Friday, November 28, 2014

LGC Newsletter – November 2014

A new campaign was launched on 24 November outside the Houses of Parliament by journalist Andy Worthington and others called the “We Stand with Shaker” campaign
The launch was attended by politicians including MP Caroline Lucas and Shaker Aamer’s lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith from Reprieve.
On the same day, Reprieve announced that it plans to sue the British government for not doing enough to bring Shaker Aamer back to the UK. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office continues to insist that it is doing all it can. This is in spite of the release this month of 6 other prisoners, including one Saudi national, and the planned release of at least 4 others, and the “special relationship” between Britain and the US.

On 25 November, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign held a parliamentary meeting to discuss Shaker Aamer’s case. The meeting was very well attended and discussed ways of working towards the release of Shaker Aamer to the UK. 

Both events mark the 13th year since Shaker Aamer was captured in November 2001 in Afghanistan. He has never been charged or tried and has been cleared for release on several occasions since 2007.
Guantánamo Bay:
On 5 November, Kuwaiti Fawzi Al-Odah, 37, became only the second low-level prisoner to be released from Guantánamo this year, bringing the total number of prisoners released in 2014 to 7 and the remaining number of prisoners to 148. He is also the first person cleared by a periodic review board to be released since Barack Obama restarted the process at the end of 2013. Periodic reviews are carried out on the status of “forever prisoners”, the 40-odd prisoners who cannot be charged or tried but are also deemed too dangerous for release. Following his review in the summer, he was cleared for release but fellow Kuwaiti prisoner Fayiz Al-Kandari, held for a similar period of time, was deemed too dangerous to release, demonstrating the arbitrary nature of the administrative review process. Al-Odah’s release also came one day after mid-term elections in the US leading a big swing to the right-wing Republican Party and heralding the last two years of Obama’s presidency. The campaign for the release of Fayiz Al-Kandari.
On 20 November, 5 prisoners who have long been cleared for release but cannot be returned to their own countries were released. Four Yemenis and a Tunisian national were released, two of whom are now being resettled in Slovakia and three in Georgia. It is the first time the US has released Yemeni prisoners from Guantánamo since 2010. They make up the majority of prisoners who have been cleared for release but remain held there. 0n 22 November, Saudi national Muhammad Murdi Issa al-Zahrani, who was cleared by the period review board in October, was sent back to Saudi Arabia where he will undergo a rehabilitation programme. Accused of links to Al Qaeda, the board said that such links could not be proven.
There are currently 142 prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay and there are currently plans to release at least 4 more in the coming weeks.

A 2-day pre-trial hearing was held in the case of Abd Al-Nashiri on 5-6 November during which his lawyers sought to have hearsay statements made by him and others linking him to the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole withdrawn on the basis that these statements were obtained through the use of torture, in particular when he “disappeared” into CIA torture prisons. Lawyers for Al-Nashiri also asked for the death penalty to be reconsidered in the sentence for his case and raised the issue of the inadequate medical and psychiatric care Al-Nashiri has received considering his ordeal.
On 12 November, in a case before the US federal courts concerning the legality of the panel of judges in Al-Nashiri’s case, the 3 judges stayed the government’s appeal in the case but ruled that it did not have the jurisdiction to hear cases related to military commissions at Guantánamo Bay. The administrative case deals with constitutional issues.

On 7 November, a case brought by hunger-striking Syrian prisoner Abu Wa’el Dhiab for major changes to be made to the force-feeding regime he and his lawyers argue is tantamount to torture was rejected by the judge Gladys Kessler. While she criticised the US government’s action in the abusive methods used in force-feeding prisoners against their will and transporting them to the feeding room, she sided with the government and appeared convinced by its arguments that the changes sought are actually more detrimental and not more humane to prisoners. Lawyers for Dhiab have said they may appeal.
This ruling does not impact her earlier ruling ordering the US government to disclose videos showing the force-feeding of prisoners.

In a case brought by the family of Pakistani prisoner Ghulam Rabbani, the High Court in Islamabad, Pakistan, has ordered the ministers of interior, defence and foreign affairs to appear before the court in a petition that they must take immediate action for the repatriation of Rabbani, who has never been charged or tried to the country. According to admissions made by former president Parvez Musharraf in a book, he handed over more than 350 Pakistanis to the US government, of whom Rabbani was one such person. His family says he was kidnapped by Pakistani intelligence officers and handed over to the US in December 2001. He was tortured in Pakistan and then taken to Afghanistan where he was tortured at various US-run prisons before being taken to Guantánamo in 2004.

In a hearing before a military commission for Abd al Hadi al-Iraqi, one of the last prisoners to arrive at Guantánamo in 2007, his lawyers argued for all charges against him to be acquitted on the basis that he should be classified a soldier under international laws of war and thus exempt from prosecution as a “lawful combatant”. The US government lawyer, however, considered him a terrorist who should be prosecuted. He is facing a life sentence on charges of organizing attacks on coalition forces in his adopted Afghanistan.
In a separate claim, his lawyers have asked the judge for him not to be shackled or handled by female soldiers and only male soldiers.

Extraordinary Rendition:
On 4 November, a Russian national, known as Irek Ilgiz Hamidullin, was indicted before a court in Virginia on charges of coordinating attacks on US troops in Afghanistan. He had been captured in Afghanistan in 2009 and was held secretly in Bagram for 5 years before being transferred to the US in October. He is accused of being a member of the Taliban. One of dozens of foreigners held secretly at Bagram, his identity and the fact that he was held there for 5 years without charge were only disclosed recently. Given that like most Bagram prisoners, he is likely to have been tortured, the success of this civil case remains to be seen.

In November, the United States came before the United Nations Committee Against Torture at its 53rd session in Geneva. Among other issues, such as the use of solitary confinement, police torture and the death penalty, the US was asked about torture at Guantánamo Bay and in the extraordinary rendition programme. The US admitted that it had used torture and that the UN Torture Convention applies at Guantánamo Bay but sought to defend its actions. One of the persons giving evidence at the hearing was former prisoner Murat Kurnuz from Germany who spoke about his five years as a prisoner. His testimony can be read here:
Following a decision in the case of Libyan Abdel Hakim Belhaj last month, stating that he could sue British officials for their involvement in his torture and rendition, dismissing government claims that such a case could undermine diplomatic relations with the US and secrecy, the High Court has ruled to allow former Bagram prisoner Pakistani Yunus Rahmatullah to sue British officials after he was "rendered" to the US military in Iraq in 2004 by the British army. The US military then held him and tortured him at Bagram for over 10 years until he was released earlier this year. He was never charged or tried. His case also affects claims made by three other men in Iraq, including one who was held at Abu Ghraib. The British government has said it will challenge both the Belhaj and Rahmatullah rulings in the Supreme Court. 

LGC Activities:
The November “Shut Guantánamo!” demonstration was attended by 4 people. The December demonstration will be at 12-1pm outside the US Embassy and 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner, Marble Arch on Thursday 4th December:

We are currently in the process of organising our action to mark 13 years of Guantánamo in January. As always, we aim to protest creatively. We will need volunteers to make our action a reality. In particular, we are looking for actors (amateur or professional) to play journalists and Barack Obama, reading out real texts of speeches about Guantánamo, film makers and photographers and other forms of help in the run up to the event and on the day. Please get in touch if you’d like to help out or want more details.
At the very least, please help us promote the event and share it on your social media Follow us for updates on Twitter @shutguantanamo Thank you!

Friday, October 31, 2014

LGC Newsletter – October 2014

Guantánamo Bay:
In early October, an important court case was held in a US federal court in Washington on the legality of the force-feeding regime for hunger-striking prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. Just days before the hearing before the court in which lawyers for hunger-striking Syrian prisoner Abu Wa’el Dhiab and lawyers for the US government presented their arguments, Judge Gladys Kessler rejected a plea by the US government to have the hearing held in secret on the grounds of national security. She stated in a written ruling that “With such a longstanding and ongoing public interest at stake, it would be particularly egregious to bar the public from observing the credibility of live witnesses, the substance of their testimony, whether proper procedures are being followed, and whether the court is treating all participants fairly”
The judge also ordered that 20 videotapes showing the force-feeding procedure being administered to prisoners be released by the US military. The military only admitted the existence of the tapes earlier in these proceedings but has refused to allow the court to see them.
The hearing started on 6 October, during which his lawyers argued that the force-feeding is a form of torture and not a medical procedure, as claimed by the US administration. They also challenged the violent way in which prisoners are taken and prepared for force-feeding. Although several sessions of the 3-day hearing were held in closed court, important information about hunger strikes at Guantánamo Bay has emerged, such as the fact that six prisoners were on permanent hunger strike between 2007 and the start of the current hunger strike in February 2013, or even longer.
The judge gave the US military until 17 October to release videotapes, however just days before that, it was rumoured that the government might appeal this decision and instead a 30-day extension was given to release the tapes.
Later in October, news organisations added to the pressure for the tapes to be released as did Democrat congressmen Raul Grijalva and Keith Ellison in a letter to Barack Obama calling the secrecy surrounding the videotapes “contrary to American laws or values” and stating that “The facts pertaining to these practices at Guantánamo should be available to members of Congress”.
Dhiab was cleared for released in 2009, has never been charged or tried, and is currently awaiting release to Uruguay, as one of six prisoners the country’s government has agreed to accept.

