had been made in its case, it is quite clear that if there was no guilt no compensation settlement would have been made. As a result, most of the evidence of involvement in international wrongdoing by the British government which the case sought to have made public will remain secret. The case, brought at the High Court in May last year, never moved past the procedural stage, with much legal wrangling as to what the government was prepared to make public and how; the government demanded that large parts of the hearing be held in secret without the men bringing the case or their lawyers knowing the evidence being discussed or presented, effectively making it impossible for them to challenge it. This was allegedly on national security grounds. It has always been clear that the government was prepared to fight attempts to disclose the evidence in this case and that the case would be a drawn out affair without necessarily achieving its desired aims. One of the former prisoners bringing the case, Moazzam Begg, wrote in the Independent about why they chose to make the settlement:
The government hopes that the Gibson Inquiry, to which this case provided a major hurdle, would settle some of the questions raised by it. The Gibson Inquiry itself has been much criticised already and the actual terms of how it will operate have yet to be clarified. Unfortunately, in his announcement, Mr. Clarke continued to refer to the “mistreatment” of prisoners abroad, which the Gibson Inquiry is to look into. “Mistreatment” is not a legal term and the allegations are of human rights abuses, some of which, like torture, constitute crimes against humanity. Furthermore, the current government, which is wholly responsible, has given no reassurances whatsoever that its agents are not currently involved in similar practices abroad. At least one further allegation of British intelligence services being complicit in the abuse of a British national abroad has emerged since the May election.
In this statement, Mr. Clarke also referred to government plans, already mentioned by the Prime Minister, to publish a green paper next summer on the use of intelligence in judicial proceedings. The paper would “examine mechanisms for the protection and disclosure of sensitive information in the full range of civil proceedings, inquests and inquiries” and “will also consider complementary options to modernise and reform existing standing intelligence oversight mechanisms”. This proposal seeks to prevent litigation of the type mentioned above and cases similar to the Binyam Mohamed case, with the main aim being to protect Britain’s diplomatic relations with other countries.

Several other court cases are still ongoing before the Gibson Inquiry can start. In one of them, the criminal case concerning misconduct by the security services in Binyam Mohamed’s case, the director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmar QC, has advised the Metropolitan police not to prosecute an MI5 agent known as Witness B, who was singled out, due to insufficient evidence to prosecute him. However, a wider criminal investigation is continuing into the allegations made in this case, although that may not lead to any prosecution. Commenting on this decision, Andrew Tyrie MP, the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition said, “Any information that would have been available in the court cases and criminal investigations must be available to the inquiry”.

Another major obstacle to the government drawing a line under its involvement in Guantanamo Bay is that almost a decade later, British resident Shaker Aamer remains there. It emerged shortly after the announcement of the settlement that the former prisoners had offered to forego compensation if Mr. Aamer’s release could be secured. His release was also a major discussion point of the settlement. Since then, both the Foreign Secretary William Hague and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg have spoken to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about his release. Amnesty International has also started a campaign for Shaker Aamer’s release and the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign (SSAC) is holding a day-long event on 11 December to raise awareness about his case. Now is the ideal time for the British government to take action after having dragged its heels over Mr. Aamer’s release in the three and a half years since Prime Minister Gordon Brown wrote to the US seeking his release along with four other prisoners who have all since long returned to the UK.

Guantánamo Bay:
In a first test for the Obama administration on how it would fare in putting prisoners on trial before civilian courts, the jury in the trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian former prisoner and victim of extraordinary rendition, found him guilty of only one charge, of conspiracy to damage or destroy US property with explosives, out of 285 charges, including murder and conspiracy to murder. He now faces a minimum of 20 years in prison. He was accused of involvement in the 1998 bombing of US Embassies in East Africa. Charged in 2001, he was kidnapped in Pakistan in 2004, after which he “disappeared” until he was sent to Guantánamo Bay in 2006. He will be sentenced on 25 January 2011. Considered a good day for justice, the verdict was not favourable to the US administration which was also planning to try others facing charges before civilian courts. It may now reconsider and change its plans. Some Republicans have called for future trials to be scrapped.

Extraordinary rendition:
Former American president George W. Bush, currently on a book tour promoting his memoirs Decision Points, outed himself a war criminal by confessing to having authorised the use of waterboarding on at least three prisoners. He further claimed that the use of waterboarding helped to save lives by foiling attacks at Heathrow Airport and Canary Wharf; these claims have been denied by British officials. He has since failed to elaborate on how his vague claims managed to prevent these and other attacks elsewhere and how this was the only “viable” means of obtaining this information. The Mayor of London Boris Johnson has warned George Bush not to bring his book tour to European capitals stating that, as a result, “he might never see Texas again” after being prosecuted for war crimes. Commenting on the nature of George Bush’s admissions, Mr. Johnson said, “It is hard to overstate the enormity of this admission”.

The US Department of Justice has decided that there will be no prosecutions over the destruction of tapes in 2005 showing the torture faced by prisoners at a US black site in Thailand. 92 tapes in total were destroyed showing the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used to extract confessions from Abdul Rahman Al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah, both still held at Guantánamo Bay but who no longer face any charges. No reasons were given for why the prosecution was dropped, which would reveal whether soldiers acted of their own will or were following orders from above, or why the tapes were destroyed, although there is speculation that this was to avoid any further embarrassment for the US following the disclosure of photographs of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.

Amnesty International has published a report on the role played by European states in extraordinary rendition through secret prisons and facilitating torture flights, outlining the measures that have and should be taken to investigate and prosecute those involved.

An appeal hearing was held at the High Court in London in a case dubbed by MP David Davis as a clear “case of passive rendition” involving Rangzieb Ahmed who was jailed for life in 2008 for directing acts of terrorism. He was ordered to serve at least ten years. However, following a statement in Parliament last year by David Davis in which, using parliamentary privilege, he disclosed the nature of the allegations of torture Mr. Ahmed made about when he was interrogated in Pakistan, he was allowed to appeal his conviction. He claims the UK government was involved and much of his 2008 trial was held in secret due to the sensitivity of the intelligence evidence and how it was obtained.

LGC Activities:
The November monthly Shut Down Guantánamo! on Friday 5 November was attended by 4 people. There will be no demonstration in January as it precedes the ninth anniversary action by a few days. We invite you to join us for that instead.

The London Guantánamo Campaign launched an Early Day Motion (EDM) with MP Caroline Lucas this month on the closure of Guantánamo Bay, largely laying down what the British government should be doing now to help close Guantánamo Bay. 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. Please ask your MP to sign the EDM and to join the London Guantánamo Campaign on Tuesday 11 January 2011 in Trafalgar Square to mark the ninth anniversary of Guantánamo Bay [flyer attached – please circulate].
The EDM is at: It has been signed by 10 MPs so far.

Following the verdict in the Ghailani case, the LGC had a letter published in The Guardian newspaper making largely the same demands: that the British must act and act now to help close Guantánamo Bay:

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
Please join us and let others know about this event.

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