Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Gone Beyond Words: Nine Years of Guantánamo Bay

Report by Aisha Maniar, London Guantánamo Campaign

Tuesday 11 January 2011 marked nine years since the opening of the illegal US-run detention and torture camp at Guantánamo Bay. Creeping up on almost a decade of life in its current incarnation, Guantánamo Bay continues to house 173 prisoners and the US government has recently passed legislation to block the transfer and civilian trial of prisoners on the US mainland. Over 90 prisoners of Yemeni origin are prevented from returning home and the US administration is currently planning to introduce measures to perpetuate the illegal regime with the “indefinite detention” of prisoners who cannot be tried or released as they allegedly pose a security risk.

One British resident whose return to the UK was sought by the Brown government in 2007 remains there. Shaker Aamer, a Saudi national with a British family in south London, and a son he has never met, has been held without charge or trial for over nine years. Four other men whose release was sought at the same time have all long since returned to the UK. The Foreign Secretary William Hague and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg recently raised his case with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The day kicked off with the delivery of an open letter to Downing Street with PeaceStrike. The letter, a shorter version of which was published in the Guardian was signed by 75 individuals and representatives of organisations, including MPs Caroline Lucas and John McDonnell, MEPs Baroness Sarah Ludford and Jean Lambert, Kate Hudson (CND), Bruce Kent (Pax Christi) and others and called on David Cameron to intervene personally in Shaker Aamer’s case and to take measures to help the US close Guantánamo Bay.
The full letter and list of signatories can be read at:
Signatures were also collected on the letter at the Beyond Words: Silent Witness to Injustice vigil in Trafalgar Square later that afternoon. Around 200 further signatures were collected from activists, tourists and the public to be sent to the Prime Minister.

Around 70 people then turned the area outside the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square orange for a bright and visual silent protest demanding the closure of Guantánamo Bay at lunchtime (1pm). On a cold and grey afternoon, the National Gallery got a new temporary art installation outside for an hour as protesters coming from as far away as Bradford, Brighton, Worthing and Bedford called on the British and American governments to take immediate action to close Guantánamo Bay. A simple humane and legal plea which has fallen on the deaf ears of the international community for the past nine years was instead made visually, with activists handing out leaflets, collecting signatures on letters, cards and petitions and taking part in a very good-humoured protest to mark yet another very sombre anniversary.

From the top of Trafalgar Square, the future certainly looks very orange and unless governments act now to close Guantánamo Bay, the situation looks set to be perpetuated well beyond its first decade. Saturday 22 January will mark one year since President Obama’s broken promise to close the detention camp, yet no remorse is shown by governments around the world for their complicity in crimes against humanity, all norms of law and the broken lives and continued suffering of hundreds of families, including one in south London.

Some messages of support:
Baroness Sarah Ludford, Liberal Democrat MEP for London [via e-mail]:
“Sarah Ludford stressed that as vice-chair of the European Parliament’s US delegation she will continue to press Washington for the complete closure of Guantanamo, to lobby in London and Brussels for European cooperation in resettlement of men who cannot return to their home countries for fear of torture and in particular to press for her constituent Shaker Aamer to come home to London.”

Dr Shahrar Ali, Green Party, London:
“We’re here in solidarity with those hundreds of people still incarcerated in a pre-Magna Carta medieval state of justice which is no justice at all”.

Val Brown, activist, Bedford:
“I’m here today not only to close Guantánamo but to make everybody aware of the people that are still in there, especially Omar [Khadr] and Shaker [Aamer]. I just think it’s so disgusting that a country can do this to people”.

Noa Kleinman, Amnesty International UK North America Coordinator, Bradford:
“It felt very necessary to come down today although it’s really very depressing that this is the ninth year of Guantánamo and we’re very close to nine years for Shaker Aamer at Guantánamo so I guess we just have to keep on campaigning. We can’t stop”.

Abdul Jaleel Bain, Justice for Aafia Coalition, London:
“I’m here today for the Justice for Aafia Coalition and also to support the campaign for the freeing of Shaker Aamer, and more widely for the closing of Guantánamo Bay prison which is still open despite the fact that President Obama promised to close it one year ago and he hasn’t done that. It’s been a pleasure to come here on what is actually quite a bad day as Guantánamo is still open, there are still people there. The biggest group is a group of Yemenis. There is also Shaker Aamer who is actually from this city. I’m here to show that I’m a Londoner, a British person, a Muslim and representing my organisation. I support the movement to close Guantánamo Bay and I will continue to come here for as long as it takes until that day comes”.