In the military commission case of Saudi Abd Al-Nashiri, a request made in August for an MRI brain scan to see if he has organic brain damage was turned down by Judge Spath on the basis that he felt the medical care at Guantánamo is adequate and a proper administrative request had not been made by his lawyers. He did not mention that the requisite medical equipment was not available at the base.
With new briefs filed by both sides in the case, the next oral hearing in the case will be held on 13 November.

Estonia has agreed to resettle one of the 79 prisoners who have been cleared for release but cannot return home. It did not say which prisoner it would accept and in the past has said it would not take Guantánamo prisoners

On 22 October, the appeal case of Ali Hamza Al-Bahlul, currently serving a life sentence at Guantánamo Bay, was heard by a panel of 3 judges at the DC Circuit Court after it was sent back there following a decision overturning two of his convictions, for material support of terrorism and solicitation in July, for consideration on the outstanding issue of conspiracy. In the original appeal hearing, all three convictions were overturned but the US government was granted a rehearing en banc (by all 7 judges at the court). This panel sent back four issues related to conspiracy to the original panel of judges to consider. During the oral hearing, lawyers for Al-Bahlul argued that the military commission procedure was unconstitutional and discriminatory. If the arguments put forward by his lawyers are accepted, and the conspiracy charge overturned, it would also overturn other convictions and end pending trials, unless appealed at the Supreme Court. A decision is expected in the next few months.

The periodic review board has cleared one Saudi prisoner for release and ordered the continuing detention of another Saudi prisoner. Muhammad Abd Al-Rahman Awn Al-Shamrani, who refused to take part in his review in May, is still considered a risk and was associated with Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. A second man, Muhammad Murdi Issa al-Zahrani, was cleared for transfer. Although several prisoners have been cleared for transfer since the process restarted over the past year or so none of those cleared have been transferred anywhere.

In a court case originally brought against the Canadian government in 2004 when he was still held at Guantánamo Bay, for the Canadian government’s complicity in his abuse, a federal judge in Canada has ruled that Omar Khadr can widen the scope of his original case, suing the Canadian government for $20 million and claim that the Canadian government conspired with the US.
The government has asked for the claims in the case, which was reopened by his lawyers last year, to be dismissed but the judges asked for the new claims to be rewritten rather than rejected. He stated “Whether Canada conspired with foreign officials to violate the fundamental rights of a citizen is not a trivial matter” and that whether or not the conspiracy charge could stand was a matter for the trial judge to decide. He awarded costs in the case to Khadr’s lawyers as the Canadian government had “"considerably increased the costs and delay" of the action by opposing the lawsuit amendments, almost all of which he allowed.”
Although banned from speaking to the media, on 28 October, a week after an attack on a Canadian soldier and proposals to push through strict new security laws by the Canadian government in response, Omar Khadr had his first opportunity to address Canadians in his own words in an op-ed published in the Ottawa Citizen entitled “Khadr: Misguided security laws take a human toll”. In an intelligent and thoughtful article, Khadr states “I will not give up. I have a fundamental right to redress for what I have experienced. But this isn’t just about me. I want accountability to ensure others will be spared the torment I have been through; and the suffering I continue to endure.

