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 (www.standfastforjustice.org), 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 http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/clive-stafford-smith/guantanamo-hunger-strike_b_3573954.html and was then taken up by comedian Frankie Boyle http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-23389757 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.” http://rt.com/usa/guantanamo-force-feeding-ramadan-fasting-581/ 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: http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/jul/08/mos-def-force-fed-guantanamo-bay-video 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. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/08/judge-denies-guantanamo-force-feeding
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. http://pubrecord.org/law/10867/government-halting-guantanamo-prisoner/
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. http://thehill.com/blogs/defcon-hill/policy-and-strategy/313371-house-passes-595-billion-defense-spending-bill

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. http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/07/19/uk-usa-panama-cia-idUKBRE96I10T20130719

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: http://www.demotix.com/news/2223653/guantanamo-closure-protest-outside-us-embassy-london#media-2223581

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 https://www.facebook.com/events/138088106399264/ 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: http://onesmallwindow.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/guantanamo-baypelican-bay-uss-prisoners-strike-for-justice/   
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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhD824Rx5wk

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.


No comments:

Post a Comment