Joy Hurcombe, Brighton Against Guantánamo, Worthing:
“I’m here today to take part in the vigil to shut Guantánamo. People from all of London watched our demonstration and saw and heard that Guantánamo is still not shut. We want Obama to shut Guantánamo now. There are people there who have been there for nearly as long as it’s been open, for nearly nine years and they are being denied all their human rights. They have no access to family, to friends, lawyers, to the outside world and it’s Obama’s disgrace and shame that he has broken his promises. They are there with broken lives and we are here to show the world that Guantánamo must be shut”.

Maria Gallestegui, PeaceStrike, London:
“I’m here to support the London Guantánamo Campaign. It’s a great honour to be here and to share this occasion and basically to send the message out, not just in this country but throughout the world. Talking to tourists, there’s so many people who just do not realise that Guantánamo still exists, it’s still operational and that this so-called war on terror is still being promoted by governments throughout the world and the media throughout the world, so it’s giving the false impression that we need to be terrified in our beds every night for fear of consequences that quite honestly are not realistic and we should be befriending each other and tearing down the walls of hatred and extending the hand of friendship to build a whole new understanding of each other, not built on hatred and fear”.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Open Letter to Prime Minister David Cameron on Ninth Anniversary of Guantánamo Bay

The London Guantánamo Campaign will today deliver an open letter to Downing Street urging Prime Minister David Cameron to take action to help close Guantánamo Bay on its ninth anniversary. The letter has been signed by 75 individuals in a personal capacity and on behalf of organisations. Signatories include MPs Caroline Lucas and John McDonnell, MEPs Baroness Sarah Ludford and Jean Lambert, London Assembly Member Darren Johnson, journalists Andy Worthington and Victoria Brittain, former prisoner Bisher Al Rawi and many others.
A shorter version of the letter is published today in the Guardian:

The letter and full list of signatories (in alphabetical order) is below:

Dear Prime Minister,
Guantánamo Bay has now been open for nine years. During that time, your predecessors were successful in securing the return to the UK of all British nationals held there, and all but two of the former British residents. Nevertheless, they were knowingly complicit in the ordeal of the men and their families. Almost a year after the expiry of President Obama’s own deadline to close Guantánamo, the facility still holds some 174 prisoners.
We welcome recent efforts by Foreign Secretary William Hague and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg to raise the case of Shaker Aamer, the last legal British resident in Guantánamo Bay, with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. These measures must translate into his immediate and unconditional release and return to his family in the UK. Shaker has never been charged or tried for any crime, and no reasons have been given by the US for his continued detention, despite him being cleared for release in 2007. Shaker is, like you, a father, but his four children have had to grow up without their father for the past nine years, and his youngest son has never even met his father. We urge you to intervene personally in his case.
Guantánamo Bay will not close without concerted efforts by the international community, and Britain must play its part and follow the lead of other European countries that have accepted innocent prisoners on humanitarian grounds. One such man with links to the UK is Ahmed Belbacha, also cleared for release since 2007, who resided in Britain for two years. He cannot return to his native Algeria for fear of his life and liberty, so he continues to languish in Guantánamo. We would ask you to urgently request his return to the UK, and to offer to take other cleared prisoners awaiting release in order to make possible the early closure of Guantánamo.
A series of military tribunals at Guantánamo Bay over the past year, including that of a child soldier, Omar Khadr, show clear contempt for justice and the rule of law by our US allies. In 2011, four years away from the celebration of 800 years of the Magna Carta and the rule of law in England, influential in US and international law, the United Kingdom must show greater leadership in ensuring that basic legal and humanitarian principles are upheld.
We, the undersigned,

Len Aldis, secretary of Britain-Vietnam Friendship Society, Mark Barrett, Campaign for Real Democracy, Councillor Jonathan Bloch Lib Dem Councillor, Haringey Council, Victoria Brittain, Adrienne Burrows, Peace and Justice in East London, Chris Cole, Figtree, Liz Davies, Chair, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, Hilary Evans, Kingston Peace Council/CND, Maria Gallastegui, Peacestrike, Lindsey German, convenor of Stop the War Coalition, Richard Haley, Chair, Scotland Against Criminalising Communities, Noel Hamel, Chair, Kingston Peace Council, Maryam Hassan, Justice for Aafia Coalition, Desiree Howells, Peace and Justice in East London, Kate Hudson, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Joy Hurcombe, Brighton Against Guantánamo, Cllr Darren Johnson, Green Party member of London Assembly, Bruce Kent, vice-president of Pax Christi, Jean Lambert, Green MEP, Les Levidow, Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC), Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, Sarah Ludford, Liberal Democrat MEP, Aisha Maniar, London Guantánamo Campaign, John McDonnell, Labour MP for Harlington and Hayes, Millius Palayiwa, Director, Fellowship of Reconciliation, England, Asim Qureshi, executive director of Cageprisoners, Milan Rai, co-editor of Peace News, Estella Schmid, Campaign Against Criminalising Communities, Ray Silk, Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, Walter Wolfgang, Labour CND, Rosemary Addington, Khadijah Al-Hilali, Dr Shahrar Ali, Green Party, Bisher Al-Rawi, Karima Azzouni, Abduljaleel Bain, Steve Barnes, Shaun Brown, Maude Casey, Manish Dhokia, Paschal Egan, David Ferrard, Aman Fida, Michael Fisher, Martin Francis, Anne Gray, C.C.H. Gwyntopher, David Harrold, Mary Holmes, Gillian Hurle, Miranda James, Ewa Jasiewicz, Zelda Jeffers, N.M. Kleinman, Ann Kobayashi, Sarah Lasenby, Christine MacLeod, Jim McCluskey, Simon Moore, Corinna Mullin, Anita Olivacce, Roshan Pedder, Mike Phipps, Malcolm Pittock, Ian Pocock, David Polden, M.A. Qavi, Emma Sangster, Daniel Viesnik, Sam Walton, Frances Webber, Adrian White, Adrian Windisch, Richard Wolff, Andy Worthington

Saturday, January 08, 2011


PRESS RELEASE – For immediate release
Photo opportunity: Activists dressed in orange jumpsuits and black hoods holding placards and banners calling for the closure of Guantánamo Bay.

The London Guantánamo Campaign [1] will hold a silent vigil to mark the 9th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo Bay on Tuesday, 11 January 2011, from 1-2pm, at the top of Trafalgar Square (opposite the National Gallery). All London MPs and MEPs have been invited. Green London Assembly Members Jenny Jones and Darren Johnson have pledged their support. Liberal Democrat MEP Sarah Ludford also pledged her support and stressed that as vice-chair of the European Parliament’s US delegation she will continue to press Washington for the complete closure of Guantánamo and to lobby in London and Brussels for European cooperation in resettlement of men who cannot return to their home countries for fear of torture.

Aisha Maniar, from the London Guantánamo Campaign, says: “Nine years after the opening of the US military interrogation and detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, and almost one year beyond President Obama’s own deadline for its closure, [2] the London Guantánamo Campaign today calls upon the US President to take urgent action to honour his pledge to close the facility. He must ensure justice for the remaining prisoners through fair trials in civilian courts of law, or their release to countries where their safety and liberty can be ensured.

“The British Government must assist in the closure of the prison by following the example of other EU countries that have accepted prisoners cleared for release who cannot return to their country of origin due to fears for their safety. It must also step up its efforts to secure the freedom of British resident Shaker Aamer, who has been held by the US military for nine years without charge of trial. Shaker’s immediate and unconditional release and return to the UK is long overdue. [3]

“Nine years of torture and arbitrary detention at Guantánamo Bay and similar prisons have not made the world a safer place. Rather, governments who practice and condone torture and detention without charge or trial, citing national security as a justification for their illegal actions, undermine both the rule of law and fundamental human rights. President Obama’s failure to keep to his pledge to close Guantánamo, his new plans for the indefinite incarceration of prisoners without charge or trial, [4] and his approval of extrajudicial executions indicate that he shares his predecessor’s contempt for the rule of law.”
Saturday 8 January 2011
1. The London Guantánamo Campaign campaigns for justice for all prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, for the closure of this and other secret prisons, and an end to the practice of extraordinary rendition.See: The London Guantánamo Campaign produced an EDM with Caroline Lucas MP (Green: Brighton Pavilion) in November 2010 stating our current demands of the British government:
2. President Obama signed a decree shortly after his inauguration in January 2009 ordering the closure of Guantánamo Bay within 12 months. Today, 174 prisoners remain at Guantánamo Bay, including former British residents Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha.
3. Shaker Aamer was cleared for release by the US military in 2007. He claims to have been tortured repeatedly during his time in US custody, on one occasion in the presence of a British intelligence agent. He has a British wife and four children living in Battersea, south London. He has never met his youngest son, who is now 8 years old. Both the Foreign Secretary and the Deputy Prime Minister recently raised Shaker’s case with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in person during separate visits to the US.
4. The first civilian trial of a Guantánamo prisoner, Ahmed Ghailani, recently took place on the US mainland. On November 17, 2010, a jury found him guilty of one count of conspiracy, but acquitted him of 284 other charges including all murder counts. Congress has since blocked the transfer of any more prisoners to the US mainland for trial before October 2011. This may be supplemented by an order to allow the indefinite detention without charge or trial of at least 50 of the remaining prisoners.