Extraordinary Rendition:
The trial of Abu Anas Al-Libi, who was kidnapped in Libya a year ago and rendered to the US, was due to start in early November. In early October, Al-Libi asked the judge to suppress statements he made between the time he was kidnapped and when he later appeared in the US on that basis that he feels that those statements were coerced. He was not given legal representation, did not know where he was being held and thought he was going to be taken to Guantánamo Bay. As a result, he had signed a form waiving his legal rights, which he has since retracted. He had been told at the time that he would be held and interrogated on the US military ship he was aboard for over four months. Although he does not claim to have been physically tortured, he was under great psychological pressure.
He pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy in the bombing of two US embassies in Africa in 1998, which killed over 200 people. The hearing has now been put back until January 2015 to give defence lawyers additional time to prepare, including evidence from the UK. Al-Libi’s co-defendant Khaled al-Fawwaz was extradited from the UK in October 2012. A third defendant in the case, Adel Abdul Bary, also extradited from the UK in 2012, pleaded guilty in September and faces a sentence of 25 years.

Poland has lodged an appeal against a ruling in July made by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which found the country complicit in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition programme, by hosting a torture facility. Prisoners held there included current Guantánamo prisoners Abu Zubaydah and Abd Al-Nashiri. The appeal is reported to be based on procedural grounds.

A Russian prisoner held at Bagram since 2009, known only as “Irek Hamidullan”, has been taken to the US where he is to face a terrorism trial on unspecified charges. He is alleged to have been involved in attacks on Americans prior to his capture. This is the first time a prisoner held in Afghanistan is being taken to the US. He is among a group of 13 foreign nationals known to be held by the US at the Parwan facility at Bagram without charge or trial. In 2015, the US must hand over control of prison facilities to the Afghan authorities.

On 30 October, the Court of Appeal ruled that Abdul Hakim Belhaj and his wife, who were rendered to Libya in 2004 from SE Asia with the assistance of the intelligence services, can sue the UK government. He brought a case against former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who had previously denied any knowledge of his case, and MI6 for complicity in their rendition, which came to light in documents found in a government building in Tripoli following the Arab Spring there in 2011. The High Court had ruled the case could not be heard as it could damage foreign relationships with the US. However, the appeal court judges said a court should hear them. Jack Straw and the government have been given leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.

LGC Activities:
The October “Shut Guantánamo!” demonstration was attended by 7 people. The LGC is grateful to London Catholic Worker for joining us at this demonstration. The November demonstration will be at 12-1pm outside the US Embassy and 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner, Marble Arch on Thursday 6th November:

Thanks to Voices for Creative Non-Violence UK for allowing Val Brown to hold a stall to raise awareness about the plight of Guantánamo prisoners at the conference “Afghanistan – The Forgotten War: Britain’s Legacy” on Saturday 11th October. Speakers at the conference focused on Britain’s military legacy and ongoing involvement, including the environmental impact of war and weapons, the ongoing lethal use of drones and the impact financially and on British armed forces. A report of the interesting and successful conference can be read here:

On 16 October, Aisha Maniar joined John Rees on the Islam Channel’s “The Report” news programme to talk about the ongoing hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay and the struggle to release videotapes showing prisoners being force-fed.

Many thanks to students from Queen Mary University of London’s Amnesty Society for inviting us on 21 October to take part in a talk on torture alongside a speaker from Amnesty International UK’s current ongoing campaign on the theme. Aisha Maniar spoke to around 50 students about the history of Guantánamo, now almost in its 13th year of operation, as well as the truth and lies surrounding the prisoners, the legality of Guantánamo detention and the use of torture. Short workshops were also held to discuss some of the issues raised.

On 6th November, the LGC will hold a planning meeting for our January anniversary demonstration at 6:30pm in the café in Friend’s House, Euston Road (opposite Euston station). We are currently in the process of planning its action to mark the 13th anniversary of Guantanamo opening in January 2015 and as usual WE need YOUR help to make it happen. We are holding a meeting on 6 November. Please get in touch or join us if you’d like to be involved.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

LGC Newsletter – September 2014

Guantánamo Bay:
A US navy nurse who refused to force feed hunger striking prisoners at Guantánamo is continuing to face persecution from the US military. Although the military decided not to court martial him for his actions, thereby not making any details of the hunger strike and the feeding procedure public, as would result from a trial, he faces disciplinary measures, which could include him losing his job and his benefits. The nurse’s humane gesture came to light earlier this year when a hunger-striking prisoner wrote to his lawyer praising the nurse’s action.

