Friday, September 30, 2011

LGC Newsletter – September 2011

LGC Newsletter – September 2011


British residents:
Shaker Aamer is on hunger strike in protest at conditions at Guantánamo Bay, along with other prisoners, and according to a letter written and signed by him obtained by the BBC, the inhumane treatment of prisoners continues. He describes himself and other prisoners as “hostages” and asked to be released or given a fair trial. The Pentagon has denied that prisoner abuse continues. Although in 2009, when his presidency began, President Obama stated that prisoners would be detained in accordance with the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war, the few prisoners who have since been released have reported that the abuse continues. Force feeding hunger strikers like Shaker Aamer is a violation of their human rights. While maintaining that it is doing all it can, the British government maintains that Shaker Aamer’s release is a matter for the American government. Almost 10 years on, it is not clear why Mr Aamer continues to be detained without ever having faced charges or trial.

Guantánamo Bay:
The legal NGO Reprieve which represents dozens of Guantánamo prisoners, held a press conference in Tunis on 14 September attended by Tunisian politicians, former prisoners, and lawyers, calling for the release of the remaining 5 Tunisians in Guantánamo Bay. Prior to the Jasmine Revolution, the former Ben Ali regime had been involved in extraordinary rendition and out of the 7 Tunisians who were released, 5 were sent to third countries in Europe instead, due to the threat of further arbitrary detention and torture in Tunisia. Some have been able to return this year. The new Tunisian government has expressed its desire and will to negotiate the return of the remaining 5 prisoners with the American government; it has called on the Obama administration to return its citizens.

Abdul Rahim Al-Nashiri, a 46-year old Saudi prisoner has been charged by the US Department of Defense with plotting an attack on a US warship in Yemen in 2000 which killed 17 sailors and wounded 40 others. He has also been charged with murder, attempted murder, conspiracy and terrorism. He is also accused by the US of an attack on a French vessel in 2002. Following the charges, his trial, before military commission, must be held within the next 30 days. He potentially faces the death penalty, the first such case under the Obama regime. Al-Nashiri is one of three prisoners the CIA admitted, in 2009, to having waterboarded. He was subject to this form of torture at least several dozen times. At a previous hearing, he said he had only confessed to the charges due to torture.

With American presidential elections due to be held at the end of next year, American Attorney General Eric Holder has said that the Obama administration wants to see Guantánamo Bay closed. He stated that both he and Barack Obama would like to see the illegal detention facility closed down by the elections in November 2012. This was in response to criticism by European Union, which said that it was a “shame” that Guantánamo Bay was still open.
During his first election campaign, President Obama highlighted civil liberties and the closure of Guantánamo Bay among his election pledges. After election, signing a decree to close the facility was one of his first actions in office. He has since backtracked completely and is instead seeking legal avenues to keep Guantánamo Bay open and legitimise the actions of his predecessor, George Bush.

The US military has recently stated that it is planning to expand the detention facility at Parwan, near the Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan, by a capacity of over 2000 extra prisoners. The prison can currently hold 3,500 prisoners. Furthermore, the US will maintain control of it following the 2012 handover date to the Afghan authorities as it is considered to hold high-value prisoners. Since 2009, Bagram has also increased its prisoner numbers fourfold. The vast majority of prisoners held at Guantánamo were first held at and most often tortured in Afghan prisons. Earlier this month, NATO command in Afghanistan suspended the handover of prisoners to Afghan-run prisons following a UN report on widespread torture and abuse of prisoners at such facilities. Last year the British Ministry of Defence was taken to the High Court for its policy of allowing such prisoner transfers, a case which it partially won.

Extraordinary rendition:
Documents found by the American NGO Human Rights Watch among a stash at the building used by Colonel Gaddafi’s former head of intelligence in Tripoli show that Britain was complicit in the extraordinary rendition in 2004 of the current head of the rebel forces in Tripoli, Abdelhakim Belhaj, from Malaysia to Libya. He was then the leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which has since disbanded and had alleged links to Al Qaeda. Britain provided intelligence on Belhaj which led to his kidnap, along with his pregnant wife, in Thailand in early 2004 en route to the UK. Belhaj reports that he was tortured and held at secret CIA prisons during his rendition, with the knowledge of MI6. He is one of the prisoners in whose rendition the US cooperated with the Libyan authorities. The documents found provide firm evidence of this. Britain is also reported to have provided intelligence to the Libyan government on dissidents during its period of rapprochement with the regime in 2004-5, in spite of being fully aware of its use of torture and other human rights abuses. While the Foreign Office initially refused to comment on the issue, claiming it was a matter for the previous government, even though the British intelligence official involved is not an elected official, the Prime Minister later announced that the issue of the Libyan renditions would be added to the scope of the Gibson (Detainee) Inquiry. Belhaj has asked for an apology and may bring legal action against the British government. Last month, nine leading UK human rights NGOs, victims and their lawyers withdrew from participating in this same inquiry due to its lack of transparency, impartiality and effectiveness.
The documents can be read at:

LGC Activities:
Four people attended the September Shut Down Guantánamo! demonstration. The October demonstration, which coincides with the 10th anniversary of the current war in Afghanistan, will be a special demonstration on Friday 7 October at 6-7pm outside the US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, London W1A 1AE, in solidarity with prisoners and torture victims in Afghanistan. Hundreds of victims of extraordinary rendition have been held in Afghanistan and nearly all of the Guantánamo prisoners were held at Bagram or other prisons in Afghanistan before being transferred. Please join us if you can to mark this sombre anniversary.
Media on the September demonstration:

The London Guantánamo Campaign is currently in the process of organising actions to mark the 10th anniversary of Guantánamo Bay in January 2012. As part of these actions, we are currently collecting signatures on the following e-petition: addressed to the US ambassador to the UK calling for the return of Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha to the UK and the closure of Guantánamo Bay. Please add your name (and comments, if you wish) and ask your friends and family to do as well. Look out for further updates on planned actions. A petition delivered to Downing Street on the 9th anniversary, with more than 250 signatures, a short version of which was published in the Guardian, received a cut-and-paste response from the Foreign Office two months later:

Thursday, September 01, 2011

LGC Newsletter – August 2011

Guantánamo Bay:
24-year old Canadian prisoner, Omar Khadr, the first person to be tried, last year, for war crimes committed as a minor since World War II, has replaced his Canadian legal team. Dennis Edney and Nathan Whitling, who represented Khadr pro bono and tirelessly for the past eight years, have been replaced by John Norris and Brydie Bethell. The news came in a letter from Khadr in which he thanked his former legal team for their work and support. Although his former lawyers have not commented, it is feared that Khadr was coerced to sign the typed letter and did not do so freely. Convicted of the murder of a US serviceman in Afghanistan in 2002, when he was aged just 15, he was sentenced to 40 years by a military tribunal but that was reduced through a secret plea bargain. He is due to return to Canada in October this year to serve the rest of his sentence.

Extraordinary rendition:
A habeas corpus case brought by the human rights NGO Reprieve for a Pakistani prisoner who has been held at the prison at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan without charge since at least 2004 has been dismissed by the High Court in London. Yunus Rahmatullah ( and another man were both captured in Iraq in 2004 by British forces who handed them over to the US military which has held them ever since and consequently “rendered” them to Bagram in Afghanistan. The handover of prisoners who potentially face torture is illegal and consequently the Foreign Office sought to deny knowledge of the men and then refused to disclose their identities. Reprieve sought to rely on habeas corpus – the common law right to know why one is being detained – to pressurise the British government to get the Americans to release Mr Rahmatullah, however the High Court decided that the matter is entirely in the hands of the US and not the concern of the British government. Reprieve intends to appeal this decision.

On 4 August, almost one month after the terms of reference and protocol for the handling of information in the forthcoming Detainee (Gibson) Inquiry into allegations of the involvement of British intelligence services in torture abroad, a coalition of 10 human rights NGOs and lawyers representing victims wrote to the Inquiry informing it of their withdrawal as they cannot cooperate with its stated terms, which are also in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the absolute ban on torture. Other criticisms lie in the limited scope of the inquiry, its use of secrecy and limited use of evidence, the limited ability to call witnesses and question key individuals, the lack of transparency and the limited role given to the very victims whose allegations of torture and abuse over the past few years led to the inquiry being called. As proposed, the Inquiry will be ineffective with little purpose, serving as little more than a waste of public funds and time without addressing key issues and possible failings that both victims and the public, whose taxes have funded this alleged involvement in torture, have a right to know. The Inquiry has responded and both the panel leading it and the government have urged all parties concerned to reconsider and has stated that the Inquiry will be held nonetheless.
For more on this news:
In a separate criminal inquiry into possible abuse of a prisoner by an MI6 agent, referred to the police by the agency, British police are seeking to interview prisoners at Guantánamo Bay concerning the possible involvement of this agent in the abuse of a non-British prisoner. The police cannot question any prisoners unless they are given permission to do so by the American government. Once this investigation is complete, the Detainee Inquiry can start its proceedings.

While the Coalition government wishes to use the Detainee Inquiry to draw a line under allegations made relating to the previous Labour government, allegations have continued to emerge since last year’s election. At the time of the general election last year, allegations emerged of a British man being tortured in a Bangladeshi prison with the knowledge of the UK security services. In August, proceedings were started at the High Court in London in a claim brought by a Kenyan man who claims he was kidnapped in Kenya last summer and “rendered” to Uganda, where he was held illegally, interrogated and tortured by individuals who claimed to be from the FBI and one from British intelligence. The agent is alleged to have taken part in the abuse of Omar Awadh Omar, 37, who was beaten during questioning.
More on this news:

An American appeals court has given leave to two American security contractors to sue Donald Rumsfeld, whom they allege permitted policies which allowed them to be tortured while working in Iraq in 2005 and 2006. The two men, Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel, were detained by their own army and subject to abuses including sleep deprivation, denied food, water and warmth and threatened with beatings at Camp Cropper, after trying to blow the whistle on the illegal activities of the company they were working for. They were both held for several months and never charged. Rumsfeld had pleaded immunity; however, this was rejected by the court, as the men had provided enough evidence to show that he had personally effected the policies allowing their abuse.

Following a case in a New York court between 2007 and 2011, concerning a private company accused of facilitating torture flights as part of the US’s extraordinary rendition programme, Reprieve has released a series of over 1500 documents which were a part of the case and which disclose a considerable amount of information for the first time about the business of extraordinary rendition. For the first time, some of the companies involved are identified as well as information about the “rendition” of particular victims. Details of flights and stopovers at airports all over the world, including Glasgow, Edinburgh and London Luton airports are provided as well as the revelation that a jet owned by Liverpool FC owner Philip Morse was used for over 55 “torture” flights passing and stopping off in various locations in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas (Guantánamo Bay). In between these flights, the jet was used to transport a baseball team to its matches in the US. As the documents name companies and their senior management and executives, it is possible that these documents will be used to bring prosecutions by victims against them.

LGC Activities:
Five people attended the August Shut Down Guantánamo! demonstration. The September demonstration will be on Friday 2 September at 12-1pm outside the US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, London W1A 1AE and then 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner (Marble Arch)
Media on the August demonstration:
(In Arabic, pictures from the demonstration)

If you have not yet added your name to the open letter to President Obama about Shaker Aamer, please do: