Friday, February 25, 2011

LGC Newsletter - February 2011

LGC Newsletter – February 2011

British Residents:
British resident Shaker Aamer has now been held at Guantánamo Bay without charge or trial for over 9 years.
On 4 February, a Wikileak cable published in the Daily Telegraph from the US Embassy in London in 2009 showed that British diplomats had raised Shaker Aamer’s case with the US ambassador and sought his return. Officials from the Foreign Office told the US Embassy that they did not believe that he would be prosecuted if returned to the UK or Saudi Arabia. The failure to release Shaker Aamer is largely due to the American administration.
On 5 February, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign held a vigil outside Downing Street to mark the ninth anniversary of the illegal detention of Shaker Aamer at Guantánamo Bay. Around 40 people attended and were joined by Green MEP Jean Lambert and Kate Hudson from the CND. A letter demanding Shaker Aamer’s release was delivered to Downing Street. For a report and pictures of the demonstration:

Guantánamo Bay:
A seventh Guantánamo Bay prisoner has died in detention. Awal Gul, a 48 year old Afghan national, allegedly died of natural causes, most probably a heart attack on 3 February, after exercising. Held for over nine years without charge, the US accused Mr. Gul of being a member of the Taleban and supporting Al Qaeda but never brought any charges against him or produced any evidence to support these claims. His lawyers stated that they cannot know whether the stated cause of death is true. Mr. Gul left Guantánamo Bay in a coffin and was buried in Afghanistan on 7 February. More than 5000 people attended his funeral.
This month the Afghan government has been seeking the release of all Afghan prisoners held at Guantánamo, including a senior Taleban commander whose release could help to ease tensions in Afghanistan. There are currently over a dozen Afghan prisoners still held at Guantánamo Bay and it is likely that a delegation will visit the US to press for their release.

While Mohamed Riadh Nasri, a Tunisian prisoner transferred to Italy in 2009, was handed a 6-year sentence on 31 January for “criminal association with the aim of terrorism”, another Tunisian transferred along with him, Adel Ben Mabrouk, was released after his defence and the prosecution jointly pleaded that he had already spent eight years in Guantánamo and 18 months in jail in Italy prior to sentencing. He was given a two-year suspended sentence for associating with terrorists. However, following the recent upheaval in his native Tunisia, his future still remains uncertain.

Lawyers for Omar Khadr have filed papers seeking clemency from the military authorities at Guantánamo Bay so that he can spend a shorter time being held at the maximum security prison there and return to Canada earlier. Under the plea bargain and guilty plea reached in his case last autumn, Khadr must serve at least one year of his eight-year sentence at Guantánamo in a facility in which he is held in almost complete isolation.

The Obama administration notched up its third successive guilty plea in flawed military commission proceedings in mid-February when Sudanese prisoner Noor Othman Muhammad, in his 40s, pleaded guilty under a plea bargain which could see him released by 2015 and in which he must also testify in future cases against other prisoners. He “admitted” to working as a weapons trainer at terrorist training camps, supporting terrorism and conspiring with Al Qaeda. A lot of pressure is put on prisoners to plead guilty under these secret deals in kangaroo court proceedings and after nine years of arbitrary detention with no end in sight, a guilty plea may offer some glimpse of a chance of release from Guantánamo.

Extraordinary rendition:
In late January (27-31), Andrew Tyrie MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition appeared before the Information Tribunal to demand the disclosure of documents he had requested from the Ministry of Defence under the Freedom of Information Act. These documents concern the detention and transfer of detainees by British Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and may contain the names of individuals who have been rendered. The MoD has resisted making these documents public claiming it is expensive to do so and would undermine national security and relations with the US. Mr. Tyrie will continue to press for the disclosure of these documents as they are “important if we are to subject these and other allegations to scrutiny”.

On 4 February, German extraordinary rendition survivor Khaled El-Masri started proceedings in Macedonia against the government for its involvement in his kidnap and rendition. In 2003, in a case of mistaken identity, he was kidnapped while on holiday at the Macedonian border. He was held there for nearly a month before being taken to Afghanistan where he was tortured for four months. The experience has turned his life upside down, yet neither the American nor Macedonian governments have taken any responsibility for his ordeal. At the time, the US, Macedonia and Germany tried to play down what had happened. Similar proceedings were rejected by the US courts. He is suing the Macedonian government for €50,000 in damages and an apology. This case, which may last up to two years, is one of the very few opportunities any of the survivors or victims of extraordinary rendition have had to present their side of the story and seek justice in a court of law.

George Bush cancelled a trip to Switzerland in mid-February where he had been invited to deliver a speech for the United Israel Appeal, fearing that he may be arrested for war crimes or have to deal with demonstrations against him. Human rights groups in the country had been planning both. This would have been Bush’s first trip to Europe since outing himself as war criminal guilty of torture for having sanctioned the use of waterboarding. Human rights organisations had prepared a dossier of evidence for his arrest and instead presented it at a media event.

The forthcoming Gibson Inquiry into the involvement of the British intelligence services in torture, which may start hearing evidence as early as next month, is currently facing a boycott from several human rights NGOs. Nine organisations have been involved in talks with the three members of the inquiry panel concerning the structure of the inquiry, yet there are concerns that it will not meet the standards required under human rights law and may be little more than a pointless exercise with the very security agencies who are to be scrutinised continuing to insist on various information and hearings being kept secret. There are also fears that there will not be sufficient transparency and independence in the proceedings.

Rangzieb Ahmed, 35, from Rochdale, currently serving a life sentence for terrorism-related offences had his appeal to have his conviction overturned rejected by the Court of Appeal after he argued that he had been tortured at the behest of MI5 in Pakistan. The court held that he had not been tortured but allowed him to appeal to the Supreme Court concerning MI5’s involvement in his case. Some parts of his hearing were held in secret and these were not all mentioned in the open judgment, nor were the points raised about his case by David Davis MP in parliament in 2009 all raised.

LGC Activities:
Ten people attended the February Shut Down Guantánamo! Demonstration which marked the fourth anniversary of our regular presence outside the embassy. The next demonstration is at 12-1pm on Friday 4 March outside the US Embassy, Mayfair and then from 1.15-2.15pm at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park. Please join us if you can.

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