Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Shut Guantánamo - End 10 Years of Shame

Shut Guantánamo - End 10 Years of Shame
Public Rally
Trafalgar Square - top of steps, outside National Gallery,

2-4pm, Saturday 7 January 2012

Called by London Guantánamo Campaign, Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, Stop the War Coalition, CND

11 January 2012 marks ten years of torture, abuse and arbitrary detention at Guantánamo Bay - one of the world's most notorious symbols of injustice.

The illegal US military prison has held more than 800 prisoners - most of them released without charge or trial. 171 prisoners remain, without prospect of release.

Over a dozen British nationals and residents have been illegally imprisoned at Guantánamo. Two remain: Shaker Aamer, a UK resident with a British family in south London, including a son he has never met; and Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian national from Bournemouth. Both men were cleared for release in 2007.

President Obama promised to close Guantánamo but has not. Now prisoners may be held indefinitely without evidence. The vast majority have never faced any charges.

Kidnapping and imprisoning people indefinitely without charge or trial, denying them their freedom and human rights, gratuitously denigrating and abusing them physically and mentally: ALL OF THIS MUST END.

Speakers include: Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP (Lib Dem), Louise Christian (solicitor), Lindsey German (STWC), Kate Hudson (CND), Joy Hurcombe (Save Shaker Aamer Campaign), Cortney Busch (Reprieve), Victoria Brittain (journalist), Kanja Sesay (NUS), Steve Bell (CWU), Pete The Temp (Poet) and others

- Join our rally on 7 January 2012 to say:
Shut Guantánamo - End 10 Years of Shame

- Sign London Guantánamo Campaign's petition:

For more details: london.gtmo@gmail.com or call 07809 757 176

As part of this action, we are looking for volunteers - you! - to help out with a visual stunt to remind the world of the 170 prisoners still held in Guantánamo Bay. If you are happy to be a "prisoner" and wear an orange jumpsuit (hood optional) for about half an hour, we'd like to hear from you. We need as many volunteers as we can get for this (male and female of all ages and sizes). We also need one male "voice artist", with a loud authoritarian voice and one clear female "voice artist" who can pronounce the prisoners' names (mainly Arabic/Persian names) properly. We will also require several volunteers to choregraph the action on the day. This action will be filmed. If you'd like to know more and take part, please get in touch with the LGC (details above).

Write to:
o Prime Minister David Cameron, 10 Downing Street, London SW1A 2AH
o Foreign Secretary William Hague, King Charles Street, London SW1A 2AH
o President Barack Obama, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC, USA
o Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 2201 C Street NW, Washington DC 20301, USA

LGC Newsletter – November 2011


Guantánamo Bay:
The first military commission under President Obama started on 9 November. Abdul Rahim Al-Nashiri, a 46-year old Saudi national, accused of involvement in the 2000 attack on a US warship, the USS Cole in Yemen, which killed 17 sailors and injured 40 others, was arraigned before a tribunal at Guantánamo Bay, where the charges against him were read out. President Obama had, at the beginning of his term as president, suspended the use of military commissions as both the proceedings and the evidence cases are based on are dubious. Indeed, in Al-Nashiri’s case, which could see him subject to the death penalty ten years after he was kidnapped and detained, evidence was obtained through the use of waterboarding. Al-Nashiri is one of three Guantánamo prisoners the CIA admitted to having used this torture method on in 2009. He also spent four years at secret CIA prisons around the world before being taken to Guantánamo; he previously said he had only confessed to the charges due to the torture. Some media, families of the victims and human rights NGO observers were allowed to attend the hearing. The charges read out included murder and terrorism-related offences concerning this attack and two others in 2000 and 2002. Al-Nashiri told the court that he wished to continue being represented by both his military and civilian lawyers and decided not to plead guilty or innocent to the charges until a later date. The judge set a trial date for November 2012, which is likely to fall after the US presidential elections. Mr Al-Nashiri’s trial, the first under Obama’s revamped system, is likely to raise many questions about the treatment of prisoners, the status of the prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay and other related issues. If convicted, in a trial which is likely to take years, Al-Nashiri faces the death penalty, and if acquitted, under the current rules of the American administration, he could be held perpetually without conviction.

The debate over provisions in the US law concerning military funding for the coming year, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which include measures which would legalise “enhanced interrogation techniques” such as waterboarding, perpetuate the detention of prisoners at Guantánamo and give preference to military tribunals over civilian trials for Guantánamo prisoners and individuals suspected of terrorism offences caught by the US both at home and abroad, has now moved to the Senate (equivalent to the House of Lords). A proposal has been put forward by Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte to favour military tribunals and not subject suspects to criminal procedures before civilian courts, moving the definition of terrorism officially from being a criminal act to being an act of war. The standards of proof and procedure before criminal courts are far higher and fairer. As demonstrated by the Al-Nashiri case above as well, the standards and procedures in current military tribunals are still being tested out. Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and 30 other human rights and civil liberties NGOs in the United States sent a letter to the Senate asking senators to oppose the amendments proposed by Congress and to prevent these measures being passed: http://www.aclu.org/blog/national-security/seriously-senate-considering-repeal-anti-torture-measures President Obama has the right to veto the bill, to prevent these measures being passed, and has already threatened to do so.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204753404577064281921470006.html#articleTabs%3Darticle Contrary to his early promises as president, President Obama in his first term as president has backtracked completely on his campaign pledge to close Guantánamo. Instead, over the past few years, his government has acted to legalise and perpetuate the illegal detention of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, in addition to not acting to repeal extraordinary rendition, a 1995 policy introduced by the Bill Clinton government, and has allowed facilities like Bagram to swell to over four times the size they were prior to his presidency and for the US to retain control over prisons it runs in Afghanistan after the handover of control to the Afghan authorities. Ten years on, instead of moving forward on Guantánamo, the American government is moving backwards into a time before law and legality. A recent Miami Herald article claimed Guantánamo Bay was the most expensive prison in the world to run, where the average cost of keeping one prisoner without charge or trial for one year far exceeds the cost of a full undergraduate degree in the United States, where university education is also notoriously expensive. http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/11/08/2493042/guantanamo-bay-the-most-expensive.html

British resident in Guantánamo Bay, Shaker Aamer, has now spent over 10 years in illegal American detention without charge or trial. According to the legal charity Reprieve, Mr Aamer’s physical and mental health is rapidly deteriorating with his prolonged detention. Renewed demands have been made for his release to the British government.

Extraordinary rendition:
The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, has expressed concerns about the transparency and openness of the upcoming Detainee (Gibson) Inquiry. While commending the government for holding an inquiry, he is concerned that the restrictions placed on it will not allow the truth of what the intelligence services have been involved in to come to light.
Amnesty International UK has recently launched a new campaign calling on the government to rethink the structure of the Inquiry. Take action by writing to the Prime Minister at:

LGC Activities:
Eight people joined the November Shut Down Guantánamo! demonstration on Friday 4 November. The December demonstration will be held on Friday 2 December at 12-1pm outside the US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, London W1A 1AE and 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner, Hyde Park (opposite Marble Arch).Please join us for the last demonstration this year and please note that there is NO monthly demonstration in January. Please watch out for details of our January action shortly instead.
This month’s action: http://www.facebook.com/#!/events/215928415146600/

After the November demonstration, some activists took the word down to the Occupy London Stock Exchange camp next to St Paul’s Cathedral. The following is a statement given by the activists about why Guantánamo must close: http://thevoicesfromoccupylondon.tumblr.com/post/12564430048/london-guantanamo-bay-campaign-4-november-2011

Sunday, October 30, 2011

LGC Newsletter – October 2011


Guantánamo Bay:
Since September, the US Congress has been debating a new law, the National Defense Authorization Act 2012, which would allow “terrorism” suspects to be transferred to Guantánamo Bay and tried before military tribunals there and perpetuate the regime of indefinite detention at Guantánamo Bay. A clause in it would also legalise “enhanced interrogation techniques”, otherwise known as “torture” in the English language. President Obama, who remains committed to closing Guantánamo, has expressed his opposition to this plan. On 4 October, Senator Harry Reid blocked the bill from being debated by the Senate (equivalent to the British House of Lords) due to the language used in framing these proposals which would keep Guantánamo Bay open indefinitely. Since then, another senator, John McCain has asked President Obama to ignore Senator Reid and push ahead with the law. The president has the right to veto it. On 18 October, the Pentagon’s top lawyer spoke out in favour of closing Guantánamo and against “over-militarizing our approach to al-Qaida and its affiliates.” [Source: Miami Herald]
More on this news and link to Amnesty USA action to block this law:

Although Omar Khadr is eligible to leave Guantánamo Bay on Monday 31 October, his return to his native Canada may take up to 18 months, the usual term for the repatriation of offenders to the country. The Canadian government is unlikely to expedite his case. After pleading guilty to war crimes in a secret plea bargain, in a trial which admitted torture evidence and was the first military trial for crimes allegedly committed as a minor since WWII, Omar Khadr was allowed to serve the last 8 years of his sentence in a Canadian jail. His lawyers have stated that the transfer process has been started.

