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, 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 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:
With additional pictures:
Press release by Jean Lambert MEP:
Further Indymedia report:
Pictures by Dan Viesnik:
Pictures by Mariusz Miejek:
Pictures by Richard Wolff:
Al-Jazeera article (in Arabic):
LGC pictures on Facebook:!/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 ( 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 (, 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 (, 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 – 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 (, 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 – 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: