Friday, May 24, 2013
LGC Newsletter - May 2013
Following the back bench debate on Shaker Aamer held by MPs and Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt MP last month, it was reported that Foreign Secretary William Hague MP is considering making a direct appeal for the return of Shaker Aamer, particularly amid reports of his worsening health condition due to the hunger strike: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/may/04/william-hague-guantanamo-inmate It was reported that the UK would up the pressure for his return. However, when David Cameron and Barack Obama met on 13 May in Washington, there were no reports that Shaker Aamer’s case was mentioned or discussed.
A new video by Spectacle shows the visit by a group of Lewes school students, from their school Amnesty group, to London to discuss Shaker Aamer’s case with Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt MP last month: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VA48t7YLtxk
A new EDM has been tabled on the Guantánamo Bay hunger strike and calls for the return of Shaker Aamer to the UK. Please ask your MP to sign: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/business-papers/commons/early-day-motions/edm-detail1/?session=2013-14&edmnumber=133&orderby=Name&orderdirection=Desc
The hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay is now in its fourth month and in further pressure on the hunger strikers, they are now subject to intrusive physical searches before they are allowed to meet their lawyers. In a new article by Jason Leopold, he claims that the prison warden Col John Bogdan may not be fit for the role and accuses him of largely instigating and perpetuating the current situation which has spiralled out of control: http://www.aljazeera.com/humanrights/2013/05/20135219038341144.html
On 4 May, a letter was published in The Observer newspaper signed by a number of former prisoners, making recommendations for the hunger strike to be brought to an end. Many of them had previously taken part in hunger strikes while imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay. In the letter, they state, “The present hunger strikes are a result of the culmination of over a decade of systematic human rights violations and the closing of every legal avenue for release. The appalling methods of force-feeding several of the prisoners in a crude attempt at keeping them alive, by strapping down their arms, legs and heads to a chair and forcing a tube through their nostrils and forcing down liquid food into their stomachs, demonstrates the absence of any morals and principles the US administration may claim to have regarding these men.”
Barack Obama has been busy talking about Guantánamo Bay while continuing his policy of not actually doing anything. On 30 April, he was reportedly asked about the issue, and the hunger strike, at a press conference for the first time since 2010. His response was to reiterate the same points he has raised since his first election campaign in 2008: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/01/us/politics/transcript-of-obamas-news-conference.html?ref=us&_r=0#prison Calling for the closure of Guantánamo which is “unsustainable”, stating “I’m going to go back at this” and that “the idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried -- that is contrary to who we are, it is contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop”, Barack Obama also stated that he did not want the hunger strikers to die. Rather than discuss solutions, he focused on the problems. Good commentary on Obama’s speech:
At the same time, rather than address the hunger strike, its causes and how to end it, Barack Obama sent additional medical staff to Guantánamo Bay to step up the force feeding of the hunger strikers: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-22348158 An additional 40 specialists have been sent there and over 30 prisoners are reported to be force fed. Prisoners had previously claimed that the numbers were lower as there were insufficient facilities and staff to administer the force feeding. In contravention of both international legal and medical ethics, and in spite of criticism from the American Medical Association, the US can feed hunger striking prisoners against their will for years; in the case of Connecticut prisoner Bill Coleman, he has been on hunger strike and force fed in the same way since 2008: http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/16319-guantanamo-is-not-an-anomaly-prisoners-in-the-us-are-force-fed-every-day The UN has called the force feeding at Guantánamo Bay torture: http://rt.com/news/guantanamo-prison-torture-un-677/
Force feeding is a breach of human rights and contravenes recognised medical and legal ethics: a person who is in control of their senses cannot be forced to eat against their will. Contrary to media “debate”, there is nothing complicated or worthy of discussion on this issue and is yet another abuse of the prisoners’ rights in this hunger strike rather than attempting to address it.
The Yemeni Human Rights Minister Hooriya Mashhour visited Washington to demand the return of the Yemeni prisoners amid the worsening hunger strike. Yemenis make up more than half of the prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay and a large proportion of those cleared for release. Due to the little progress made since the 2010 moratorium, Ms Mashhour was hoping to negotiate at least the release of those who have been cleared. Although she met high-level officials, her visit did not result in any firm commitments by the US. http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/05/02/3377516/yemen-human-rights-minister-in.html
In further evidence that the US is interested in keeping Guantánamo Bay open for as long as possible, the Pentagon is expected to ask for $450 million next year in the military budget for the maintenance and upgrading of facilities. It has also been reported that the cost of keeping each prisoner at Guantánamo each year is around $1 million.
