Tuesday, June 30, 2015

LGC Newsletter – June 2015

During a private meeting of under an hour during the G7 summit in Germany, Prime Minister David Cameron raised Shaker Aamer’s case with Barack Obama and urged him to resolve Aamer’s case. Downing Street did not reveal the US President’s response, if any.

Following reports that Shaker Aamer and several other prisoners would be released within weeks and possibly by the end of June, this has not materialised. After the release of 6 Yemeni prisoners to Oman on 12 June, it emerged that no further cases had been put forward for clearance, meaning there would be no further releases in June. Nonetheless, the campaign for the release of Shaker Aamer, led by the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, has kept up the pressure over the past month with a demonstration to mark the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta opposite Downing Street on 15 June, a parliamentary meeting on 23rd June and weekly vigils opposite the Houses of Parliament.

Guantánamo Bay:
On 2 June, Reuters published an account of the torture Guantánamo prisoner and former secret CIA prison detainee Majid Khan faced while held at such facilities: “Majid Khan said interrogators poured ice water on his genitals, twice videotaped him naked and repeatedly touched his "private parts" – none of which was described in the Senate report. Interrogators, some of whom smelled of alcohol, also threatened to beat him with a hammer, baseball bats, sticks and leather belts, Khan said.”
Following the release of the Senate report on CIA torture in December 2014, more details have emerged of the various forms of torture faced by prisoners: this 27-page account by Khan to his lawyers was cleared for public release in May.
Khan was kidnapped in Pakistan in 2003 and held at secret CIA sites until 2006 when he was taken to Guantánamo. In 2012, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy, material support, murder and spying charges [note the first two are no longer offences that Guantánamo prisoners can be tried or convicted of]; he is currently awaiting sentencing.

French former Guantánamo prisoner Mourad Benchellali, released in 2004 without charge or trial, was prevented from boarding a flight to Montreal in Canada as the flight would have to pass through US air space and he is on a US no-fly list. He was due to address a peace conference.

In one of the most important pieces of news to come out of Guantánamo in a very long time, Yemeni prisoner Ali Hamza al Bahlul won his appeal against conviction in 2008 for a second time. He originally won his case in 2011 when all three of the convictions against him – material support, conspiracy and solicitation – were overturned. The US government sought a retrial which was granted. In July 2014, a panel of judges overturned the conviction on charges of solicitation and material support – leading to the quashing of other convictions, including that of Australian former prisoner David Hicks – but left the conspiracy issue to be appealed further. In the 2-1 decision on 12 June, judges decided that the military commissions did not have the jurisdiction to convict al Bahlul of a conspiracy charge as it is not a crime recognised under the international law of war.
This ruling may be further appealed by the US government but remains a very important decision which further undermines any future military commission trials and convictions and paves the way for the appeal of existing convictions, such as that of Omar Khadr.

On 12 June, 6 Yemeni prisoners were released to Oman, the second transfer of prisoners to the country, as they cannot be returned to their own country. All 6 men had long been cleared for release and never charged. There are currently 116 prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay.

Australian activist Dr Aloysia Brooks has won a 3-year Freedom of Information battle to have a series of documents and communication between the US and Australian governments over the repatriation and treatment of former Australian Guantánamo prisoner disclosed. The Australian Information Commissioner said he had no reason to block the disclosure of this information. The Australian government has 30 days to appeal this decision. Dr Brooks is also suing the CIA and the FBI in the US for the disclosure of further documents she has been unable to obtain in Australia.

Following a series of moves in the US Senate and Congress to block and impede the release of Guantánamo prisoners, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter stated that he is hopeful but not confident that Guantánamo will close before Barack Obama leaves office in early 2017.

On 23 June, a Libyan prisoner, Omar Khalif Mohammed Abu Baker, who has never been charged in over 13 years and is suffering at Guantánamo due to untreated wounds he suffered prior to his kidnap in Pakistan in 2002, had a hearing before the prisoner review board to see whether he could be cleared for release.
On 26 June, Saudi prisoner Abdul Rahman Shalabi, who has been on hunger strike for almost a decade, was cleared by the review board. Although this means he can be released, in practice it means he will remain where he is. He has never been charged.
The US has appointed Lee Wolosky, a former National Security Council director, as the new envoy for the closure of Guantánamo. The post has been vacant since Clifford Sloan stepped down in December citing the slow rate of transfers. Wolosky will start work in July.

Extraordinary Rendition:
On 23 June, a group of civil rights organisations in the US sent a letter to the Department of Justice demanding it appoints a special prosecutor for torture and holds the CIA to account. http://www.amnestyusa.org/news/press-releases/amnesty-international-aclu-and-human-rights-watch-urge-doj-to-appoint-special-prosecutor-for-torture
Another letter to the UN, signed by over 100 organisations, called for accountability for CIA torture in the war on terror.
This was backed by the UN Special Rapporteur for Torture Juan Mendez

On 23 June, the European Court of Human Rights heard a case brought in 2009 by Abu Omar, a Milan-based imam who was kidnapped and rendered to Egypt by the CIA in 2003, and his wife. The criminal prosecution in Italy is the only case in the world where CIA agents have been convicted of extraordinary rendition-related offences; Italian agents were also convicted in the case, although their convictions were later quashed. Abu Omar himself was convicted in a 2013 case on terrorism-related offences in a case that pre-dates his kidnapping in 2003. He now lives in Egypt and did not appeal the conviction. Italy denies that its agents were involved in the rendition and states that it was the actions of the CIA alone, even though Abu Omar was kidnapped in broad daylight in the street.

LGC Activities:
The LGC June Shut Guantánamo demonstration was attended by 5 people. The July demo will be on Thursday 2 July: https://www.facebook.com/events/1458025957831108/

The LGC marked UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on Friday 26 June with a silent vigil in Trafalgar Square. Around 40 people joined as activists raised the issue of the right to rehabilitation of torture survivors.

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