Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Supporting Hunger Strikers from Guantánamo Bay to Pelican Bay: Take Action‏

Today is International Day in Solidarity with the California Hunger Strikers and for Justice for Trayvon Martin. The Guantánamo Bay hunger strike will soon enter its sixth month and other campaigns supported by the LGC also involve hunger strikers, so we ask you to take action. (1) and (2) - please join the actions in London today and tomorrow & (3) and (4) please take part in the petition-signing/letter-writing campaigns. Hunger strikes are an extreme form of peaceful protest  with potentially fatal consequences. Please take what action you can to support the peaceful and lawful demands of abused prisoners.

1: Press release: "Hunger for Justice" International Day in solidarity with California Prisoner Hunger Strikers & for Justice for Trayvon Martin, 31 July – TODAY, 5-7pm

2: LGC “Shut Down Guantánamo!” demonstration in solidarity with Guantánamo Bay and Pelican Bay hunger strikers, 1 August, 12-2.15pm

3: Take action for Shawki Omar, Palestinian-American hunger striker in Iraq (letter writing campaign)

4: Take action for Ali Aarrass, Belgian-Moroccan hunger striker in Morocco (petition & letter writing campaign)

An article by Aisha Maniar from the London Guantánamo Campaign about why the California hunger strike should matter to Guantánamo Bay activists. For the connections, issues and background:

1: Press Release: Family Members, Activists and Celebrities “Hunger for Justice”

Today, Wednesday July 31st is International Day of Action in solidarity
with California Prisoner Hunger Strikers & for Justice for Trayvon Martin

 On day 24 of the California Prisoner Hunger Strike and Work Strike launched by 30,000 prisoners, communities across the US will fast and hold events in solidarity with the hunger strikers and their 5 core demands, and for Justice for Trayvon Martin.  Action is more urgent every day -- one of the hunger strikers, 32-year-old Billy Guero Sell, has already died, after being refused medical help.  People around the world have committed to fast today, for 24 hours if they can, and take other action in solidarity.

A LONDON PROTEST is being held on Wed 31 JULY, at 5-7PM   outside the US EMBASSY   24 Grosvenor Square   W1A 2LQ

Today’s solidarity demonstration outside the US Embassy in London is organized by Women of Colour in the Global Women’s Strike and is supported by the London Guantanamo Campaign, along with Legal Action for Women; Free Mumia Abu Jamal Campaign UK; Friends of John La Rose; International Coalition to Free the Angola 3; JENGbA (Patricia Brown);; National Forum of African Caribbean Organisations; Mahmoud Sarsak, Palestinian prisoner hunger strike; Marcia Rigg; Stop Isolation (Hamja Ahsan), Campaign Against Criminalising Communities. Plus Kit & Co, blues and soul singer
UK Contact: Sara Callaway, Women of Colour Global Women’s Strike: 0207 482 2496

Worldwide, more than 1000 individuals and organisations, including US celebrities have pledged to support the “Hunger for Justice” campaign in support of the California prisoners.

2: Thursday 1 August: “Shut Down Guantánamo!” monthly demonstration, 12-2.15pm, US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, W1A 1AE
Join us at 12-1pm outside the US Embassy and 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner, Hyde Park, opposite Marble Arch, to call for the closure of Guantánamo and other prisons like this.
Prisoners in California have also been on a mass hunger strike since 8 July against the practice of prolonged solitary confinement, sometimes of decades, which many consider to be a form of torture. This month’s demonstration will be in solidarity with both prisoner hunger strikes.

3: Take action for Shawki Omar:
The family of Shawki Omar, a Palestinian-American held in jail on spurious charges for the past 8 1/2 years in Iraq have joined the LGC’s protests outside the US Embassy on a number of occasions, and have held their own too. Mr Omar has been on hunger strike against increasing abuses in Iraqi jails since February this year. The Iraqis have no plans to release him even though he has been held for longer than his alleged sentence. In June, our monthly demonstration was held in solidarity with his case.
Please write to the Iraqi and US authorities and demand actions. Find out more here:

4: Take action for Ali Aarrass:
From Amnesty International: Ali Aarrass, a dual Belgian-Moroccan national detained in Salé II prison near Rabat, Morocco, is on a “dry” hunger strike (refusing water in addition to food) to protest ill-treatment at the hands of the prison authorities. He is reportedly in a critical condition, still conscious but unable to stand and struggling to speak. Today is day 22 of his hunger strike.
Find out more about his case and take action for this hunger-striking victim of torture here:
And sign the petition to support him:

