Afghan War Anniversary
Most of the prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay had been held at prisons in Afghanistan, such as Bagram and the Salt Pit near Kabul, before being taken to Guantánamo, on the other side of the world, or were taken to Afghanistan as victims of the CIA's kidnap and torture programme, "extraordinary rendition".
Campaigners from the London Guantánamo Campaign and the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign held actions on Friday 7th and Saturday 8th October to mark ten years of this ongoing brutality.
On the evening of 7th October, around a dozen people gathered outside the US Embassy in Mayfair to stand in solidarity with all victims of torture and prisoners held without charge or trial over the past ten years. This demonstration, part of a monthly action held outside the US Embassy by the London Guantánamo Campaign, was held especially to mark 10 years of arbitrary detention and torture at Bagram and other prisons. In particular, they called for justice for victims and for the American government to return Guantánamo prisoners Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha, who have links to the UK, to this country.
On 8th October, the London Guantánamo Campaign joined the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign for a special "Ten Hours for Ten Years" action to mark ten years of Shaker Aamer's illegal detention in Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay as part of the Stop The War Coalition's Anti-War Mass Rally in Trafalgar Square. Shaker Aamer, a 44 year old Saudi national, who has a British wife and four children, including a son he has never met, was abused and tortured at Bagram before being sent to Guantánamo Bay where he has been held without charge or trial for almost the past ten years; he had been working for a Saudi charity in Afghanistan in 2001. He has never faced any charges or trial. Four other British residents whose release was sought at the same time as his by the British government in 2007 have long since returned to the UK. Although the government insists it is doing all it can, it has never explained why it has failed to secure his return to the UK.
Over 5000 people attended the successful anti-war rally, according to the Stop The War Coalition, from all over the UK. Talks were given by politicians, representatives of NGOS, celebrities, journalists and musicians. Speakers included Stop The War President Tony Benn, journalists John Pilger and Lauren Booth, Jemima Khan, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, musicians Lowkey and Brian Eno as well as many others. The names of over 120 people who have died in Afghanistan were read out.
The action for Shaker Aamer, which was eventually reduced to 8 hours (ending at 6pm instead of 8pm) by the powers that be, consisted of volunteers taking turns to stand inside a cage to highlight his plight. Signatures were also collected on a petition to the government calling for his release to the UK. In another cage, protesters donning Bush, Blair and Cameron masks and wearing the notorious Guantánamo orange jumpsuits were finally - temporarily - put behind bars for their crimes against humanity. They were joined for a short while by Kate Hudson, CND General Secretary, and anti-war campaigner Pat Arrowsmith who spoke out against Shaker Aamer's continuing imprisonment without charge or trial. At 3pm, around 20 protesters held up letters spelling "B-R-I-N-G S-H-A-K-E-R A-A-M-E-R H-O-M-E". The stall and the action attracted a lot of interest from demonstrators and passers-by.
At 4pm, the rally concluded with protesters being led down Whitehall to Downing Street by veteran 105-year anti-war campaigner Hetty Bower and former soldier Joe Glenton, who was jailed for refusing to serve in Afghanistan, to deliver a letter to the Prime Minister from military families and soldiers calling for British troops to return home from Afghanistan. Over a thousand people joined this part of the rally. However, protesters were only allowed to go as far as Downing Street and not towards Parliament Square, further down the road, and those who remained outside Downing Street were threatened with arrest under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) 2005.
A Very Brief History of Torture, Arbitrary Detention, Life and Death at Bagram, Guantánamo and Elsewhere over the Past Decade
Back in 2001/2002, foreigners in Afghanistan were arrested by local warlords who sold them to the American military for a bounty of $5000, a small fortune to its recipients. Many had their personal items and identification stolen. After being tortured and abused in Afghan prisons, most were then sent to another illegal prison at Guantánamo Bay. Conditions in Afghan prisons are reported to be worse, with former British Guantánamo prisoner, Moazzam Begg, describing Bagram as being worse than Guantánamo. Deaths are not uncommon; the 2007 Oscar-winning documentary film Taxi to the Dark Side tells the true story of the savage murder at the hands of US soldiers of an Afghan taxi driver in 2002. Banned torture techniques such as hooding, sleep deprivation, the use of white noise and repetitive music as torture as well as physical and sexual abuse have been reported.
Prisoner conditions have not improved over the past decade; Bagram is very much in the same state Guantánamo Bay was in several years with no exact details of the prisoners held there, although the majority are reported to be Afghan nationals. Prisoners do not have access to medical and legal representation or communication with their families, except through the Red Cross. While prisoners at Guantánamo Bay have described the experience of being held there as "being buried alive", in parts of Bagram, prisoners are quite literally buried alive in tiny cells in underground bunkers. Since Barack Obama became president in 2009, the facility has grown fourfold in size, going from a prisoner capacity of 600 to over 2400. Although the Afghan government is due to assume control of all prisons in Afghanistan from January 2012, the US military has decided to retain control over a prison at Parwan near Bagram, which it is currently expanding and claims it is using it to hold high-value detainees.
Afghanistan has also been a hotspot for secret CIA-run torture jails and a destination for victims of extraordinary rendition. British residents, formerly held at Guantánamo Bay, Binyam Mohamed, who was kidnapped in Pakistan and Bisher Al-Rawi and Jamil El-Banna, who were kidnapped in Ghana were all taken to Afghanistan where they were tortured. In spite of pressure from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition, the transfer of prisoners will not feature in the forthcoming torture (detainee or Gibson) inquiry set up by the government; the British government was aware that British residents and nationals were being tortured while detained in Afghanistan in 2002.
Perhaps one of the most extraordinary stories to emerge is that of German citizen, Khaled El-Masri, who was kidnapped on holiday in Macedonia in 2003 and taken to Afghanistan where he was detained for several months: http://www.pen.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/4051/prmID/1873
The main feature of this decade-long practice of torture and abuse of prisoners is the complete lack of justice and due legal process. Prisoners are detained and held outside of the recognised confines of the law. Wikileaks earlier this year revealed how random the investigation of prisoners conducted at Guantánamo Bay were, prisoners - 170 of whom are still held without charge or trial - considered to be "bad men" and the "worst of the worst". While all the main political parties in Britain have openly condemned the continuing regime of illegal detention at Guantánamo Bay, for the main part, they continue to support the ongoing war in Afghanistan, in which similar, if not worse, facilities exist as part of the war effort there. Similarly, while Barack Obama talks about closing Guantánamo (he had promised to close it by January 2010 - last year!), money is being pumped into expanding the illegal detention facilities at Bagram and Parwan.
The London Guantánamo Campaign will continue to seek the closure of Guantánamo, Bagram and similar prisons elsewhere. We are currently in the process of organising a series of events to mark the tenth anniversary of Guantánamo Bay in January 2012; this will include a candlelight vigil outside the US Embassy on Wednesday 11 January at 6-8pm and a demonstration in central London on the afternoon of Saturday 7 January. Please check us on Facebook or visit our blog: http://londonguantanamocampaign.blogspot.com/ for updates and more details.
We are also collecting signatures on a petition to the American ambassador which we will deliver to the embassy on Guantánamo's 10th birthday on 11 January 2012. Please add your name to the petition: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/release_aamer_and_belbacha/
The Save Shaker Aamer Campaign will also hold an event outside Downing Street on International Human Rights Day, 10 December, calling for the release of Shaker Aamer. Please check out the website: http://www.saveshaker.org/ for details.
A new documentary film, "YOU DON'T LIKE THE TRUTH - 4 days inside Guantánamo" about Omar Khadr, a Canadian national who has been held and convicted at Guantánamo Bay for war crimes allegedly committed in Afghanistan when he was 14 (he is now 24), went on general release on Friday 7 October. It is currently playing at the Ritzy in Brixton: The Ritzy - Picture House, Brixton Oval, Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, London, SW2 http://www.picturehouses.co.uk/cinema/Ritzy_Picturehouse/
© Pictures and report by Aisha Maniar for the London Guantánamo Campaign