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:

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