Tuesday, February 01, 2011

LGC Newsletter - January 2011


Guantánamo Bay:
Former Australian prisoner Mamdouh Habib has dropped his case against the Australian government for its complicity in his torture and rendition. Arrested in Pakistan shortly after 9/11, he was held and tortured in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Egypt before being taken to Guantánamo Bay. He was released without charge in 2005. In 2006, he started proceedings against the Australian government, which sought to prevent this, but was last year given the right to bring his case and sue the government. He alleges that Australian agents were present when he was tortured during interrogations. In a similar move to the British government, the case was dropped after a confidential, out-of-court settlement was reached between the parties. Similarly as well, the Australian government does not accept liability for the claims that it was complicit in his torture.

On 6 January, a second Algerian prisoner was forcibly returned to his country. Saeed Farhi Mohammed, 49, was returned to the country even though he had expressed fears about possible further arbitrary detention and torture there. A federal judge ordered his release in November 2009 and held that his detention was illegal. In a similar situation to Ahmed Belbacha, having also been held at Guantánamo Bay for over eight years and having lived in the UK, he appealed against his return to Algeria. Like Ahmed, this was temporarily prevented, however since last year, as with the several other Algerian prisoners in the same situation, he was at risk of being returned at any time. Although his appeal is still pending before the US Supreme Court, he was sent to Algeria nonetheless. There has been no news of his situation since his return there. 173 prisoners remain.
More on this news:

On 11 January, another Algerian prisoner, Abdul Razak Ali, captured in Pakistan in 2002, had his habeas corpus petition rejected. He had been seeking a court order for his release on the basis of mistaken identity, that he had been mistaken for an Al-Qaeda member, but this was rejected by the court.

January 2011 marked two important anniversaries in the current incarnation of Guantánamo Bay: 11 January marked the entry into the tenth year of its operation as an illegal torture and arbitrary detention camp and 22 January marked the first anniversary of President Obama’s order to have the prison closed by early 2010, in one of his first acts as president. Since then, with the small number of prisoners released, continuing allegations of torture at the prison and the recent law passed in Congress to prevent the transfer of any more prisoners to the US mainland until at least October 2011, it is very clear that there is no political will or desire whatsoever to close Guantánamo Bay. President Obama’s office is allegedly working on plans to provide a legal structure for the continuing and indefinite detention without charge or trial of at least 50 of the prisoners who cannot be tried. The almost non-existent column space and air time given to this important issue over the past month show that in international and domestic political circles, this is no longer an issue of concern. That Guantánamo Bay and the illegal apparatus that come along with it will remain open and operational is now a given.

On 25 January, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, 36, who was convicted in November of one out of 285 charges against him linking him to the bombing of US embassies in east Africa in 1998, was handed a life sentence. He was found guilty of conspiracy to damage US property. Earlier in the month, lawyers representing him had pleaded for clemency in his sentencing as he had been tortured and “disappeared” for two years into CIA-run torture prisons, however when sentencing, Judge Kaplan stated that his claims of mistreatment “pales in comparison to the suffering and the horror he and his confederates caused”. Eric Holder, the US Attorney General, took the opportunity of his sentencing, to commend the work of the US civilian courts, as he is still in favour of civilian trials for prisoners as opposed to the military commissions which have since been promoted following the success of this hearing. He is now likely to be held at a super-max facility in the US. Gross abuses of prisoners are rife within the US domestic prison system as well.
For more on this news:

Mohamed Riadh Nasri, a Tunisian prisoner who, along with two other prisoners, was transferred to Italy in 2009, was handed a 6-year sentence on 31 January for “criminal association with the aim of terrorism”. Along with two other prisoners, he had been sent to Italy where they were wanted for prosecution. He had previously lived in Italy. Upon arrival in the country, the three men were held at the notorious Macomer Prison in Sardinia.

Extraordinary rendition:
In spite of the out-of-court settlement between the British government and former Guantánamo prisoners in November 2010, the case was brought to the Supreme Court on 24-26 January as several media and non-governmental organisations (BBC/The Guardian/The Times/Liberty/Justice) are bringing a case against MI5 and MI6 for attempting, in this case, to have evidence heard in secret without the knowledge of the claimants or their legal representatives. This would have involved the use of a “special advocate” system such as is in place for control order and national security deportation cases in which specially-vetted lawyers represent the claimants instead without any access to them. The security agencies argue that no intelligence obtained from abroad, through torture or otherwise, should ever be heard in court. However, last year the High Court held that such a move would undermine a claimant’s right to know what the evidence against them is.
In the light of the embarrassment of the Binyam Mohamed case last year, the government will propose a green paper later this year to restrict, if not to withhold completely, the disclosure of intelligence evidence in court.

LGC Activities:
The LGC held a silent vigil in Trafalgar Square at lunchtime on 11 January to mark the solemn ninth anniversary of the opening of the prison camp in solidarity with the prisoners still held there, including Shaker Aamer. This was preceded by the delivery of a letter, with PeaceStrike, to Downing Street signed by over 75 organisations and individuals demanding that the British government step up its action to help close Guantánamo and the immediate release and return to the UK of Shaker Aamer. The LGC has received official acknowledgement of its letter. A shorter version of the letter was published in the Guardian newspaper on the same day.
Over 70 people attended the vigil which was a bright and colourful display that attracted a lot of attention on a grey day against the wonderful backdrop of the National Gallery. The LGC thanks everyone who attended and made this event a success.
For a report with some pictures:
With more pictures:
Videos of the event (both around 3 minutes):

To mark the first anniversary of President Obama’s broken promise to close Guantánamo Bay by early 2010, the LGC had the following comment piece published on Open Democracy:

There was no monthly Shut Down Guantánamo! Demonstration in January. The next demonstration is at 6pm on Friday 4 February outside the US Embassy, Mayfair. It will mark the fourth anniversary of our regular demonstrations (first weekly and now monthly) outside the US Embassy. Please join us if you can. Guantánamo Bay must close and the remaining prisoners, like Shaker Aamer, and their families must be reunited. This will only happen through increased public pressure.
We also urge you to join the demonstration outside Downing Street on Saturday 5 February at 12pm to mark the ninth anniversary of Shaker Aamer’s illegal imprisonment at Guantánamo Bay.

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