Extraordinary rendition:
On 19 October, the government published its Justice and Security Green Paper, proposing to introduce the use of closed hearings, secret evidence and “special advocates”, lawyers who represent but cannot communicate with their clients, in national security-sensitive cases, essentially to prevent information about the government’s involvement in torture and international criminal activity abroad falling into the public domain. The proposals would also introduce the use of closed inquests in such cases too. This follows, in particular, the Binyam Mohamed case in which the government, following years of denial of awareness of his torture and extraordinary rendition, was forced to admit that it had lied to the courts, parliament and the British public, on the grounds that it would affect intelligence-sharing relations with the US. A potential outcome of this case is that had certain documents not been disclosed, evidence obtained through torture from Binyam Mohamed could have been used as evidence against him. The green paper was announced on 6 July 2010 along with the forthcoming Gibson Inquiry, which also intends to use secret evidence and closed hearings. As well as preventing information about the government’s collusion in torture being disclosed and essentially making any such legal action pointless, it will also strongly undermine the right to a fair trial and a centuries-long tradition of open trials in the United Kingdom. There is also a potential for this to seep into other areas of the law; secret evidence and closed hearings are already used in other national security-sensitive cases, including those tried under laws introduced in the UK post-9/11 and pre-Guantánamo leading to a regime of arbitrary detention without charge or trial at HMP Belmarsh for foreign terrorism suspects, dubbed “Britain’s own Guantánamo”.
For more on this news:

A case that is likely to be argued under the same principles as the Binyam Mohamed case, if it is successful, is that brought this month by Libyan extraordinary rendition victim Sami Al-Saadi. In 2004, Al-Saadi, his wife and his four young children were kidnapped in Hong Kong and “rendered” to Libyan where they were detained and tortured. Documents disclosed by Human Rights Watch since the fall of the Gaddafi regime show that Britain was instrumental in their rendition and confirm his claims that he was questioned by UK intelligence officers while held in Libya. Mr Al-Saadi has said that he is bringing the case so that the truth is known and to prevent this happening again.

Prosecutors in Lithuania have decided not to reopen an investigation into possible CIA-run secret torture prisons in the country, in spite of new evidence provided to them by Amnesty International and Reprieve. The investigation was closed in January due to a lack of evidence. A 2009 parliamentary investigation in the country had confirmed the presence of such jails but not that anyone had been held there. The two human rights organisations have provided names of individuals alleged to have been held there. Since then, Guantánamo Bay “high-value” prisoner Abu Zubayda, kidnapped in 2002 and held in secret detention facilities for almost five years, where he was subject to waterboarding, among other forms of torture, is bringing a case against Lithuania at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, over its role in his extraordinary rendition.

LGC Activities:
A dozen people attended the October Afghan War Anniversary Shut Down Guantánamo! demonstration on Friday 7 October. The November demonstration will be held on Friday 4 November at 12-1pm outside the US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, London W1A 1AE and 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner, Hyde Park (opposite Marble Arch).With just months to go until Guantánamo marks its first complete decade of torture and arbitrary detention, please join us if you can to show your opposition to its on-going existence
The London Guantánamo Campaign also took part in the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign’s very successful action alongside the Stop The War Coalition’s Mass Anti-War Rally on 8 October to mark the tenth anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, where most Guantánamo detainees were held prisoner before being transferred, including British resident Shaker Aamer. A cage display was held, 100s of signatures were collected on petitions and leaflets were handed out; at one stage, campaigners managed to get Tony Blair, David Cameron and Barack Obama behind bars but they escaped quite quickly…
For pictures and a report of the action: https://london.indymedia.org/articles/10367

Please sign the London Guantánamo Campaign’s e-petition to the US Ambassador to London which we intend to deliver on 11 January 2012 http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/release_aamer_and_belbacha/ addressed to the US ambassador to the UK calling for the return of Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha to the UK and the closure of Guantánamo Bay. Please add your name (and comments, if you wish) and ask your friends and family to do as well. Look out for further updates on planned actions.

Monday, October 10, 2011

10 years in Afghanistan: 10 years of torture and arbitrary detention

Afghan War Anniversary

Friday 7th October 2011 marked the tenth anniversary of the start of the current NATO-led war in Afghanistan in 2001. As well as leading to the death of thousands of civilians and soldiers, the war in Afghanistan is also the birthplace of one of the lesser known aspects of the so-called "war on terror": the torture and arbitrary detention of thousands of prisoners of all ages and nationalities.

Most of the prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay had been held at prisons in Afghanistan, such as Bagram and the Salt Pit near Kabul, before being taken to Guantánamo, on the other side of the world, or were taken to Afghanistan as victims of the CIA's kidnap and torture programme, "extraordinary rendition".

Campaigners from the London Guantánamo Campaign and the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign held actions on Friday 7th and Saturday 8th October to mark ten years of this ongoing brutality.

London Guantánamo Campaign Demonstration on 7 October
On the evening of 7th October, around a dozen people gathered outside the US Embassy in Mayfair to stand in solidarity with all victims of torture and prisoners held without charge or trial over the past ten years. This demonstration, part of a monthly action held outside the US Embassy by the London Guantánamo Campaign, was held especially to mark 10 years of arbitrary detention and torture at Bagram and other prisons. In particular, they called for justice for victims and for the American government to return Guantánamo prisoners Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha, who have links to the UK, to this country.

"Ten Hours for Ten Years" and STWC Anti-War Mass Assembly, 8 October, Trafalgar Square
On 8th October, the London Guantánamo Campaign joined the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign for a special "Ten Hours for Ten Years" action to mark ten years of Shaker Aamer's illegal detention in Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay as part of the Stop The War Coalition's Anti-War Mass Rally in Trafalgar Square. Shaker Aamer, a 44 year old Saudi national, who has a British wife and four children, including a son he has never met, was abused and tortured at Bagram before being sent to Guantánamo Bay where he has been held without charge or trial for almost the past ten years; he had been working for a Saudi charity in Afghanistan in 2001. He has never faced any charges or trial. Four other British residents whose release was sought at the same time as his by the British government in 2007 have long since returned to the UK. Although the government insists it is doing all it can, it has never explained why it has failed to secure his return to the UK.

Over 5000 people attended the successful anti-war rally, according to the Stop The War Coalition, from all over the UK. Talks were given by politicians, representatives of NGOS, celebrities, journalists and musicians. Speakers included Stop The War President Tony Benn, journalists John Pilger and Lauren Booth, Jemima Khan, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, musicians Lowkey and Brian Eno as well as many others. The names of over 120 people who have died in Afghanistan were read out.

The action for Shaker Aamer, which was eventually reduced to 8 hours (ending at 6pm instead of 8pm) by the powers that be, consisted of volunteers taking turns to stand inside a cage to highlight his plight. Signatures were also collected on a petition to the government calling for his release to the UK. In another cage, protesters donning Bush, Blair and Cameron masks and wearing the notorious Guantánamo orange jumpsuits were finally - temporarily - put behind bars for their crimes against humanity. They were joined for a short while by Kate Hudson, CND General Secretary, and anti-war campaigner Pat Arrowsmith who spoke out against Shaker Aamer's continuing imprisonment without charge or trial. At 3pm, around 20 protesters held up letters spelling "B-R-I-N-G S-H-A-K-E-R A-A-M-E-R H-O-M-E". The stall and the action attracted a lot of interest from demonstrators and passers-by.

At 4pm, the rally concluded with protesters being led down Whitehall to Downing Street by veteran 105-year anti-war campaigner Hetty Bower and former soldier Joe Glenton, who was jailed for refusing to serve in Afghanistan, to deliver a letter to the Prime Minister from military families and soldiers calling for British troops to return home from Afghanistan. Over a thousand people joined this part of the rally. However, protesters were only allowed to go as far as Downing Street and not towards Parliament Square, further down the road, and those who remained outside Downing Street were threatened with arrest under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) 2005.

A Very Brief History of Torture, Arbitrary Detention, Life and Death at Bagram, Guantánamo and Elsewhere over the Past Decade
Back in 2001/2002, foreigners in Afghanistan were arrested by local warlords who sold them to the American military for a bounty of $5000, a small fortune to its recipients. Many had their personal items and identification stolen. After being tortured and abused in Afghan prisons, most were then sent to another illegal prison at Guantánamo Bay. Conditions in Afghan prisons are reported to be worse, with former British Guantánamo prisoner, Moazzam Begg, describing Bagram as being worse than Guantánamo. Deaths are not uncommon; the 2007 Oscar-winning documentary film Taxi to the Dark Side tells the true story of the savage murder at the hands of US soldiers of an Afghan taxi driver in 2002. Banned torture techniques such as hooding, sleep deprivation, the use of white noise and repetitive music as torture as well as physical and sexual abuse have been reported.

Prisoner conditions have not improved over the past decade; Bagram is very much in the same state Guantánamo Bay was in several years with no exact details of the prisoners held there, although the majority are reported to be Afghan nationals. Prisoners do not have access to medical and legal representation or communication with their families, except through the Red Cross. While prisoners at Guantánamo Bay have described the experience of being held there as "being buried alive", in parts of Bagram, prisoners are quite literally buried alive in tiny cells in underground bunkers. Since Barack Obama became president in 2009, the facility has grown fourfold in size, going from a prisoner capacity of 600 to over 2400. Although the Afghan government is due to assume control of all prisons in Afghanistan from January 2012, the US military has decided to retain control over a prison at Parwan near Bagram, which it is currently expanding and claims it is using it to hold high-value detainees.

Afghanistan has also been a hotspot for secret CIA-run torture jails and a destination for victims of extraordinary rendition. British residents, formerly held at Guantánamo Bay, Binyam Mohamed, who was kidnapped in Pakistan and Bisher Al-Rawi and Jamil El-Banna, who were kidnapped in Ghana were all taken to Afghanistan where they were tortured. In spite of pressure from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition, the transfer of prisoners will not feature in the forthcoming torture (detainee or Gibson) inquiry set up by the government; the British government was aware that British residents and nationals were being tortured while detained in Afghanistan in 2002.

Perhaps one of the most extraordinary stories to emerge is that of German citizen, Khaled El-Masri, who was kidnapped on holiday in Macedonia in 2003 and taken to Afghanistan where he was detained for several months: http://www.pen.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/4051/prmID/1873

The main feature of this decade-long practice of torture and abuse of prisoners is the complete lack of justice and due legal process. Prisoners are detained and held outside of the recognised confines of the law. Wikileaks earlier this year revealed how random the investigation of prisoners conducted at Guantánamo Bay were, prisoners - 170 of whom are still held without charge or trial - considered to be "bad men" and the "worst of the worst". While all the main political parties in Britain have openly condemned the continuing regime of illegal detention at Guantánamo Bay, for the main part, they continue to support the ongoing war in Afghanistan, in which similar, if not worse, facilities exist as part of the war effort there. Similarly, while Barack Obama talks about closing Guantánamo (he had promised to close it by January 2010 - last year!), money is being pumped into expanding the illegal detention facilities at Bagram and Parwan.

What Can You Do? Get Involved!
The London Guantánamo Campaign will continue to seek the closure of Guantánamo, Bagram and similar prisons elsewhere. We are currently in the process of organising a series of events to mark the tenth anniversary of Guantánamo Bay in January 2012; this will include a candlelight vigil outside the US Embassy on Wednesday 11 January at 6-8pm and a demonstration in central London on the afternoon of Saturday 7 January. Please check us on Facebook or visit our blog: http://londonguantanamocampaign.blogspot.com/ for updates and more details.

We are also collecting signatures on a petition to the American ambassador which we will deliver to the embassy on Guantánamo's 10th birthday on 11 January 2012. Please add your name to the petition: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/release_aamer_and_belbacha/

The Save Shaker Aamer Campaign will also hold an event outside Downing Street on International Human Rights Day, 10 December, calling for the release of Shaker Aamer. Please check out the website: http://www.saveshaker.org/ for details.

A new documentary film, "YOU DON'T LIKE THE TRUTH - 4 days inside Guantánamo" about Omar Khadr, a Canadian national who has been held and convicted at Guantánamo Bay for war crimes allegedly committed in Afghanistan when he was 14 (he is now 24), went on general release on Friday 7 October. It is currently playing at the Ritzy in Brixton: The Ritzy - Picture House, Brixton Oval, Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, London, SW2 http://www.picturehouses.co.uk/cinema/Ritzy_Picturehouse/

© Pictures and report by Aisha Maniar for the London Guantánamo Campaign

Friday, September 30, 2011

LGC Newsletter – September 2011

LGC Newsletter – September 2011


British residents:
Shaker Aamer is on hunger strike in protest at conditions at Guantánamo Bay, along with other prisoners, and according to a letter written and signed by him obtained by the BBC, the inhumane treatment of prisoners continues. He describes himself and other prisoners as “hostages” and asked to be released or given a fair trial. The Pentagon has denied that prisoner abuse continues. Although in 2009, when his presidency began, President Obama stated that prisoners would be detained in accordance with the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war, the few prisoners who have since been released have reported that the abuse continues. Force feeding hunger strikers like Shaker Aamer is a violation of their human rights. While maintaining that it is doing all it can, the British government maintains that Shaker Aamer’s release is a matter for the American government. Almost 10 years on, it is not clear why Mr Aamer continues to be detained without ever having faced charges or trial.

Guantánamo Bay:
The legal NGO Reprieve which represents dozens of Guantánamo prisoners, held a press conference in Tunis on 14 September attended by Tunisian politicians, former prisoners, and lawyers, calling for the release of the remaining 5 Tunisians in Guantánamo Bay. Prior to the Jasmine Revolution, the former Ben Ali regime had been involved in extraordinary rendition and out of the 7 Tunisians who were released, 5 were sent to third countries in Europe instead, due to the threat of further arbitrary detention and torture in Tunisia. Some have been able to return this year. The new Tunisian government has expressed its desire and will to negotiate the return of the remaining 5 prisoners with the American government; it has called on the Obama administration to return its citizens.

Abdul Rahim Al-Nashiri, a 46-year old Saudi prisoner has been charged by the US Department of Defense with plotting an attack on a US warship in Yemen in 2000 which killed 17 sailors and wounded 40 others. He has also been charged with murder, attempted murder, conspiracy and terrorism. He is also accused by the US of an attack on a French vessel in 2002. Following the charges, his trial, before military commission, must be held within the next 30 days. He potentially faces the death penalty, the first such case under the Obama regime. Al-Nashiri is one of three prisoners the CIA admitted, in 2009, to having waterboarded. He was subject to this form of torture at least several dozen times. At a previous hearing, he said he had only confessed to the charges due to torture.

With American presidential elections due to be held at the end of next year, American Attorney General Eric Holder has said that the Obama administration wants to see Guantánamo Bay closed. He stated that both he and Barack Obama would like to see the illegal detention facility closed down by the elections in November 2012. This was in response to criticism by European Union, which said that it was a “shame” that Guantánamo Bay was still open.
During his first election campaign, President Obama highlighted civil liberties and the closure of Guantánamo Bay among his election pledges. After election, signing a decree to close the facility was one of his first actions in office. He has since backtracked completely and is instead seeking legal avenues to keep Guantánamo Bay open and legitimise the actions of his predecessor, George Bush.

The US military has recently stated that it is planning to expand the detention facility at Parwan, near the Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan, by a capacity of over 2000 extra prisoners. The prison can currently hold 3,500 prisoners. Furthermore, the US will maintain control of it following the 2012 handover date to the Afghan authorities as it is considered to hold high-value prisoners. Since 2009, Bagram has also increased its prisoner numbers fourfold. The vast majority of prisoners held at Guantánamo were first held at and most often tortured in Afghan prisons. Earlier this month, NATO command in Afghanistan suspended the handover of prisoners to Afghan-run prisons following a UN report on widespread torture and abuse of prisoners at such facilities. Last year the British Ministry of Defence was taken to the High Court for its policy of allowing such prisoner transfers, a case which it partially won.

Extraordinary rendition:
Documents found by the American NGO Human Rights Watch among a stash at the building used by Colonel Gaddafi’s former head of intelligence in Tripoli show that Britain was complicit in the extraordinary rendition in 2004 of the current head of the rebel forces in Tripoli, Abdelhakim Belhaj, from Malaysia to Libya. He was then the leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which has since disbanded and had alleged links to Al Qaeda. Britain provided intelligence on Belhaj which led to his kidnap, along with his pregnant wife, in Thailand in early 2004 en route to the UK. Belhaj reports that he was tortured and held at secret CIA prisons during his rendition, with the knowledge of MI6. He is one of the prisoners in whose rendition the US cooperated with the Libyan authorities. The documents found provide firm evidence of this. Britain is also reported to have provided intelligence to the Libyan government on dissidents during its period of rapprochement with the regime in 2004-5, in spite of being fully aware of its use of torture and other human rights abuses. While the Foreign Office initially refused to comment on the issue, claiming it was a matter for the previous government, even though the British intelligence official involved is not an elected official, the Prime Minister later announced that the issue of the Libyan renditions would be added to the scope of the Gibson (Detainee) Inquiry. Belhaj has asked for an apology and may bring legal action against the British government. Last month, nine leading UK human rights NGOs, victims and their lawyers withdrew from participating in this same inquiry due to its lack of transparency, impartiality and effectiveness.
The documents can be read at:

LGC Activities:
Four people attended the September Shut Down Guantánamo! demonstration. The October demonstration, which coincides with the 10th anniversary of the current war in Afghanistan, will be a special demonstration on Friday 7 October at 6-7pm outside the US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, London W1A 1AE, in solidarity with prisoners and torture victims in Afghanistan. Hundreds of victims of extraordinary rendition have been held in Afghanistan and nearly all of the Guantánamo prisoners were held at Bagram or other prisons in Afghanistan before being transferred. Please join us if you can to mark this sombre anniversary.
Media on the September demonstration:

The London Guantánamo Campaign is currently in the process of organising actions to mark the 10th anniversary of Guantánamo Bay in January 2012. As part of these actions, we are currently collecting signatures on the following e-petition: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/release_aamer_and_belbacha/ addressed to the US ambassador to the UK calling for the return of Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha to the UK and the closure of Guantánamo Bay. Please add your name (and comments, if you wish) and ask your friends and family to do as well. Look out for further updates on planned actions. A petition delivered to Downing Street on the 9th anniversary, with more than 250 signatures, a short version of which was published in the Guardian, http://londonguantanamocampaign.blogspot.com/2011/01/open-letter-to-prime-minister-david.html received a cut-and-paste response from the Foreign Office two months later: http://londonguantanamocampaign.blogspot.com/2011/03/response-from-fco-to-lgc-letter-of-11.html

Thursday, September 01, 2011

LGC Newsletter – August 2011

Guantánamo Bay:
24-year old Canadian prisoner, Omar Khadr, the first person to be tried, last year, for war crimes committed as a minor since World War II, has replaced his Canadian legal team. Dennis Edney and Nathan Whitling, who represented Khadr pro bono and tirelessly for the past eight years, have been replaced by John Norris and Brydie Bethell. The news came in a letter from Khadr in which he thanked his former legal team for their work and support. Although his former lawyers have not commented, it is feared that Khadr was coerced to sign the typed letter and did not do so freely. Convicted of the murder of a US serviceman in Afghanistan in 2002, when he was aged just 15, he was sentenced to 40 years by a military tribunal but that was reduced through a secret plea bargain. He is due to return to Canada in October this year to serve the rest of his sentence.

Extraordinary rendition:
A habeas corpus case brought by the human rights NGO Reprieve for a Pakistani prisoner who has been held at the prison at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan without charge since at least 2004 has been dismissed by the High Court in London. Yunus Rahmatullah (http://reprieve.org.uk/cases/yunusrahmatullah/) and another man were both captured in Iraq in 2004 by British forces who handed them over to the US military which has held them ever since and consequently “rendered” them to Bagram in Afghanistan. The handover of prisoners who potentially face torture is illegal and consequently the Foreign Office sought to deny knowledge of the men and then refused to disclose their identities. Reprieve sought to rely on habeas corpus – the common law right to know why one is being detained – to pressurise the British government to get the Americans to release Mr Rahmatullah, however the High Court decided that the matter is entirely in the hands of the US and not the concern of the British government. Reprieve intends to appeal this decision.

On 4 August, almost one month after the terms of reference and protocol for the handling of information in the forthcoming Detainee (Gibson) Inquiry into allegations of the involvement of British intelligence services in torture abroad, a coalition of 10 human rights NGOs and lawyers representing victims wrote to the Inquiry informing it of their withdrawal as they cannot cooperate with its stated terms, which are also in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the absolute ban on torture. Other criticisms lie in the limited scope of the inquiry, its use of secrecy and limited use of evidence, the limited ability to call witnesses and question key individuals, the lack of transparency and the limited role given to the very victims whose allegations of torture and abuse over the past few years led to the inquiry being called. As proposed, the Inquiry will be ineffective with little purpose, serving as little more than a waste of public funds and time without addressing key issues and possible failings that both victims and the public, whose taxes have funded this alleged involvement in torture, have a right to know. The Inquiry has responded and both the panel leading it and the government have urged all parties concerned to reconsider and has stated that the Inquiry will be held nonetheless.
For more on this news: http://londonguantanamocampaign.blogspot.com/2011/08/human-rights-ngos-victims-and-their.html
In a separate criminal inquiry into possible abuse of a prisoner by an MI6 agent, referred to the police by the agency, British police are seeking to interview prisoners at Guantánamo Bay concerning the possible involvement of this agent in the abuse of a non-British prisoner. The police cannot question any prisoners unless they are given permission to do so by the American government. Once this investigation is complete, the Detainee Inquiry can start its proceedings.

While the Coalition government wishes to use the Detainee Inquiry to draw a line under allegations made relating to the previous Labour government, allegations have continued to emerge since last year’s election. At the time of the general election last year, allegations emerged of a British man being tortured in a Bangladeshi prison with the knowledge of the UK security services. In August, proceedings were started at the High Court in London in a claim brought by a Kenyan man who claims he was kidnapped in Kenya last summer and “rendered” to Uganda, where he was held illegally, interrogated and tortured by individuals who claimed to be from the FBI and one from British intelligence. The agent is alleged to have taken part in the abuse of Omar Awadh Omar, 37, who was beaten during questioning.
More on this news: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/aug/17/torture-suspect-claims-abuse?INTCMP=SRCH

An American appeals court has given leave to two American security contractors to sue Donald Rumsfeld, whom they allege permitted policies which allowed them to be tortured while working in Iraq in 2005 and 2006. The two men, Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel, were detained by their own army and subject to abuses including sleep deprivation, denied food, water and warmth and threatened with beatings at Camp Cropper, after trying to blow the whistle on the illegal activities of the company they were working for. They were both held for several months and never charged. Rumsfeld had pleaded immunity; however, this was rejected by the court, as the men had provided enough evidence to show that he had personally effected the policies allowing their abuse. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-14453895

Following a case in a New York court between 2007 and 2011, concerning a private company accused of facilitating torture flights as part of the US’s extraordinary rendition programme, Reprieve has released a series of over 1500 documents which were a part of the case and which disclose a considerable amount of information for the first time about the business of extraordinary rendition. For the first time, some of the companies involved are identified as well as information about the “rendition” of particular victims. Details of flights and stopovers at airports all over the world, including Glasgow, Edinburgh and London Luton airports are provided as well as the revelation that a jet owned by Liverpool FC owner Philip Morse was used for over 55 “torture” flights passing and stopping off in various locations in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas (Guantánamo Bay). In between these flights, the jet was used to transport a baseball team to its matches in the US. As the documents name companies and their senior management and executives, it is possible that these documents will be used to bring prosecutions by victims against them.

LGC Activities:
Five people attended the August Shut Down Guantánamo! demonstration. The September demonstration will be on Friday 2 September at 12-1pm outside the US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, London W1A 1AE and then 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner (Marble Arch) http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=131470260278724
Media on the August demonstration:
(In Arabic, pictures from the demonstration)

If you have not yet added your name to the open letter to President Obama about Shaker Aamer, please do: http://londonguantanamocampaign.blogspot.com/2011/03/sign-our-open-letter-to-president-obama.html

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Human Rights NGOs, victims and their solicitors withdraw from the Detainee Inquiry

Following the publication of the terms of reference and protocol for the handling of information in the forthcoming Detainee (Gibson) Inquiry, on 4 August, letters were sent by 10 human rights NGOs and lawyers representing victims whose cases it will consider, stating that they are withdrawing from the inquiry and that they will henceforth not cooperate with it.

A letter was sent by 10 human rights NGOs stating that they would not be able to cooperate with the inquiry due to its lack of transparency and credibility. http://reprieve.org.uk/static/downloads/2011_08_03_PUB_NGO_withdrawal_from_Detainee_Inquiry_letter.pdf
In particular, they cited the use of secrecy and ineffective means for victims to question the security services and the failure to question foreign intelligence agents as a disappointment:
“Plainly an Inquiry conducted in the way that you describe and in accordance with the Protocol would not comply with Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. We are particularly disappointed that the issue of what material may be disclosed to the public will not be determined independently of Government and, further, that there will be no meaningful participation of the former and current detainees and other interested third parties.”
These groups have previously criticised the scope and proposed proceedings of the Inquiry.

Lawyers, including leading human rights solicitors Louise Christian, Gareth Peirce, Irène Nembhard and Tayab Ali, who represent some of the victims, also wrote to the Inquiry:
We consider it impossible to advise those whom we represent that the structure and protocols now confirmed for the Gibson inquiry can achieve what are essential ingredients for a public inquiry into grave state crimes. What is proposed is a 'Detainee Inquiry' in which there will be no constructive participation by the detainees. The detainees will not be able to ask questions or see or hear the key evidence which is to be considered only in secret session. They will not even know if the individuals being questioned are the right ones." (Source: BBC)

The Detainee (Gibson) Inquiry is intended to look into over a dozen cases of the involvement of British intelligence services (MI5 and MI6) in the torture and abuse of British and foreign nationals abroad since 2001. These include allegations related to abuse in Guantánamo Bay, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere. Torture is banned absolutely under international law; there can be no exceptions. In spite of various allegations to the contrary, that the British government and its agents do not collude in torture, such evidence and claims have come to the surface time and again over the past few years, and have been proved in some cases, such as that of Binyam Mohamed. The allegations are of gross human rights violations and cannot be treated lightly. Both the alleged misconduct of the security services and the inquiry will be at the expense of the British taxpayer. However, the involvement of a British government, which claims to have human rights “as an indivisible part of our foreign policy”, in such extra-legal and illegal activity, and the extent to which it will go to conceal such involvement has far wider repercussions with the mission creep of secrecy into the domestic legal system. This was clearly shown in the Supreme Court ruling against the security services using closed hearings and secret evidence in a civil claim brought by former Guantánamo prisoners against MI5 and MI6: http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2011/jul/13/supreme-court-secret-evidence-ban Criticised from the outset for its lack of transparency, effectiveness, limit scope, use of closed hearings and other matters, the fact that the government has chosen the Intelligence Services Commissioner, Sir Peter Gibson, whose job it is to oversee the work of British intelligence, to chair an inquiry into the intelligence and security services also undermines the transparency of this inquiry.

The Inquiry has responded to these criticisms on its website: http://www.detaineeinquiry.org.uk/2011/08/statement-by-the-inquiry/
It states that the inquiry will go ahead nonetheless.

Press releases from NGOs on this news:
Reprieve: http://reprieve.org.uk/press/2011_08_04_withdrawal_from_inquiry/
Amnesty UK: http://www.amnesty.org.uk/uploads/documents/doc_21713.pdf

Media reports on this news:
BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14397601
Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/torture-investigation-has-no-credibility-2331607.html
Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2011/aug/04/human-rights-boycott-gibson-torture-inquiry

Thursday, July 28, 2011

LGC Newsletter - July 2011

LGC Newsletter – July 2011


Guantánamo Bay:
Former prisoner, Adel Al-Gazzar, who was arrested and detained promptly on his return to his native Egypt last month, has appealed the charges he was convicted of in absentia in 2002 when he was being held at Guantánamo Bay. It is on the basis of these charges and conviction that he is currently being held. He was not aware of the trial at the time. He is seeking a fair trial, however military prosecutors have rejected his appeal and he remains in detention.

Extraordinary rendition:
At the end of June, the US attorney general Eric Holder announced that he would hold criminal investigations into the deaths of two CIA prisoners held in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2002-2003. He also agreed to an investigation into the treatment of prisoners however ruled out any investigations into the deaths of a further 101 prisoners in CIA custody since 2001. The Obama administration has said that it does not intend to prosecute anyone named through the investigations who acted on legal guidance, which authorised the use of waterboarding among other torture techniques, available at the time. The two prisoners whose cases will be investigated are Gul Rahman, who died in a CIA prison in Afghanistan in November 2002 after being chained to a cold cement wall and Manadel Al-Jamadi who died in Abu Ghraib in Iraq in 2003.
More on this news: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-13984912
Amnesty International UK made the following comment on the US’ failure to investigate its use of torture: http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=19555

In a new twist on extraordinary rendition, a Somali national appeared before a civilian court in New York in early July on charges of assisting terrorist groups. Pleading not guilty to nine charges, it emerged that Ahmed Abdulkader Warsame, in his mid-20s, was picked up in waters off the Somalia coast on 19 April this year and was held secretly on a US warship and interrogated daily by the CIA for two months before being interrogated again in a manner which could be used as evidence in court by the FBI and then taken to the US and charged. He is alleged not to have been read his legal rights before being questioned. Interrogations are also alleged to have been conducted in line with the Geneva Conventions. This is the first time that a foreign terrorism suspect has been taken to the US; in the past, individuals subject to such interrogations have been taken to Guantánamo Bay. Various politicians in the US have called for him to be tried by a military tribunal at Guantánamo, however a civilian trial is scheduled for early September, just days before the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Failing to notice the secret and potentially illegal nature of Mr Warsame’s detention, the media have stated that this arrest, interrogation and forthcoming trial are an indication of how the Obama administration will deal with terrorism suspects. However, the US has been accused of questioning and torturing rendition victims and “ghost prisoners” on board US military ships in the past, in particular around the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
The American Civil Liberties Union has condemned Mr Warsame’s detention and interrogation aboard the warship: http://ccrjustice.org/newsroom/press-releases/u.s.-may-have-violated-domestic-and-international-law-capturing-and-holding-somali-months-sea
His charges can be read at: http://documents.latimes.com/ahmed-warsame-indictment/
More on this news: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-14041734

On 6 July, one year to the day that David Cameron announced an inquiry would be held into the British intelligence services’ involvement in torture abroad, the terms of reference and protocols on the treatment of information in the inquiry were published. The Detainee, or Gibson, Inquiry, led by retired judge Sir Peter Gibson is due to start its proceedings later this year. Already subject to much criticism of its narrow scope and failure to consider the issue thoroughly, the terms of reference and protocols have also been criticised, concerning how information will be obtained, how and what information will be kept confidential and the scope of the inquiry to include prisoner transfers. NGOs and other critics feel that as stated the inquiry will be powerless and ineffective in dealing with this crucial issue. The inquiry can be followed on its website: http://www.detaineeinquiry.org.uk/

On 13 July, the Supreme Court ruled that the security services (MI5 and MI6) could not rely on secret evidence procedures in court to conceal evidence of involvement in the torture of detainees. In a case brought by several former Guantánamo prisoners, which ended in an out-of-court settlement in November last year, the procedural issue of whether the security services could rely on closed evidence (withheld from the detainees, their lawyers and the public) in the case, in the interest of national security, was referred to the Supreme Court where the judges held that such use would breach the common law standards of a fair trial. However, the judges warned that parliament could in future legislate to allow the use of secret evidence as it has in other sensitive proceedings. The government is currently seeking to table a green paper, which could become law, on the use of intelligence in court proceedings, which could effectively end any disclosure of evidence, such as that related to what the government and its officials and agents know about the use of torture or their own involvement in it.

