Friday, May 29, 2015

LGC Newsletter – May 2015

On 19-20 May, a delegation of four British MPs – Jeremy Corbyn (Labour), Andy Slaughter (Labour), Andrew Mitchell (Conservative) and David Davies (Conservative) – from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Shaker Aamer travelled to the US to raise awareness of the plight of the last British resident in Guantánamo Bay, Shaker Aamer, who has been held there without charge or trial for over 13 years. During the intense two-day visit, meetings were held in Washington between the MPs and the British Ambassador, the Special Envoy for the Closure of Guantanamo, Ambassador Paul Lewis from the Pentagon, acting Special Envoy Charles Trumbull from the State Department. They held discussions with influential Senators and attorneys including John McCain (Rep. Arizona), Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Joe Manchin (Dem, West Virginia), member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Bill Monahan, senior  counsel to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Patrick Leahy, (Dem. Vermont), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dianne Feinstein (Dem, California), Chair and ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Dick Durbin, (Dem. Illinois), Chair and Ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law. US officials were informed of concerns and interest in the UK in the case and popular support for Shaker Aamer to return to his family here, as well as MPs raising the fact that the continued detention of Aamer, in spite of repeat requests from the UK for his return, is undermining the special relationship between the two states.

Funding for the delegation was made possible through efforts by the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, including a day-long ‘cage’ action in Trafalgar Square on 16 May, which raised both funds and awareness.

Following similar media reports in April, on 27 May, Shaker Aamer’s lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith from Reprieve reported on BBC radio that he had been informed by various US officials that Shaker Aamer could be released within weeks and could be reunited with his family as early as June. However, similar reports by officials have been made in the past and did not materialise.

Guantánamo Bay:
On 1st May, in an unusual step, the US government won a military commission appeal which means that the conviction of former Sudanese prisoner, Ibrahim Al-Qosi, who was convicted in 2010 and returned to Sudan in 2012 after serving his sentence, remains intact. In a short judgment, judges dismissed the appeal as his lawyer lacked jurisdiction as she did not have his permission to represent him in the appeal. The military commission court had however denied her application for funding to travel to Sudan to get his permission to do so. One of his convictions – for material support for terrorism – has since been successfully appealed by others. This is only the second of seven sentences handed down by the military commission court that remains intact.

It is not just the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay that US military staff bully and abuse. Although no one has been charged or convicted for the abuse of prisoners, in mid-May, Staff Sgt. Dustin A. Barker from Scott, Kentucky was found guilty of ‘hazing’ -humiliating and intentionally physically abusing - Marines at Guantánamo in 2013. In one incident he ordered one marine to punch another so hard that he urinated blood. He was found guilty of the charges and demoted in rank.

A retired Supreme Court judge has called for some prisoners to be compensated for having knowingly been held illegally by the US. He said that prisoners who continue to be detained after being cleared for release should be given reparations as the US knows that they do not pose a threat to it.

Having won the right to be bailed by a Canadian court in late April, Omar Khadr’s hearing at which his bail term would be heard was delayed from Tuesday 5 May to Thursday 7 May, as there was an election being held in the state of Alberta. On Thursday, the judge agreed to generous bail terms while Khadr appeals his military commission conviction in the US and dismissed an appeal against bail by the Canadian government. Leaving the court, it was the first time Khadr has walked through a door pushed by him and freely in almost 13 years. He is currently living with the family of his lawyer Dennis Edney QC in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He spoke to the press on the evening of his release and was the subject of a documentary – the first time he has been able to speak to the press – that was aired on Canadian television on 28 May and will be repeated on Al Jazeera in early June.
On 14 May, in a further victory, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that – while detained – Omar Khadr should be treated as a juvenile and not an adult offender. Now bailed, the ruling in moot but was brought by his lawyers to have removed to a provincial correctional facility rather than a federal penitentiary.

On 19 May, four former prisoners accepted as refugees in Uruguay who had held a protest outside the US Embassy in the capital Montevideo demanding extra support and that the US gives them reparations for holding them illegally for 13 years struck a deal with Uruguayan government negotiators. The deal, which is not much of a real improvement on the original deal offered to the men, will see them receive rent for their own homes, assistance in finding jobs and learning Spanish and a small monthly stipend to cover their basic needs. Since arriving in the country at the end of last year, the six men who are all torture survivors and in need of rehabilitation, have all struggled. They were given a flat to share but wanted privacy. They were offered menial jobs, such as working as fruit pickers, even though the jobs were sometimes difficult to get to and difficult to carry out given their physical health. In addition, the men were seeking to bring their families to the country – four of the men are from Syria and their families are still in the war-torn country – but the small wages they will receive in addition to the stipend will not be sufficient to do this. As proof that the men are eager to adapt to their new surroundings and to get on with their lives, local Uruguayan media has reported that two of them will be getting married to Uruguayan women at the beginning of June.

Asim Thabit Abdullah al-Khalaqi, 47, a Yemeni prisoner held without charge or trial at Guantánamo for over 12 years and released to Kazakhstan at the end of 2014, died on 7 May. He is reported to have been in poor health and died of kidney failure. It is reported that poor medical care at Guantánamo may have contributed to his death.
Extraordinary Rendition:
Prosecutors in Scotland investigating the use of airports in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Prestwick and Aberdeen for CIA torture flights have submitted a request to the US authorities to receive a complete and unredacted version of the Senate torture to help its inquiries.

LGC Activities:
The LGC May Shut Guantánamo demonstration was attended by 9 people. We were joined by the family of American prisoner in Iraq Shawki Ahmed Omar. The June demo will be on Thursday 4 June:

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