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

LGC Newsletter – July 2013

LGC Newsletter – July 2013

British Residents:
The human rights NGO Reprieve launched a new campaign in early July, Stand Fast for Justice (, inviting the public to show their solidarity by pledging to go on hunger strike for a short period of time. The “hunger strike” was started by human rights lawyer and Reprieve director Clive Stafford-Smith and was then taken up by comedian Frankie Boyle and actor Julie Christie, each for a week. Members of the public have also joined and two human rights activists told the LGC why they are taking part in this action which has helped to raise awareness about the plight of Shaker Aamer and the Guantánamo Bay prisoners:

During a US Senate hearing on the closure of Guantánamo Bay on 24 July, statements were read out by family members of prisoners, including the children of Shaker Aamer:  
Michael: "It makes me so sad to know that even after trying to get him out, he is still in prison. And even though he has been cleared for release, he has been tortured. I see my dad on Skype when we speak to him. Sometimes a guard stands behind him. We have to be very careful about what we talk about – we can only talk about ourselves or the guards will stop the call."
Johina: "We all live our lives, passing through every day with food, clothes and most importantly freedom. Can you imagine being locked up for 10 years? Imagine losing 10 years of your life and possibly many more years to come if everyone sits there and does nothing about it. Try imagining being treated like a circus animal in a cage and being taken away from your home and everything you love. It is painful isn't it? Well, my dad has already been through this and is going through this now."
And Mohammed Belbacha, the brother of Ahmed Belbacha: “My family is horrified at how Ahmed and others in Guantánamo have been treated. Algerian youth has long looked up to America for its democracy and respect for human rights. We always associated a lot of good with it. But now, America has lost its standing not just with our family, but with Algerian youth as a whole. Arbitrary arrest, detention without trial, renditions and torturous interrogation methods have cast a dark stain upon America's reputation.
"My family still maintains hope that Ahmed will be released soon. We know he is exhausted after all he has suffered, but we also know that he retains a strong will to rebuild his life. We will do all we can to help Ahmed rebuild his life."

New reports have emerged from Shaker Aamer’s lawyers at Reprieve that the US is planning to return him to Saudi Arabia and not to the UK and that the Saudi authorities are involved in this, through instructions given to a Saudi lawyer to deal with his case.

Guantánamo Bay:
The hunger strike at Guantánamo has now been ongoing for almost six months. The Muslim holy month of fasting, Ramadan, started on 9 July, during which time Muslims cannot eat, drink or take anything intravenously during the daytime. It is also the twelfth Ramadan the prisoners, held almost wholly without charge or trial, are spending at the prison facility. In spite of calls to suspend the painful nasal tube force-feeding procedure used by the authorities at Guantánamo, the prison instead decided to “synchronise” force-feeding times with the times of the breaking of the fast, out of alleged deference to the religious practice of the prisoners. Navy Captain Robert Durand stated, “We understand that observing the daytime fast and taking nothing by mouth or vein is an essential component of Muslim observance of Ramadan. And for those detainees on hunger strike we will ensure that our preservation of life through enteral feeding does not violate the tenets of their faith.” One of the reasons for the start of the mass hunger strike was the alleged desecration of the Qur’an by prison guards and lack of respect for the prisoners’ religious practices. The prison authorities, who did not say how they would be able to do this, later backed down and said they would not be respecting the observed fasting times in administering the procedure.
force-feeding demo in Parliament Square on 4 July
Shortly before Ramadan, Reprieve and rapper and actor Mos Def (Yassin Bey) issued the following video in which the latter agreed to experience nasal tube feeding, which the prisoners are subject to on a daily basis: He was unable to complete the process as it was too painful.
Days before the start of Ramadan as well, a court case brought by four prisoners asking a judge to order the halt of force-feeding of hunger-striking prisoners was rejected, as the judge said she would be overstepping her powers if she did so; only Barack Obama has the authority to order a stop to this practice. Two of the litigants in the case were British residents Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha. Judge Gladys Kessler did however agree that there is a consensus that the practice violates international law and called it a “painful, humiliating and degrading process”. In this case, lawyers have asked for the case to be reconsidered.
In another similar case brought by three prisoners to stop their force-feeding, another federal judge, Rosemary M. Collyer, also said that federal courts did not have the power to rule on prisoner treatment at Guantánamo. However, she found that there is nothing “so shocking or inhumane in the treatment of petitioners” and that the prisoners had failed to show that the treatment is unreasonable.

Before the beginning of Ramadan, the reported number of prisoners on hunger strike was around 100 with 45 or so being force fed. The number has fallen to around 70 during Ramadan, with some prisoners accepting some meals or all for this period. Some plan to resume the hunger strike after Ramadan. This has prompted reports, by a media and military that denied the existence of the hunger strike for three months, that the hunger strike may be coming to an end. With no attempt to address the prisoners’ demands that is unlikely.