LGC Activities:
To mark American Independence Day, a special prisoner solidarity demonstration was held instead of the monthly Shut Down Guantánamo! demonstration. Around 25 people attended and were joined by activists from other campaigns, including the Justice For Aafia Coalition, Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! and the UK Friends of Bradley Manning. For a report on this event: http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2011/07/481978.html
This month’s demonstration will be on Friday 5 August at 12-1pm outside the US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, London W1A 1AE and then 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner (Marble Arch) http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=184595608269352

Thursday, June 30, 2011

LGC Newsletter - June 2011

British Residents:
In meetings held between lawyers and others representing Shaker Aamer and US officials during President Obama’s visit to the UK last month, it was revealed that there are now further barriers to his release, as new legislation passed by Congress under the Obama administration requires the Department of Defense to declare that the prisoner will not reoffend if released and Congress must approve the release, making this very difficult henceforth. This was stated by Shaker Aamer’s MP Jane Ellison (Conservative: Battersea) at a parliamentary meeting and screening of Outside The Law: Stories from Guantánamo on 21 June. The Foreign Office states, however, that it is still seeking Shaker Aamer’s release to the UK and campaigners will continue to seek his release as well.

Guantánamo Bay:
Former prisoner, Adel Al-Gazzar, who was held without charge or trial for almost eight years at Guantánamo, where he lost a leg as a result of torture, and released to Slovakia in 2010, where he was then held at an immigration detention centre for over six months, was promptly arrested on his return to Egypt in early June. Adel Al-Gazzar had left his native Egypt in 2000 to go and do charitable work in Afghanistan, where he was kidnapped and sold for a bounty after 9/11. Having established his innocence but deeming it too unsafe to return him to Egypt, the US negotiated his release to Slovakia along with two other prisoners. Following six months of imprisonment at an immigration detention centre in an experience they claimed was “worse than Guantánamo” and a hunger strike, the three men were released and could finally start their rehabilitation in Slovakia. Following events in Egypt earlier this year and the hope engendered by them, El-Gazzar sought to return home to his family, whom he has not seen in over 11 years. However, shortly after arrival at the airport, he was arrested by security officers and is currently being held at Tora Prison, near Cairo, in relation to charges brought against him in 2002 applicable only under emergency powers, which have not been removed since former President Hosni Mubarak was deposed almost six months ago. Commenting on this latest twist in Al-Gazzar’s unfortunate journey, his lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith wrote the following:

Five years after their deaths in obscure circumstances, the Center for Constitutional Rights in the USA has filed an appeal in a case on behalf of the families of two prisoners who died at Guantánamo Bay in June 2006. Saudi Yasser Al-Zahrani, 21, and Yemeni Salah Al-Salami, 33, along with another Yemeni national who is not a part of this case, all held without charge or trial since 2002 at Guantánamo, were found dead in their cells in 2006. The USA refused to release the bodies to the families immediately and maintains that the three men committed suicide in an “act of asymmetrical warfare”. Department of Defense investigations have upheld this. The families, however, and prisoners who knew the three men reject this claim; the former have called for an independent investigation into the cause of death. Following a report in Harper’s magazine in January 2010 by Scott Horton, http://www.harpers.org/archive/2010/01/hbc-90006368 which also cites Shaker Aamer as a witness to the brutality suffered by the three men before their deaths, a further independent investigation and testimonies from four soldiers present, it appears that the official narrative is false. The new evidence has led to this appeal. The families maintain instead that the men were tortured to death.

Demonstrating its commitment to press ahead with military tribunals, the Pentagon appointed a new chief prosecutor for military commissions at Guantánamo Bay, Brigadier General Mark Martins, currently “commander of the Rule of Law Field Force in Afghanistan”, will take up the post from October. Trials he is likely to oversee include those of Khalid Sheikh Mohamed and his four co-defendants, accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks. On the other hand, cases brought in the civilian courts by prisoners, such as prisoner reviews, are currently experiencing high levels of failure, including where they are appeals of cases previously won by prisoners.

Extraordinary rendition:
On 22 June, the All-Party Parliamentary Group released information it had sought through a Freedom of Information application in 2008 concerning prisoners held by British troops and transferred to the US army in Iraq and Afghanistan. These documents include a secret 2008 Memorandum of Understanding between the US and the UK on the handover of prisoners, extracts from a 2008 Detention Practices Review and statistical information on prisoners captured in Afghanistan. These documents, which can be read at http://www.extraordinaryrendition.org/index.php/document-library-mainmenu-27/all-other-documents show failings in the British army’s handling of prisoners and transfers of prisoners to the US military, in spite of knowing of the practices it uses, such as rendition and waterboarding, and at times a lack of accountability procedures to protect prisoners. Last month, following a hearing before the Information Tribunal, the Ministry of Defence was forced to make these documents public. It had previously claimed that disclosure could harm foreign relations and would be costly.
For more on this news:

Lawyers from Reprieve, the human rights NGO, acting on behalf of a Pakistani national held at the Bagram detention facility, who was “rendered” after being arrested and handed over to the US military by British soldiers in Iraq, have brought a habeas corpus case at the High Court in London, seeking that he is either charged or released. Yunus Rahmatullah, 28, was arrested by British soldiers in Iraq in 2004, handed over to the US military who “rendered” him to Bagram in Afghanistan where he has been held ever since. He effectively “disappeared” until 2009 when former government ministers admitted that two men arrested by British forces in Iraq were “rendered” to Afghanistan by the US military. Last year, a detention review board cleared him for release but he remains a prisoner. He was also able to speak to his family on the telephone for the first time last year. The Ministry of Defence had previously refused to confirm his identity. The British government claims that it has no power to seek his release or issue the writ of habeas corpus sought by his lawyers as the matter is one for the US military to decide. However, the transfer to the American military made under a memorandum of understanding allows for requests for transferred prisoners to be returned.

LGC Activities:
Ten people attended the June Shut Down Guantánamo! demonstration. This month’s demonstration is a special Prisoner Solidarity Demonstration in support of prisoners with a UK-US angle, such as individuals facing extradition to the US under the 2003 Extradition Act, Guantánamo prisoners such as Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha and alleged Wikileaks whistle-blower Bradley Manning who is a US-UK citizen. This event is open mic and everyone is welcome to speak, particularly those campaigning on prisoner rights and justice issues which are related. There will be NO monthly demonstration on Friday 1 July. Instead, this one-off demonstration will be on Monday 4 July at 6-8pm outside the US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, London W1A 1AE

The London Guantánamo Campaign and Kingston Peace Council/CND held a joint rally on Sunday 26 June in Trafalgar Square to mark international day in support of victims of torture. Several dozen people joined the rally to raise awareness and show support and a good deal of support was shown by passers-by and the general public enjoying the beautiful weekend weather. Speakers included Andy Worthington, Jean Lambert MEP, Dr Frank Arnold and various torture-related organisations.
Media and reports on the event:

London Guantánamo Campaign report: http://londonguantanamocampaign.blogspot.com/2011/06/public-rally-in-support-of-victims-of.html
With additional pictures: https://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2011/06/481310.html
Press release by Jean Lambert MEP: http://www.jeanlambertmep.org.uk/news_detail.php?id=697
Further Indymedia report: http://london.indymedia.org/articles/9388
Pictures by Dan Viesnik: https://picasaweb.google.com/Aldermaston.Big.Blockade/RallyInSupportOfVictimsOfTorture
Pictures by Mariusz Miejek: http://mariuszsmiejek.wordpress.com/2011/06/26/international-day-in-support-of-victims-of-torture/
Pictures by Richard Wolff: http://www.richardkeithwolff.co.uk/gallery_431793.html
Al-Jazeera article (in Arabic): http://www.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/E1A62E5B-7D28-45B6-8D49-505D287705E9.htm?GoogleStatID=9
LGC pictures on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/media/set/?set=a.218343874873123.58212.114010671973111

Monday, June 27, 2011

Public rally in support of victims of torture

Several dozen people joined a rally organised by the London Guantánamo Campaign and Kingston Peace Council (http://www.kpc.gn.apc.org/) in Trafalgar Square on Sunday 26 June to mark International Day in Support of Victims of Torture and to show solidarity with victims everywhere.

Since 1998, this date, the anniversary of the United Nations Convention Against Torture becoming international law in 1987, has been “an occasion for the world to speak up against the unspeakable” (Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General). Unfortunately, rather than reduce or eliminate the use of torture, the stated purpose of such international conventions and laws, making the use of torture absolutely prohibited, its use continues to spread across the globe with the collusion and connivance of almost all governments. In Britain, clear evidence of this is that 26 June 2011 was also the last day of Refugee Week (20-26 June 2011) - many refugees having suffered tortured - and this date falling just one day after Armed Forces Day. The role of the military, police and other State agents in the practice of torture should not be forgotten; the recent inquiry into the torture and death of Iraqi hotel receptionist Baha Moussa at the hands of British soldiers in Iraq in 2003 is evidence of this.

The speakers were introduced by David Harrold from the London Guantánamo Campaign who emphasised the role the UK and US had played in the use of torture and their complicity in it. Noel Hamel, from Kingston Peace Council, called it a “futile occupation” and pointed out that for some public servants, torture falls under their job description, even though its use is prohibited everywhere.

The only politician joining the rally was London Green MEP Jean Lambert. She described torture as “one of the most profound human rights abuses” with psychological and emotional scars that can last forever, long after the physical wounds have healed. She praised the work of the hundreds of centres around the world that help to rehabilitate and give hope to victims. Ms Lambert asserted a sentiment echoed by many speakers, that Britain must ensure that it is not involved in the use of torture.

Maya Evans, from Justice Not Vengeance (http://www.j-n-v.org/), spoke about a case she brought with Public Interest Lawyers, following an Amnesty International report in 2007 claiming that Afghan prisoners captured by British troops were handed over to the Afghan secret police who then tortured them. A case brought at the High Court last year found that the torture of prisoners included electric shocks, beatings and sleep deprivation. The case led to a change in British policy in Afghanistan. The government then tried to change the law to prevent campaigners from bringing such cases using legal aid; however, following a successful judicial review of this measure, which showed that the Ministry of Defence pressurised the Ministry of Justice to bring about this change, the measure was removed. Ms Evans said we have to “continue to fight so that we can continue to have victories”.

Noa Kleinman, Amnesty International UK’s volunteer North America co-ordinator, and an activist with Amnesty’s throughout its 50 year existence, talked about Amnesty’s commitment to fighting and preventing torture as well as stopping impunity for those involved in torture. Ms Kleinman pointed out that torturers are sometimes victims themselves, coerced into such positions, whereas it is the people at the top, directing such activities who need to be identified and punished.

Andy Worthington (http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/), author of “The Guantanamo Files” and co-director of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” focused on the war on terror and impunity for torturers in the US, where responsibility for torture goes right up to the highest levels of power. Efforts have been made to prevent proper investigations into these issues, showing a lack of commitment to its international obligations to prevent and investigate claims of torture.

Dr Frank Arnold, a doctor who has worked at the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, the Helen Bamber Foundation and was a founder of the Medical Justice and its clinical lead, talked about his experience of working with victims of torture in the UK. Over the past five years he has examined over 500 victims from over 50 countries who have suffered and shown various physical signs of torture. However, the internal scars, post-traumatic stress disorder, nightmares, flashbacks and the inability to trust others are lifelong scars. Dr Arnold emphasised that human rights need to start at home; the British government claims to detest the human rights abuses of particular regimes but continues to trade and sell arms to them. Solidarity with victims of torture starts at home; active solidarity is the only thing that works.

Other speakers who addressed the rally were Simran Kaur from TARAN (the Trauma Rehabilitation Network), which works with victims of torture in the Punjab, providing medical assistance and support. She emphasised the need for justice for victims, highlighting the case of Professor Bhullar, who was deported to India, where he was tortured and forced to a sign a confession he later retracted. Ms Kaur also emphasised the need for activists to work together. Ilyas Townsend from the Justice for Aafia Coalition (JFAC – http://www.justiceforaafia.org/) spoke about the case of Pakistani neuroscientist Dr Aafia Siddiqui who “disappeared” in 2003 with her three children, only to resurface in Afghanistan in 2008, following years of torture and abuse in secret jails. In 2010, in spite of a lack of evidence, she was sentenced to 86 years in prison for the attempted murder of American military personnel. Her younger child, six months at the time, is still “disappeared”. Mr Townsend described Dr Siddiqui as being “guilty of being innocent” and made the important point that victims of torture are often not considered human by their torturers, giving them a justification for their actions.

Naomi Colvin spoke on behalf of the UK Friends of Bradley Manning (http://www.ukfriendsofbradleymanning.org/), a support group campaigning for justice for the Welsh-American soldier accused of leaking confidential military documents to Wikileaks. His conditions in detention in military jails over the past year have been compared to conditions at Guantánamo Bay, yet the campaign both within and outside the US has led to him being held in better conditions. Some of the documents he is alleged to have leaked relate to torture by American troops in the “war on terror”. Haci Ozdemir, secretary of the UK section of the International Committee Against Disappearances (ICAD – http://www.icad-int.org/) talked about the effects of torture on communities and families. He described the use of torture as “systematic and institutionalised” in many countries with methods being shared and exported across borders, such as waterboarding. He stated that ordinary people are the force that must end these atrocities. Contributions were also made by Les Levidov from the Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC), Maria Gallastegui from PeaceStrike, Ray Silk from the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign and Andrey Sidelnikov, from the campaign in support of Russian political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The rally ended with a poem about hope read out by veteran campaigner Mohamed Qavi.

In spite of the small turnout for the rally, the message went out loud and clear to a crowded Trafalgar Square on a sweltering afternoon. Passers-by joined in the rally and expressed their solidarity with victims. The organisers also met some individuals passing by who have been personally affected by the issue. As many people around the world continue to face the horror of torture, the struggle against it must continue.

Aisha Maniar, London Guantánamo Campaign

More pictures at: http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2011/06/481310.html
and: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.218343874873123.58212.114010671973111

Friday, May 27, 2011


Also on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=225756180784961
You are invited to


Trafalgar Square, London
Sunday 26 June 2011, 2-4pm

“This is a day on which we pay our respects to those who have endured the unimaginable. This is an occasion for the world to speak up against the unspeakable.” Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General

Speakers include:
Andy Worthington, journalist
Ilyas Townsend, Justice for Aafia Coalition
Maria Gallestegui, Peace Strike
Naomi Colvin, UK Friends of Bradley Manning
Maya Evans, Justice Not Vengeance
And speakers from Amnesty International, Stop the War, International Committee Against Disappearances, Save Shaker Aamer Campaign and others

Since 1998, June 26th has marked International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. In spite of laws to protect freedoms, torture remains prevalent throughout the world. Men, women, children and entire communities are subject to unspeakable atrocities and the effects that live with them long after the violence ends. We invite you to come and stand up against these atrocities, and join us in solidarity with the victims.

Organised by the London Guantánamo Campaign
and Kingston CND

For more details, e-mail: london.gtmo@gmail.com or noelthamel@aol.com
Or call Aisha 07809 757 176/ Noel 020 8395 2656
http://kpc.gn.apc.org/ http://www.londonguantanamo.org.uk/

LGC Newsletter - May 2011

Guantánamo Bay:
The US administration is currently considering whether to allow some of the 171 prisoners remaining at Guantánamo Bay to have family visits. Currently, through the International Red Cross, some prisoners are able to have telephone calls and video links to their families. The scheme would only apply to some prisoners, mainly those, such as Guantánamo’s large Yemeni contingent, who are free to leave but do not have a safe country to go to. Republicans in the US Congress are trying to block the plan as it could cause “security concerns” for the US. The plan itself indicates that after almost 10 years of illegal incarceration, there are no plans in the near future for the release of prisoners.

Another prisoner has died at Guantánamo Bay in another alleged “suicide”. On 18 May, Inayatullah, a 37-year old Afghan prisoner was found dead in the recreation ground by military guards. The cause of death has not been established. He is the second prisoner to die at Guantánamo Bay this year and the eighth in total. One of the last prisoners to arrive, in 2007, he has never been charged with any crime.

