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

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