On 11 July, in another court case involving prisoners, a federal judge called for a halt to intrusive physical searches of prisoners who meet their lawyers. In his judgment, Judge Royce Lamberth stated that the policy “flagrantly disregards” cultural and religious considerations and undermines Barack Obama’s own recently stated declarations on the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. The ruling also included an opinion to allow prisoners debilitated by the hunger strike to meet their lawyers in their camps instead of being transported elsewhere.
Younus Chekouri, a prisoner held without charge or trial, described the intrusive and sexually abusive procedure in a letter to his lawyer:
However, the military has not carried out this order and on 17 July filed an appeal, stating that “prisoners may commit suicide and guards may be seriously hurt” if genital searches are stopped.
The purported circumstances surrounding the death of prisoner Adnan Latif in September last year provide the rationale that such searches had to be enforced to prevent prisoners from killing themselves.
Rather than be subject to such abusive searches, prisoners are choosing not to meet their lawyers instead.

Lawyers for prisoners at Guantánamo Bay have been notified by a government official that those prisoners subject to indefinite detention, who cannot be tried as the evidence against them was obtained by torture or is confidential, and cannot be released, will have their cases reviewed to determine whether or not they should continue to be held indefinitely and without charge or trial. A new Periodic Review Board will be set up to review their detention. At least 71 prisoners should benefit from this review. A step in the right direction, it is still a small victory, and no timetable has been provided for the reviews, although the prisoners will be given sufficient notice; the US must release prisoners it does not have sufficient legal grounds to hold.

On 24 July, for the first time since 2009, a Senate hearing was held on Guantánamo Bay “Closing Guantanamo: The National Security, Fiscal, and Human Rights Implications” by the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights and sponsored by Senator Dick Durbin. A major event, it was so well attended that proceedings had to be moved to a larger room and the public was invited to watch in yet another room via a TV link. Speakers with proposals for and against the closure of Guantánamo included Senators Durbin (for) and Cruz (against), with supporting evidence from Brig Gen Dr Stephen Xenakis from Physicians for Human Rights, the director of Human Rights First and right-wing Islamophobe Frank Gaffney. No new arguments or reasons were offered and the old lines of why Guantánamo Bay should close or remain open were redrawn. Statements were read out by family members of prisoners (see above). The meeting was notably not attended by any White House representative, and at the same time Congress debated and passed a defence bill preventing the transfer of Guantánamo prisoners to the US mainland or elsewhere and attempts to block the expansion of facilities there.

For the first time in over a year, the Obama administration has said that it is seeking to return two prisoners home to Algeria. No more details have been given about the identity of the two prisoners and Algeria is a country that poses a security risk to returnees, with some prisoners, including British resident Ahmed Belbacha, preferring to remain at Guantánamo rather than return home, where they face the risk of further persecution. This positive announcement comes ahead of a visit by Yemen’s president to the US where the repatriation of the remaining Yemeni prisoners, who make up the largest nationality group, will be an issue of discussion.

Extraordinary rendition:
Panama wasted an opportunity to help bring a CIA agent convicted of kidnap and involvement in extraordinary rendition to justice on 18 July when it detained former CIA chief Robert Lady who was convicted in absentia in Italy for his role in the 2003 kidnap, rendition and torture in Egypt of Osama Mustafa Hassan who was kidnapped with the help of Italian intelligence agents in broad daylight in the streets of Milan. Italy was initially thought to have a two-month period in which to formally seek his extradition, however he was released and sent back to the US the next day, with Panama claiming it was powerless to act as it does not have an extradition treaty with Italy and Italy had sent insufficient documentation. Lady was sentenced to 9 years in jail.

British-Somali dual national Mahdi Hashi, 23, who had British citizenship revoked without notice shortly before “disappearing” in Somalia last summer and then resurfacing months later in the US under FBI custody, after being charged with providing material support to a terrorist-group, and where he currently faces trial, is currently appealing the loss of his British citizenship, a country he has lived in for over 20 years, and a move which facilitated his extraordinary rendition to the US. This measure, which is used increasingly by the British government, is subject to secrecy laws and part of the hearing will be heard behind closed doors without the knowledge of Hashi’s UK lawyers or family, at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC). In this case, rather than extradite Hashi, who has never charged in the UK, this has facilitated his “rendition” to face charges under the US’s complex anti-terrorism laws which allow evidence, such as that obtained through torture, that would not be allowed elsewhere.

