Friday, March 02, 2012

LGC Newsletter - February 2012

British Residents:
On 14 February, the last British resident, recognised as such by the government, marked his tenth anniversary of detention without charge or trial at Guantánamo Bay. Shaker Aamer’s return to the UK was sought officially with that of four other British residents in August 2007; they have all since returned. In spite of alleged ongoing efforts between the US and the UK to release Shaker Aamer, who is a Saudi national with a British family, including recent talks between William Hague and Hillary Clinton, no reasons have been given for why he remains there or what the potential block may be; both sides blame each other for the delay. His British lawyer, Gareth Peirce, wrote the following in the Guardian on the anniversary date:
The Save Shaker Aamer Campaign also held two events to mark Shaker Aamer’s tenth inexplicable year of detention: a demonstration and public meeting in Battersea on 11 February and a protest demonstration outside the US Embassy on 14 February, during which a letter was delivered to the Embassy.
To mark the anniversary, Shaker Aamer’s family and lawyers put together the following e-petition to the government: 100,000 signatures are needed on the petition by 14 May for a debate to be held in parliament on this issue. Please add your name to the petition and ask friends and family to add theirs too.

On 9 February, British resident Ahmed Belbacha, who has not been recognised as such by the British government, which considers him a failed asylum seeker as he was in Bagram when his asylum appeal was held in 2001, marked his tenth anniversary of detention without charge or trial at Guantánamo Bay. Like Shaker Aamer, he was cleared for release by the Pentagon in 2007 and neither man is deemed to pose a threat. Although he can return to his native Algeria, due to fear of further abuse there, as has happened to other prisoners who have returned there, and for lack of another country to accept him, he has remained at Guantánamo Bay for the past five years as a hostage of the international community. The London Guantánamo Campaign believes that after 10 years of such detention and treatment Mr Belbacha’s current or past residency status in the UK is an irrelevant consideration and the UK should allow him to return to this country, where he worked and resided for at least eighteen months, on humanitarian grounds, as other EU states have done with other prisoners.

Guantánamo Bay:
Later this year, American voters will go to the polls to elect a new president. Back in 2008, Barack Obama, who will seek re-election to a second term of office as president, made the closure of Guantánamo Bay (but not an end to extraordinary rendition) one of his main campaigning policies. One of the first things he did as president was sign a decree ordering the closure of Guantánamo Bay by early 2010, within the first year of his presidency, and ending the use of military commissions. Instead, as he heads towards his second election campaign, he has chosen to perpetuate and add a legal gloss to the regime at Guantánamo Bay by signing the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA 2012) into law and has resumed military commissions. Guantánamo Bay will not feature as an issue in this year’s election campaign.
Instead, a recent official report in the US has again claimed that over a quarter of prisoners freed from Guantánamo Bay have resumed hostilities against the US: and a recent survey claimed that the majority of Americans are satisfied with Obama’s foreign policy: including failing to close Guantánamo Bay and his open use of unmanned drone attacks all over the world to deal with alleged opponents of his regime, an extralegal method this Nobel Peace Prize-winning lawyer and US president has chosen to make his weapon of choice, as opposed to illegal detention.

Majid Khan, 32, a Pakistani prisoner, who had previously resided in the US, was charged earlier this month with war crimes, including murder and attempted murder. Regarded as a “high-value” prisoner, rather than having to wait months for an actual trial, he was arraigned almost immediately and reached a plea bargain whereby he pleaded guilty to charges against him in return for a reduced sentence, of no more than 25 years, by agreeing to testify against other high-value prisoners, such as Khaled Sheikh Mohamed. His actual sentencing will be deferred until 2016, for four whole years, to ensure he keeps up this part of the bargain. Majid Khan “disappeared” in 2003 into the CIA’s network of secret torture prisons around the world and re-emerged at Guantánamo Bay in 2006. What happened to Khan during those three years was not of concern during his hearing. This case is expected to speed up other outstanding prosecution cases at Guantánamo but does little to address the fundamental issues, such as the use of torture to obtain evidence, over a decade in delay in actual prosecution, etc. or the defendant’s right to a basic fair trial.

Extraordinary rendition:
Yunus Rahmatullah, a Pakistani national who was handed over to the US authorities by the British army in Iraq in 2004, was later transferred to Bagram in Afghanistan where he has been held without charge or trial and largely without contact with the outside world since. Following a High Court ruling in December last year, the British government was ordered to secure his release from the Americans or otherwise find itself in breach of international criminal law and at risk of prosecution for the conditions under which Mr Rahmatullah was handed over to the US. The court gave the government until 19 February to do this. Unfortunately, the British government, in spite of its “special relationship” with the US, failed to secure his freedom and consequently the legal charity, Reprieve, which represents him handed over the issue to the police to bring the relevant prosecutions against those individuals and officials responsible for his ordeal: The court accepted the government’s reasons for why it was unable to secure his release; nonetheless, the court and both the US and UK governments agree that war crimes were committed against Mr Rahmatullah.

LGC Activities:
The LGC marked the fifth anniversary of its regular “Shut Down Guantánamo!” demonstrations outside the US Embassy on 3 February. In sub-zero temperatures, around 25 activists joined a special candlelight vigil which included special performances by Actors for Human Rights
and poet Sergio Amigo
The March demonstration, held on 1st March, was attended by 5 people.

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