A former Algerian prisoner, released to France on humanitarian grounds as he cannot return to Algeria, is set to sue George Bush for 8 years of illegal imprisonment at Guantánamo. Saber Lahmer, 42, was arrested by CIA agents in Bosnia in 2001, where he worked and lived. He was held at Guantánamo for the next eight years where he was tortured and was released in 2009, after a habeas ruling proved that allegations against him were unfounded. He plans to sue through the French courts.

A review petition brought by Omar Khadr, prior to his guilty plea in October last year, was rejected by the US Supreme Court. The review included claims by around 100 prisoners to have parts of their cases reviewed and to ensure that they have at least 30 days’ notice before they are transferred to other countries to prevent them being sent to countries where they may be at risk. The 30 days’ notice was rejected and Khadr could not have his case reviewed as he had waived this right under the plea bargain he made in October 2010. However, Omar Khadr will find out in June if his clemency plea, brought a few months ago, has been accepted, which could see his prison sentence being halved to four years.

Extraordinary rendition:
A case brought against Jeppesen Dataplan Inc., a division of Boeing, by five victims of extraordinary rendition, including British residents Bisher Al-Rawi and Binyam Mohamed, for having organised the flight plans at the various stages of their torture ordeal, was back in the courts this month. The case, brought in 2008, was dismissed as the Bush and then the Obama administrations used the state secrets privilege, citing national security as a concern, to prevent any secrets involving illegal behaviour by the intelligence agencies coming to light, making it impossible for the case to be heard. Following the case being dismissed by the appeal courts, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought it before the Supreme Court to consider whether or not the government could rely on the state secrets privilege to prevent the case being heard. The Supreme Court said that the government could rely on it and effectively prevented the case being heard.
Amnesty International has produced the following document about the ruling:

A group of Polish and international human rights NGOs are calling on Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk to raise the issue of CIA secret prisons in the country and to cooperate in providing information when the two men meet as part of President Obama’s on-going visit to Europe:

LGC Activities:
Four people attended the May Shut Down Guantánamo! demonstration. This month’s demonstration is on Friday 3 June at 12-1pm outside the US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, Mayfair and 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner (Marble Arch, Hyde Park).

Various events took place in the UK concerning Guantánamo Bay and prisoners held there to coincide with President Obama’s first state visit on 24-26 May. Amnesty International sent the following letter to Prime Minister David Cameron on 20 May asking for him to raise Shaker Aamer’s case personally with President Barack Obama: http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=19465
On the day before the visit, Monday 23 May, Maria Gallestegui from Peace Strike delivered a petition to Downing Street calling on the Prime Minister to raise the cases of Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha and call for the closure of Guantánamo. On the first day of the visit, activists from the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, the London Guantánamo Campaign and others greeted Obama outside Buckingham Palace with a colourful demonstration: http://www.demotix.com/news/702759/protests-take-place-president-obama-visits-buckingham-palace
On the second day of the visit, the London Guantánamo Campaign and Peace Strike continued the protest outside Parliament with a six-hour long vigil calling for Guantánamo’s closure.
The London Guantánamo Campaign also sent a letter to the Guardian and Independent newspapers for publication on the first day of the visit, which was overlooked. It was signed by over 50 individuals and organisations, including former prisoners, politicians and leading lawyers: http://londonguantanamocampaign.blogspot.com/2011/05/unpublished-letters-from-obamas-visit.html
The London Guantánamo Campaign also had the following comment piece published in Open Democracy expressing what we believe the British government should now be doing and telling the US government: http://www.opendemocracy.org.uk/ourkingdom/aisha-maniar/guantanamo-bay-shadow-cast-over-special-relationship

If you have not yet added your name to the open letter to President Obama about Shaker Aamer, please do: http://londonguantanamocampaign.blogspot.com/2011/03/sign-our-open-letter-to-president-obama.html

If you have not yet asked your MP to sign EDM 1093 on Guantánamo Bay, we urge you to do so: http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2010-11/1093

The London Guantánamo Campaign and Kingston CND will be organising a rally in Trafalgar Square on 26 June to mark international day in support of victims of torture. We hope you can join us: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=225756180784961#!/event.php?eid=225756180784961

Photos courtesy of Peace Strike and Radfax

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Unpublished letters from Obama's visit to the UK

With its focus on the dress sense of Mrs Obama and the Duchess of Cambridge, the media quite literally skirted around important issues of joint US-UK concern, such as Guantánamo Bay, when US President Barack Obama visited London on his first official state visit on 24-26 May.

The following letter sent to the Guardian and Independent newspapers and signed by over 50 prominent individuals, including former Guantánamo prisoners, politicians and leading lawyers, as well as organisations, was overlooked for publication:

President Obama’s visit to the UK offers this government a unique opportunity to demand the closure of Guantánamo Bay and the release and return to this country of two men still held there with links to the UK. Ahmed Belbacha, who formerly resided in the UK, was cleared for release over four years ago and is at risk of forced return to Algeria, where his life would be in danger. UK resident Shaker Aamer, who has a British wife and children, has been imprisoned without charge for close to a decade. The latter's case has been raised with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by William Hague and Nick Clegg, but apparently to no avail.

The time has come for David Cameron to take an unequivocal stand by addressing these issues head on with the US president during his visit to the UK.

Signed: Daniel Viesnik, London Guantánamo Campaign; Jean Lambert, Green MEP for London; Bruce Kent; Louise Christian, Christian Khan Solicitors; Andy Worthington; Ray Silk, Save Shaker Aamer Campaign; John Pilger; Sarah Ludford, Lib Dem MEP for London; Baroness Helena Kennedy QC; John McDonnell MP; Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC, Bindmans LLP; Ruhul Ahmed and Tarek Dergoul, former Guantánamo prisoners; Kika Markham; Omar Deghayes, Legal Director, Guantánamo Justice Centre; Kate Hudson, General Secretary, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament; Professor Bill Bowring, Research Fellow, University of Essex; Natalia Garcia, Tyndallwoods Solicitors; Tayab Ali, Irvine Thanvi Natas Solicitors; Liz Davies, barrister and Chair of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers; Anjum Anwar, Dialogue Development Officer, Blackburn Cathedral; Professor Mark McGovern, Department of Social and Psychological Sciences, Edge Hill University; Faisal Hanjra, Assistant Secretary General, MuslimCouncil of Britain; Sultan Sabri, Surrey Solicitors; Salma Yaqoob; Lord Ahmed of Rotherham; Councillor Jonathan Bloch Lib Dem Councillor for Muswell Hill, London Borough of Haringey; Estella Schmid, Campaign Against Criminalising Communities; Maryam Hassan, Justice for Aafia Coalition; Richard Haley, Scotland Against Criminalising Communities; Katherine Craig, Christian Khan Solicitors; Sarah McSherry, Christian Khan Solicitors; Maria Gallastegui, Peace Strike; Darren Johnson, Green London Assembly Member; Millius Palayiwa, Director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, England; Chris Coverdale, Campaign to Make Wars History; Dr Shahrar Ali, Green Party; Simon Moore; Anita Olivacce; David Polden; Chris Cole; Noel Hamel, Kingston Peace Council; Joy Hurcombe, Brighton Against Guantanamo; Frances Webber, vice-chair Institute of Race Relations; Maya Evans; Milan Rai, Co-editor, Peace News; Sam Walton; Ismail Patel, Chair, Friends of Al-Aqsa

The following comment piece requested by the London Evening Standard newspaper was also unpublished:

Despite the great hopes of the international community following President Obama’s election to the most powerful office in the world, the Nobel peace prize winner has shown through his actions his intention to continue where his predecessor left off, dispensing with the inconveniences of international law at will. From “extraordinary rendition”, torture and indefinite imprisonment without charge in legal black holes like Guantánamo Bay and Bagram to extrajudicial executions, Obama has demonstrated the futility of hope in a genuine alternative to the reactionary tendencies of the American political elite. If Bush tarnished the standing of the United States in the world, Obama’s administration has done little or nothing to repair that damage.So, as human rights campaigners, we struggle instead for small victories, like the return to the UK of British resident Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha, previously resident in England and whose life would be at risk if returned to his native Algeria. Neither man has been charged with any crime after almost a decade of incarceration in Guantánamo. The very least the Prime Minister can do when he meets Obama this week is ask for the swift return of the two men to the UK.
Daniel Viesnik, London Guantánamo Campaign