LGC Activities:
The date of the July monthly “Shut Down Guantánamo!” demonstration coincided with US Independence Day, 4 July. At lunchtime, the LGC teamed up with the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign (SSAC) as part of its then daily weekday protest outside the Houses of Parliament to stage a protest and force-feeding demonstration.
In the evening, the LGC held a demonstration, attended by over 20 people, to mark this date, and the monthly protest, inviting other groups working in solidarity with prisoners in the US. Pictures from this demonstration:

The August demonstration will be at 12-1pm outside the US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, W1A and 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner, Hyde Park, opposite Marble Arch on Thursday 1 August This month’s demonstration will be in solidarity with the 1000+ prisoners who started a hunger strike on 8 July across California against the state’s practice of prolonged solitary confinement. Solitary confinement is a punishment also used at Guantánamo Bay:   
demonstration on 18 July to mark final day of protest for Shaker Aamer

The hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay reached its 150th day on 5 July. The LGC was one of the organisations that contributed to reporting on the situation by the TV channel Russia Today:

The SSAC’s daily weekday protest opposite the House of Parliaments, supported throughout by the LGC, held since May, came to an end with the close of Parliament for the summer on 18 July. A larger demonstration was held to mark the end of a successful action which had seen more than 50 people take part in the rolling and visual protest. Dan Viesnik from the LGC was one of the speakers at this final demonstration.


Monday, July 29, 2013

Why I am Standing Fast for Justice

In early July, the human rights NGO Reprieve, which represents some of the Guantánamo prisoners, launched a new Stand Fast for Justice (#standfast) campaign, inviting the public to show solidarity with the Guantánamo hunger strikers by pledging to go on hunger strike for a period of time themselves. Well-known figures have taken part, with the process kicked off by human rights lawyer and Reprieve director, Clive Stafford-Smith. He was then followed by comedian Frankie Boyle and actor Julie Christie. The relay has now been picked up by 81-year old human rights activist and director of Widows for Peace Margaret Owen. Below Ms Owen gives her reasons for undertaking the hunger strike, followed by a report of her first day (Sunday 28 July).
Many other individuals have also pledged to hunger strike. Another human rights activist who has done so is actor Romany Blythe. Below are her reasons for pledging to go on hunger strike as well.

Well done to everyone who has taken part in this action and taking a stand for Shaker Aamer and the other prisoners in Guantánamo Bay.

Margaret Owen:

Saturday 27 July: Tomorrow I start my hunger strike for Shaker,  This is why.

Shaker Aamer,  a British resident with a British citizen wife living in London, has been incarcerated in Guantanamo,  subjected to extreme torture, often kept in solitary confinement, for the last eleven
years. Yet he is, according not only to his lawyers, but even finally acknowledged by the US, totally innocent of any acts of terrorism.

He has never been charged or brought before a US court.  Bounty hunters picked him up, when he was running an Islamic charity in Afghanistan, and sold him to the Americans,who, in 2001, were offering huge sums for the capture off suspected Al Qaida operatives. It is now well accepted that all the documentation proffered  in his case to the Americans was false.

The UK government, under Labour and the Coalition, have requested both Bush and Obama to release Shaker, who is the last British resident still in Guantanamo.  They have refused. Shaker, educated, intelligent, a loving husband and father, has never even seen his youngest daughter, now 11 years old. Everyone now released, who knew him in this infamous prison, speak of the terrible tortures inflicted on him, of his bravery in speaking up for other detainees, and of his
rational reasonable demands that his captors at least abide by the Geneva Conventions and humanitarian and human rights international law. He was the spokesman for the detainees, trying to protect them, even when his protests on their behalf endangered his own life.

We must all do everything possible to get Shaker released, and this hunger strike is something I can and want to do. We all, in the human rights community, now know that MI5 have been energetic participants in these tortures, which included beatings,pretended assassination, cruel deliberately painful false feeding when Shaker was on hunger strike, and worse.

It seems clear that the main reason the US will not release Shaker is that he will thereafter speak out not only about the torture. - such torture that in one day a few years ago three brothers died when with Shaker they were taken to the notorious "No Camp" outside the main facility where unspeakable horrors were perpetrated - but he will also be able to provide evidence of MI5 collaboration with the US torture machine and destroy the myth that the US does not "do torture.
(Ironically,  a claim just made today to the Russians in the US request for the extradition of Edward Snowdon!)

I am, yes, in my 82nd year, but should my health deteriorate, it is a small thing to risk compared to the present life of 45 year old Shaker, younger than my youngest son.

I am a human rights lawyer, with my main focus on the rights of widows and wives of the disappeared in conflict and post conflict scenarios, But Shaker's wife has been a "half-widow" for eleven long years, and she is in my thoughts and my prayers every day. Mother of four
children, her own physical and mental health is seriously impaired. Whilst in that horrendous infernal Guantanamo, the shame of the US, Shaker, who has lost nearly half his original body-weight, is,
according to his lawyer, Clive Stafford-Smith,  now dying.

My friends and relations tell me I am wasting my time. My hunger strike will have no effect. I will ruin my health.  Well. If Julie Christie, aged 72, has not eaten for a week, then I can do the same.
She is a celebrity, I am not in that class but I hope that others will join me and our actions will force William Hague to redouble his efforts to secure Shaker's release.

Sunday 28 July: It is odd. I had not realised before how mealtimes, their spacing, preparation of food, is basic to the organisation of the day. Meals, even if snacks at lunch time, somehow provide the framework in which we work and relax, meet deadlines, socialise and relax. For the next seven days this pattern won't be there. But then immediately I think
of Shaker, years and years of nothingness except beatings, torture, and solitary confinement. I am not in solitary, am not living in fear and in pain. Am not separated from my family.

Ever since I announced this action, I am receiving many messages, which are of two kinds: those that berate me for risking my health ( I will not for I will drink lots of water daily) and tell me my strike will have no effect and that I should confine my campaigning work to what they think I know most about - women's rights.  And the others,
many, the most, from all sorts of people, wishing me well, wanting also to join, promising to lobby their MPs, Congressmen, etc.

I am thinking of Shaker Aamer and I hope fervently that somehow he will hear that we in the UK are battling for his release; that our efforts will give him courage to survive so that one day, a soon as can be, he is united with his mourning family. Insh’Allah

Romany Blythe:
It used to be that a British citizen and even those on British soil had the protection of the British justice system.
A justice system that was the envy of the world. Then cam 9/11 and everybody panicked and politicians saw an opportunity.
An opportunity to assert more control over the people by the state. We gave our protection for our citizens and agreed a new extradition treaty with the US on the grounds that they would reciprocate, although having promised to do so they never have. In our new situation. We give up our citizens without even a request for evidence as to their crimes. We question not, the right of the US to hold juries diction over British citizens yet we demand no such rights of extradition in return. There is however mounting pressure in parliament to over turn this agreement that denies Britain sovereignty over it's own citizen. As a citizen of the United Kingdom you can no longer rely on the protection of the UK no mater what the colour of your skin. One you could expect that the validity of the evidence against you would be tried in this country, under our justice system. Now you are to be handed over on a whim with no submission of evidence.

The United States Department of Defence held a total of nine British detainees at Guantanamo Bay detention camp. All the British citizens have been repatriated. Shaker Aamer is the last British resident held in Guantánamo Bay. He has not been charged and he has not been trialled. Aamer has never been charged with any wrongdoing, has never received a trial, and his lawyer says he is "totally innocent". He was cleared for release by the Bush administration in 2007, and the Obama administration in 2009 but remains in Guantánamo. He has been described as a charismatic leader who spoke up and fought for the rights of fellow prisoner and some have speculated that this might be a reason for his continued detention. Aamer says that he has been subject to torture while in detention.
Image from a play about Guantánamo by Romany Blythe
Aamer's mental and physical health has been declining over the years, as he has participated in hunger strike to protest detention condition and been held in solitary confinement for much of the time. He has lost 40 per cent of his body weight in captivity.
It is said that he is dying. He has now been on hunger strike for more than 150 days. He has a 10 year old son, he has never seen. His children have grown up without him.
Aamer's family now live in Battersea, South London. His wife Zin Aamer has suffered from depression and mental episodes since his arrest. Saeed Siddique, Aamer's father-in-law, said in 2011, "When he was captured, Shaker offered to let my daughter divorce him, but she said, 'No, I will wait for you.' She is still waiting.

It is illegal in this country for our government or its officers to engage in or collude in turture. Force feeding and solitary confinement are considered to be acts of torture by the European court of human rights. Further Shaker has endured much of the shocking forms of torture that we have come to associate with Guantanamo and he says this was performed on him in front of MI5/MI6 operatives.
Are we now become a country that denies it's citizens their human rights? Where governments in a cavalier fashion now systematically break this countries own laws? it is not the wicked and terrible plighjt of one man that is the issure here but the right of the British people to a fair justice system for all!
At a time when I young British man with Asperger’s Syndrome Talha Hussain sits in solitary confinement in a US prison, never having committed any crime in or against that country. Never previously having left British soil. Should we not now fear for all our freedoms! it is is not a case of do not do wrong and you will be all right. With the loss of our right to legal aid none of us are safe now. This is a campaign for the release of one man, but it is a fight for all our basic rights to justice!