On 15 September, pre-trial hearings started in the case of Abdel Hadi Al-Iraqi who faces a life sentence for war crimes; he is alleged to be a senior Al Qaeda commander and to have organised attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004 that killed allied soldiers. He was one of the last prisoners to be brought to Guantánamo in 2007, and had prior to that, after his arrest in 2006, “disappeared” into secret CIA torture prisons.
At the hearing, Al-Iraqi met his military lawyer for the first time. Although his previous lawyer was dismissed, he is still also seeking a civilian lawyer to work on his case, which he is not automatically entitled to, as he is not facing capital charges. At the hearing, the prosecution asked for all details relating to his interrogation to be kept secret. Although the prosecution claims he was not subject to “enhanced interrogation methods”, such as waterboarding, it said it was up to the CIA to say what could be disclosed.

Three prisoners, Saeed Mohammed Saleh Hatim, Abdurrahman al-Shubati and Fadel Hentif, have applied for an en banc rehearing of a case that was decided by a US federal court of appeal at the beginning of August, ruling that military guards at Guantánamo Bay can carry out intimate physical searches of prisoners, lifting a previous ban. The court had held that the action was not unconstitutional. Counsel for the three prisoners is asking for the case to be heard by all the judges at the same court and questions the interpretation applied by the court.

Lawyers for Canadian former prisoner Omar Khadr headed to the Canadian federal courts in early September to resume a case that was stalled in December last year when the judge said that the lawsuit, first brought suing the Canadian government for involvement in Khadr’s torture in 2004 when he was still held at Guantánamo, had to be rewritten. It was resubmitted and Khadr’s lawyers sought to expand the claims against the Canadian government to include conspiracy by Canada with the US in the abuse of his rights and his torture. Lawyers for the Canadian government said that under Canadian federal law, the US government could not be brought into a civil claim and that this issue could be dealt with under the existing claims. The judge reserved judgment on the case.

While Uruguay waits to receive the 6 Guantánamo prisoners it has said it will take as refugees, the government of Peru has ruled out taking any Guantánamo prisoners, following a US request. The Chilean government has also said that taking Guantánamo prisoners “is not a priority” for the country after weighing up a similar request.

Lawyers for the US government are seeking to keep proceedings secret in a court hearing to be held in early October concerning the force feeding of hunger-striking prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. The lawyers claim that it is a matter of national security. The case brought by Syrian hunger striker Abu Wael Dhiab concerns the methods used against the prisoners and the forced feeding against their will to keep them alive. This is illegal, when carried out on a rational prisoner, almost everywhere else in the world. Earlier this year, an emergency injunction to halt his force feeding was soon overturned but the government was asked to disclose tapes showing the force feeding. While lawyers on both sides will be heard at the hearing, US government lawyers are seeking to keep the public and the media out.

Extraordinary Rendition:
The US released 14 Pakistani prisoners from Bagram prison in Afghanistan. Although it handed authority over the prison to the Afghan authorities last year, the US has maintained control over up to 60 foreign nationals, mainly Pakistanis. This is the largest group of prisoners, who have less rights than Guantánamo prisoners, to be released in one go. Over the past year, 39 Pakistanis are known to have been released from Bagram, in most cases only to face further persecution once back in their own country. Two Yemenis and a Kazakh prisoner were also released last month. The actual number of prisoners and the conditions and reasons for their detention are highly guarded secrets by the US military.
With the US officially ending its involvement in the war in Afghanistan at the end of this year, even though it plans to keep 10,000 troops there, the future of the remaining Bagram prisoners remains unknown. Transfer to Guantánamo is unlikely but the US intends to maintain control over them.

LGC Activities:
The September “Shut Guantánamo!” demonstration was attended by 8 people. The October demonstration will be at 12-1pm outside the US Embassy and 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner, Marble Arch on Thursday 2nd October:

As part of a government consultation on anti-terrorism laws, one of our activists recently corresponded with David Anderson QC, the government’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, about Shaker Aamer: Their correspondence and Anderson’s referral to sources that suggest practices that would be illegal in this country, such as prolonged detention without trial or charge, speak volumes about the government’s actual attitude to Guantánamo prisoners such as Mr Aamer.
The IRCT in Copenhagen, which coordinates the actions worldwide on International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on 26 June, published its annual report of actions and features our London action on pages 34-35: