|Outside MI6 building at Shaker Aamer protest|
Sunday, February 23, 2014
The last British resident in Guantánamo Bay, Shaker Aamer, marked his 12th year at Guantánamo Bay, without charge or trial, on 14th February.
The Save Shaker Aamer Campaign and supporters held a lively, noisy protest opposite the MI6 intelligence services building in Vauxhall, London, demanding they provide information that could help Shaker Aamer be released. Around 50 people joined the protest and there were talks and a letter was delivered to MI6. Having closed the door when the protesters came knocking, the letter was sent over the gate and was promptly thrown back. Following chants of “take the letter” by activists, the letter was finally accepted.
One of the two remaining Kuwaiti prisoners held at Guantánamo, Fawzi Al-Odah, 36, has launched a lawsuit in the US arguing that he should be released once the US leaves Afghanistan, claiming he is a prisoner of war and not an “enemy combatant” and thus under international law, he should be returned home once the conflict is over. Al-Odah’s family maintains he was doing charitable work in Afghanistan with refugees when he was captured by the US military there in 2001. His father, Khalid Al-Odah, a Kuwaiti air force colonel, worked with the US forces in the 1991 Gulf War between Kuwait and Iraq. Under the Geneva Conventions, he claims that his son must be released by the end of 2014. Al-Odah and another Kuwaiti national, Fayiz Al-Kandari remain at Guantánamo; 10 others were repatriated years ago. They both fall under the category of the 40+ "indefinite detention" prisoners who cannot be tried but whom the US deems a sufficient threat – without any indication of that threat – to not release. Having restarted periodic reviews of the status of such prisoners recently, one such prisoner, from Yemen, has already been cleared for release.
On 7 February, former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Khadr, convicted at a US military tribunal and currently serving the rest of his sentence in Canada, was transferred to the medium-security Bowden Institution in Alberta. He had previously been held at maximum-security facilities since his return to the country in September 2012. His lawyers are pleased that he was reclassified as a medium-risk prisoner in December 2013; at Guantánamo, he had been deemed to pose a minimum risk. The transfer should mean that Khadr will now have access to much-needed rehabilitation and counselling facilities that he has not previously had access to.
On 11 February, a federal appeals court ruled, in a case brought by Shaker Aamer, Ahmed Belbacha and another current prisoner, that it was not unlawful for the military authorities to force feed them by nasal tube against their will while on hunger strike. The prisoners can however appeal the force feeding at a lower court again. The practice is widespread at prisons throughout the US when prisoners go on hunger strike, with the exception of a few states, and is illegal everywhere else.
The same lawsuit also allowed prisoners to challenge the conditions of their detention and may see new lawsuits brought by the prisoners against the Obama administration.
Abd al Hadi Al-Iraqi, who is facing a trial by military tribunal at Guantánamo Bay having been charged with various offences, has had the charge of “conspiracy” added against him. Last year, another prisoner won his appeal against conviction on the basis that “conspiracy” is not recognised under the international laws of war. That case is currently being appealed by the Obama administration; however this particular case could set “up a test of whether Congress has the power to make conspiracy a prosecutable offense in a war-crimes tribunal despite its not being recognized as an international war crime.” The difference in this case is that “conspiracy” was only added as such as an offence by the 2006 Military Commissions Act in the US, whereas Al-Iraqi, who arrived as one of the last prisoners at Guantánamo in 2007, is charged with acts also relating to 2006 and 2007. Overall, the issue could lead to controversy between the US government and courts.
Abd al-Nashiri’s pre-trial hearing recommenced on 17 February. The case was then adjourned for two days when Al-Nashiri announced to the court he wanted to sack his death penalty lawyer Richard Kammen as he could not speak Arabic and tell him what happened during the proceedings. However, when the court resumed on Wednesday 19 February, Al-Nashiri apologised for the delay and said that he was keeping his legal team. His actual trial is scheduled to start in September; however his lawyers are trying to have the charges against him dropped due to unlawful influence by former president Bush when he said in 2002 that Al-Nashiri had orchestrated the attacks. At that time, he had “disappeared” as a ghost prisoner into the CIA’s global network of illegal prisons.
On 20 February, Saudi prisoner, Ahmed Al-Darbi, 39, pleaded guilty in a plea bargain to charges of involvement in an attack on an oil tanker off the coast of Yemen in 2002 killing one crewmember and injuring 12. US prosecutors claim he helped plan the attacks but was not directly involved as he was already in US custody at the time. He pleaded guilty to 5 charges. Al-Darbi was arrested in Azerbaijan in 2002, rendered to Bagram in Afghanistan where he was tortured, including having been waterboarded and was taken to Guantánamo Bay in August 2002. He is likely to face a sentence of 13-15 years and is likely to be allowed to serve part of his sentence in Saudi Arabia. Sentencing has been deferred until 2017 to allow time for him to provide evidence against Abd Al-Nashiri, who faces charges in the same case. As part of the deal, “al-Darbi has agreed to not sue the US over his capture and the conditions of his confinement.” As in many other cases where prisoners have pleaded guilty under a plea bargain, this is his only way out of Guantánamo Bay, even if release, to possible further incarceration, is a few years away.
On 21 February, a federal court heard evidence in a case brought by 5 former Guantánamo prisoners, suing the US government after it continued to abuse them after they were no longer deemed to be “enemy combatants” and they were cleared for release. According to the Center for Constitution Rights (CCR), bringing the case on the men’s behalf: “One Uzbek plaintiff, Zakirjan Hasam, was subject to all of the worst abuses inflicted on Guantánamo detainees after he was found by a military (CSRT) panel to not be an “enemy combatant”: he was placed in solitary confinement (against a military psychologist’s advice), subjected to sleep deprivation, prevented from praying, forcibly shaved, and medicated against his will. When he was finally sent to Albania as a refugee, 23 months after the military panel’s ruling, he was sent shackled and bound to his seat. He continues to live in poverty there.” Another prisoner who was healthy and able to walk when he arrived at Guantánamo is now a paraplegic. The US quickly deemed these men to be innocent but continued to abuse them.
Aloysia Brooks, wife of Australian former Guantánamo prisoner David Hicks, who is currently appealing his military tribunal, has launched legal proceedings in the US to force the US government to explain why it has withheld documents related to Hicks’ treatment and torture during his 5 years at Guantánamo. Having unsuccessfully tried to obtain information from the Australian government and the US in the past, Ms Brooks is seeking to have these documents made public through a freedom of information request. She stated: “I am concerned about the continuing level of government secrecy surrounding issues relating to torture and political interference in War on Terror cases.”
Following a court ruling last month in Lithuania, prosecutors have started an investigation into claims that a Saudi prisoner at Guantánamo Bay, Mustafa Al-Hawsawi, currently facing a military tribunal was held and tortured at an illegal CIA facility in the country. Prosecutors had previously refused to investigate last year. He is reported to have been held there between 2004 and 2006. The ruling could pave the way to investigations in other European states: http://rt.com/news/cia-rendition-prisons-terrorism-976/
The February monthly demonstration marked both the 7th year of our regular “Shut Guantánamo!” demonstrations outside the US Embassy in London (first one in February 2007!), and coincided with the first anniversary of the ongoing hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay, still involving over 35 prisoners. The LGC held the first solidarity action worldwide in support of the hunger strike in March last and this was one of two solidarity events to mark this anniversary, the other being in Chicago.
Over 25 people braved a transport strike and poor, cold weather conditions to join us in the dark outside the US Embassy for a reading of poems by past and present prisoners and a candlelight vigil.
The March demonstration will be at the regular time of 12-1pm outside the US Embassy and 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner, Marble Arch on Thursday 6 March: https://www.facebook.com/events/1425876447650682/
David Harrold from the LGC joined a panel discussion at the Oxford human rights film festival on Monday 24 February following a screening of the Irish hunger strike film Hunger.
The LGC is bringing Dennis Edney QC, lawyer of Canadian former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Khadr, to the UK for a speaking tour to raise awareness about his case on 12-18 March. We have 8 events organised so far in London and York: for more details, please visit: http://londonguantanamocampaign.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/12-18-march-2014-lgc-speaking-tour-with.html
For background on who Omar Khadr is and why we are bringing Dennis Edney QC to the UK, please see:
Please help us fund this visit – donations, however big or small, are welcome: http://www.gofundme.com/OmarKhadr