Monday, April 29, 2013

LGC Newsletter – April 2013

British Residents:
The e-petition calling for the return of Shaker Aamer to the UK closed on 20 April with over 117,000 signatures Many thanks to everyone who signed the petition and worked hard to get others to sign.
The result of the hard work by campaigners across the UK and Shaker Aamer’s MP Jane Ellison (Conservative: Battersea) was that his case was discussed by the Backbench Committee which Ms Ellison is a member of leading to a public debate on 24 April. At the debate, Ms Ellison and other backbench MPs were able to put questions to Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt. In the debate, the transcript of which can be read here: Ms Ellison coherently put forward the case for Mr Aamer’s release to the UK, given the fact that the US does not consider him a threat and cleared him for release over 6 years ago. She was supported by other backbench MPs including Caroline Lucas (Green), Yasmin Qureshi, Kerry McCarthy, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell (Labour). Mr McDonnell asked for the Foreign Secretary to raise concerns with the US ambassador “to say that this Government have had enough” and asked that the Prime Minister call Barack Obama to insist on the release of Shaker Aamer. However, in spite of a well-attended debate in which relevant questions raised by MPs concerning why Mr Aamer continues to remain at Guantanamo Bay more than 11 years after he was kidnapped, Mr Burt’s responses were largely those given by the government over the past 6 years or so and he provided no firm assurances on any of the questions posed. He also stated that the Foreign Office accepted assurances from the US that Shaker Aamer’s health was being taken care of and that he had only been cleared for transfer to Saudi Arabia. In response to a question from Caroline Lucas MP, who described the debate as “increasingly Kafkaesque”, as to why the US will not release Shaker Aamer, Mr Burt replied “I have a supposition about why the United States might want to retain Mr Aamer” but did not comment further on this.
Jane Ellison will return to the Backbench Committee and will seek to set up a formal debate with a motion on Shaker Aamer’s return being voted on in parliament. This may take place at the end of next month or June. There was good cross-party representation at the debate, showing the importance of Mr Aamer’s case and the closure of Guantánamo Bay to all parties, yet the Liberal Democrats were noticeably absent and not represented at the debate.
On the Sunday prior to the debate, the following article by Shaker Aamer was published in the Observer newspaper: in which he described the horror of the hunger strike he has been on for over two months and the violence faced by prisoners; he concluded by stating “I hope I do not die in this awful place. I want to hug my children and watch them as they grow. But if it is God's will that I should die here, I want to die with dignity. I hope, if the worst comes to the worst, that my children will understand that I cared for the rights of those suffering around me almost as much as I care for them.” 
While the US Department of Defence refuses to name those currently on hunger strike, it has named those being force fed. Both British residents Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha are reported as being force fed against their will by Reprieve: 

Guantánamo Bay:
The current hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay has gone beyond 80 days with no sign of an end in sight. Although the prison officials currently put the number of prisoners on hunger strike at over 100 with almost 20 being force fed to keep them alive and almost a dozen having passed out due to weakness, their lawyers maintain that nearly all of the prisoners, more than 130 have been on hunger strike since early February. The situation that many of them face is critical. Doctors state that after 50 days on hunger strike, organ failure and permanent internal damage can ensue; thus, even if this hunger strike does not prove to be fatal in the short term, it may be so in the longer term. Of the seven out of nine deaths at Guantánamo Bay that the authorities claim were “suicides”, all of the deceased men had engaged previously in lengthy hunger strikes at the prison. Lawyers for the prisoners have, however, reported that there have been some suicide attempts over the past few months.
The hunger strike failed to grab the attention of the mainstream media until violence entered the equation on 13 April. On the morning after the Red Cross conveniently left Guantánamo Bay on a visit to monitor the health of the prisoners, a key part of its purpose, the military command at Guantánamo Bay, which had previously denied there was a real hunger strike at the prison, stated that it had tried to forcefully remove prisoners from their cells and separate hunger strikers, resulting in “violent” clashes – between debilitated men who had not eaten food for over two months and were “armed” with empty plastic bottles and broom heads and US military officers who fired plastic bullets at them – in order to remove the men by force: Lawyers for the prisoners had already reported that the hunger strikers were being intimidated in various ways to deter them, including by removing personal items from their cells, separating non-hunger striking prisoners from the general population, depriving them of clean and regular water, etc. The above press release shows that the military command has lost considerable control over the prisoners who are united in their action. This action further exacerbated the “official hunger strike” as within one week, the US military admitted that many more prisoners “had joined the hunger strike”. Furthermore, prisoners have reported that more prisoners are not being force fed due to a lack of equipment and medical personnel at Guantánamo Bay to deal with the situation. While the hunger strike has now come to the public attention, this has not led to serious attempts to remedy either the hunger strike or the situation there: more than eleven years of imprisonment with charge or trial with no end in sight. It also emerged shortly afterwards that the White House had been briefed about the cell raid before it took place:

As a result the prison has been on almost-complete lockdown since as well.
In a court case brought by one of the prisoners for relief, Musaab al-Madhwani, whose lawyer stated he was dying as a result of the hunger strike, the judge said he could not intervene as he had no jurisdiction over the hunger strike and Mr al-Madhwani had voluntarily participated in the hunger strike and endangered his own health.

Protests have been held all over the world, including Kuwait, Yemen and a day of protest action took place in over 20 cities in the US on 11 April, as well as a letter to President Obama signed by 25 US human rights NGOs Please see below in “LGC activities” for details of various actions held in London over the past month.
Human Rights Watch has produced this recent statement on the hunger strike:
The hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay has produced one of the most moving and perhaps best articles of this year:
Former Chief Prosecutor at Guantánamo Bay Colonel Morris Davis has also been outspoken in condemning the hunger strike and ongoing imprisonment there:

Six of the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay face charges and trial by military commission. Pre-trial hearings in the case of Abd Al-Nashiri, accused of involvement in attacks on US navy ships in the Gulf area around 2000 were due to resume in mid-April but have been set back to 11 June after it was reported that defence legal documents had disappeared from a Pentagon computer just days before. Al-Nashiri’s lawyers had already asked for the hearing to be postponed so they could investigate the extent of interference with their legal documents and e-mails which are confidential, including possible spying. A pre-trial hearing for five other prisoners accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks, due to take place on 22 April, was also set back. Issues over the procedures at “trials” over the past few months only further demonstrate how absurd the military tribunal process is.

Omar Khadr’s Canadian lawyer has reported that an appeal will be filed shortly in the US against his 2010 conviction before a military tribunal, for which he is currently serving the rest of his sentence at the Milhaven Institution in Canada, where the parole board has recently denied him day release on the basis that he is a “convicted terrorist”, failing to acknowledge the circumstances in which the conviction was made. If his appeal is successful, which it is likely to be in light of the recent overturning of military tribunal convictions in the US federal courts, Omar Khadr should be released immediately. However, the Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who also sits on the parole board, has stated that regardless of the outcome of his appeal, the final decision rests with the parole board. Not only does Canada not recognise the rule of law or right to a fair trial for its citizens, or acknowledge international law, but in stating thus, it is hinting that it is prepared to imprison an innocent man knowingly.

The DC Circuit court has allowed the US government to rehear its case against Yemeni Ali Hamza Al-Bahlul, the only Guantánamo prisoner serving a life sentence, and who won his appeal earlier this year overturning his conviction. The US government had three months to appeal and is being allowed to have the case reheard before an appeal court, and taking in the Hamdan ruling which led to the first Guantánamo conviction being overturned last year:

Extraordinary rendition:
On 16 April a new report was published by the Constitution Taskforce, “an independent, bipartisan, blue-ribbon panel charged with examining the federal government’s policies and actions related to the capture, detention and treatment of suspected terrorists during the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations
The report looks into detention and prisoner treatment in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere. The report spoke to various people across the board, including former prisoners, military and political personnel, lawyers and analysts, and is critical of detention at Guantánamo Bay and the use of torture by the US in the “war on terror”.

LGC Activities:
The April LGC “Shut Down Guantánamo!” demonstration was attended by 6 people. The next demonstration will be on Thursday 2 May at 12-1pm outside the US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, W1A and then 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner, Marble Arch (Hyde Park): This demonstration will be in solidarity with the Guantánamo hunger strikers.

On 6 April, to mark the start of the third month of the hunger strike and to highlight the mainstream media’s failure to acknowledge it, the LGC held a “hunger games” action involving four groups of volunteers going around well-known tourist spots in London dressed in orange jumpsuits and black hoods with a relevant newspaper headline about the hunger strike to raise awareness. Pictures of the action can be seen at: Many thanks to all our wonderful volunteers for a very creative and successful awareness-raising action.

In respect to the escalating violence at Guantánamo Bay on 13 April, the LGC held an emergency demonstration outside the US Embassy in solidarity with the hunger strikers on 18 April. Around 20 people attended and we were joined by veteran US peace activist Medea Benjamin from anti-war group Code Pink.
Ms Benjamin led a discussion on what we can do as a global community about the hunger strike which has led to the launch of a global day of action about the hunger strike to coincide with its 100th day on 17 May. Please contact us for more UK details about that.
Videos of the discussion and the demonstration can be viewed at:

Aisha Maniar from the LGC spoke to the Islam Channel about the hunger strike and the plight of Shaker Aamer on 18 April. She also spoke to 786 Radio in South Africa about the hunger strike and contributed to a BBC World Service programme World Have Your Say broadcast on 21 April on the closure of Guantánamo.

Please sign the following petition and statement about the hunger strike:

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