In a major national security speech on 23 May, in which he discussed Guantánamo Bay and drone warfare, Barack Obama outlined a number of steps – which he has done in the past – on Guantánamo Bay. These include lifting the 2010 moratorium on returns to Yemen, the appointment of a senior envoy to work on the transfer of prisoners and that prisoners who have yet to be charged will be tried in the US civil system. Heard that somewhere before? Obama also entered the caveat that these measures may not mean an end to indefinite detention for some prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, effectively meaning it will not close any time soon. The Yemeni government has welcomed the news on the return of Yemeni nationals. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/may/23/guantanamo-bay-obama-administration
During his speech, which retread old ground and offered nothing substantially new, questions were put to the president as he spoke by activist Medea Benjamin from Code Pink http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTvoCzhcHJU She was eventually escorted out of the room for interrupting. No answers were offered to her questions. Protests were also held elsewhere in the US at the same time as well as a Twitter storm organised by Anonymous which trended at the time: http://www.ibtimes.com/gitmobama-anonymous-protest-obama-speech-guantanamo-bay-drones-1276635#
Essentially offering nothing, the pressure must continue to ensure the US closes Guantánamo and releases prisoners there and at other similar prisons around the world.
Canada has been embroiled in more controversy relating to its treatment of former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Khadr, currently held at the notorious Milhaven Institution, while appealing his secret plea bargain conviction for murdering a US soldier handed down by a Guantánamo military commission. It has emerged that Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who held up Khadr’s repatriation to Canada for over a year and heads the parole board which recently denied him day release, overruled a decision by the prison warden to allow journalists to interview Omar Khadr. While stifling his freedom of speech and denying the Canadian public the right to hear what Khadr has to say for himself, Toews has also been involved in portraying Khadr in a negative light and stating that even if his appeal against his sentence at Guantánamo Bay is successful, and thus he is found innocent, he may continue to be imprisoned in Canada. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/editorials/let-omar-khadr-speak/article11665901/
Having been released into the general population at the prison earlier this year, he has also now been sent back to solitary confinement.
Amnesty International published its annual report for 2013 on 23 May. Concerning the US, it reported that 4 prisoners left the prison over the past year, one died, mentioned court proceedings both at the military tribunals and in the federal courts, the US treatment of prisoners at Bagram and elsewhere in Afghanistan as well as impunity for the CIA’s extraordinary rendition programme:
http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/usa/report-2013 The UK’s role in and response to extraordinary rendition, concerning nationals from Libya and Kenya, was also discussed: http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/uk/report-2013
The May LGC “Shut Down Guantánamo!” demonstration was attended by 6 people. The next demonstration will be on Thursday 6 June at 12-1pm outside the US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, W1A and then 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner, Marble Arch (Hyde Park): http://www.facebook.com/events/366759633424369/ This demonstration will be in solidarity with Shawki Omar, an American national who has been tortured and is currently held in an Iraqi jail where is on hunger strike against his conditions of detention and the US’ failure to act. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-202_162-57581118/shawki-omar-u.s-citizen-held-in-iraq-prison-abused-and-discriminated-against-wife-claims/ We will be joined by his family.
In response to Barack Obama’s comments at a press conference on 30 April, the LGC had the following letter published in The Guardian newspaper on 1 May: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/may/01/end-the-impasse-over-guantanamo
“The hunger strike is clearly rattling cages. But this is not the first time we've heard such rhetoric from President Obama. His actions speak a different language. Authorising the use of force against hunger strikers and closing the office set up to work to close Guantánamo contradict that rhetoric. The US must act to remedy the indefinite detention almost wholly without charge or trial of 166 men. America's allies, such as the UK, must play their role too. The prime minister must demand the return of British resident Shaker Aamer to his family and ask why the US is blocking his return. The states other prisoners are from must also make sustained efforts. The US and its allies will find that complying with the rule of law and recognised legal principles are in the best interests of all.”
Inspired by the LGC’s April “hunger games” action to raise awareness of the hunger strike and highlight the mainstream media’s failure to do so, activists in San Francisco replicated the newspaper action and took to their metro system in orange jumpsuits and black hoods: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2013/05/11/18736649.php
In response to a call-out by the LGC, a global weekend of action was held on 17-19 May to mark the 100th day of the current Guantánamo hunger strike. Taking in demonstrations in the US, Mexico, Australia, Germany, Spain and elsewhere, a special video to mark the 100 days: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AONNMwej8Yk and a special Hunger Strike song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WKFqCI6bIs0 as well as successful Twitter storms by Anonymous, the global response was enormous, showing that the general consensus worldwide is that Guantánamo Bay and the regime it represents must come to an end, and real public opinion – seldom reported in the media – is on the side of the hunger strikers.
The response in the UK was phenomenal as well, with 14 solidarity actions held across the UK http://londonguantanamocampaign.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/britains-got-compassion-round-up-of.html and many more fasting. Given the lack of media coverage on the issue, the response was incredible. Much awareness was raised, and the general public largely responded positively. Pictures and reports are included in the above link, however for more media:
(of crime/murder scene)
(of whole demonstration)
All talks on LGC YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X4zlzxCk-e4
Media on Oxford action: http://www.redpepper.org.uk/fasting-to-support-guantanamo-bay-hunger-strikers/#comment-210707
Media on Menwith Hill action:
Many thanks to everyone across the country who took part in actions and our volunteers in London. The hunger strike is not over and Guantánamo Bay is still open so we must keep up the pressure. There will be more actions coming up. Please get involved.