Monday, November 30, 2015

LGC Newsletter – November 2015

British residents:

Former British resident Ahmed Belbacha, who returned to his native Algeria in March 2013, was given a three-year suspended sentence and fined 500,000 Algerian dinars on the charge of membership of a foreign terrorist organisation in Algeria. In 2009, while still held at Guantánamo, he was sentenced to 20 years in absentia on the same charges. He was arrested upon return to the country but a judge ordered his release and demanded proof of the charges for his case to be reheard.

Guantánamo Bay:
On 13 November, 5 Yemeni prisoners were released to Al-Ain in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). There are currently 107 prisoners at Guantánamo. The five men are Ali Ahmad Mohammed Al Razihi, Khalid Abd Al Jabbar Mohammed Uthman Al Qadasi, Adil Said Al Hajj Ubayd Al Busays, Sulayman Awad Bin Uqayl Al Nahdi and Fahmi Salem Said Al Asani, who are all considered low-level prisoners and have long been cleared for release. As with all prisoners released from Guantánamo Bay, the men are subject to restrictions imposed by the US, and are not free to meet people and have their movements monitored, although the UAE authorities have not imprisoned them and do not plan to prosecute them for any reason.

Sentencing in the case of Majid Khan, 35, who pleaded guilty to terrorism charges in February 2012, has been delayed to 2018. A sentencing hearing was scheduled for February 2016, after he pleaded guilty to moving funds to finance a bombing in Indonesia in 2003. He was arrested in Pakistan in 2003 prior to the bombing and was the last person to be tried before a Guantánamo military tribunal, during which he pleaded guilty under a plea bargain deal. Following arrest he disappeared into the CIA’s global secret prison network. The US Senate’s partial report into CIA torture last year shed some light on the horrific physical, psychological and sexual torture he was subjected to in order to coerce him to confess.

The periodic review board for “forever prisoners” who are deemed too dangerous to release but cannot be tried has cleared another Yemeni prisoner for release. Mansoor Abdul Rahman al Dayfi arrived at Guantánamo on 9 February 2002. He has never been charged or tried. There are currently 48 prisoners cleared for release, the majority of who are from Yemen.

Younis Chekkouri, who was released to Morocco in September, remains in jail there. A hearing scheduled for 4 November has been put back to 3 December. He remains detained without charge or trial.

Following a similar incident involving former Australian prisoner Mamdouh Habib, on 2 November, former French prisoner, Mourad Benchellali, who was released without charge or trial in 2005, was arrested as he entered Canada where he was invited to give a talk and take part in a documentary on fighting extremism. Earlier this year, he was prevented from boarding a plane to Canada from France as he is on a US no-fly list and the plane would pass through US airspace. This time he was arrested by Canadian border agents on suspicion of posing a threat to national security, even though he was invited to speak at a peace conference and about preventing youth extremism by speaking of his own experiences. He was not placed in immigration detention but sent to jail, with his French lawyers unaware of his location. On 4 November, he returned home to France voluntarily. Weeks later, he spoke at a forum at the Council of Europe about similar topics where he faced no such hostility.

On 5 November, following Barack Obama’s veto the first time, amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act Bill 2016, which budgets military spending for the year, were passed but did not affect the provisions on Guantánamo, which exclude transfers to the US mainland and also a legal prohibition on transfers to Yemen, Libya, Syria and Somalia. The amendments and the original veto related to spending provisions. Obama was not expected to use Guantánamo as an excuse to veto the bill again and instead signed the provisions into law on 25 November. Nonetheless, he issued a statement at the same time criticising the restriction this allegedly places on his ability to close Guantánamo, and highlighting the fact that executive action – to bring prisoners to the US mainland – is still an option available to him. Each year the US government passes the same restriction on prisoner transfers to the US under this law and in actual fact changes the situation of almost all the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay in no tangible way.
In early November, the Obama administration again stated that it would soon present a plan to close Guantánamo to Congress, yet less than two weeks later this was delayed, again, and indefinitely. Obama has been claiming that a plan to close Guantánamo (which is actually just likely to alter its address) since the summer.
On two separate occasions this month, in a televised interview and on a trip to Manila, Philippines, Barack Obama restated his famous claim that he will close Guantánamo and in Manila stated that by January 2016 there should be less than 100 prisoners held there. In 2009, Barack Obama had promised, and signed a provision to that end, that Guantánamo would not exist by January 2010.

Extraordinary Rendition:
On 9 November, the UK Supreme Court heard a claim by Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Bouchar, who were rendered to torture by the Libyan authorities under Colonel Gaddafi in 2004 with the cooperation of the UK and US authorities. In 2013, the High Court in London ruled that they could not bring a claim against the former Labour government and intelligence officers, such as former MI6 head Sir Mark Allen, as it could damage diplomatic relations and national interests. Having won an appeal, the case is currently before the Supreme Court to decide whether or not it can proceed. The couple would like an apology and an admission of what was done to them.

LGC Activities:
Our final Shut Guantánamo demonstration for this year is on Thursday 3 December at 12-1pm outside the US Embassy, Grosvenor Sq and 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner, Hyde Park, Marble Arch. Join us:

The LGC will mark the first anniversary of the partial publication of the US Senate’s CIA Torture Report in December 2014 with a panel discussion on 8 December focusing on the UK’s involvement and the personal, community and military ramifications of the use of torture. Please join us and our expert panel of speakers for a necessary discussion:

The London Guantánamo Campaign is continuing its weekly #GitmObama Twitter to raise awareness about the plight and existence of Guantánamo prisoners. Tweets that can be used during the action with this hashtag are provided in a pastebin (click on it and copy & paste the tweets) and everyone everywhere (who is on Twitter) is welcome to join in. The twitter storms are held on Mondays at 9pm GMT/ 4pm EST / 1pm PST. Please check our Twitter @shutguantanamo for further details and the pastebin to take part.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Panel Discussion on 8 December: WE Tortured Some Folks Too

The London Guantánamo Campaign and the Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London, invite you to a panel discussion:
WE Tortured Some Folks* Too

A panel discussion on
Tuesday 8 December,
at 7-9pm in Lecture Theatre LG02, Professor Stuart Hall Building, Goldsmiths, University of London, Lewisham Way, London SE14 6NW (nearest underground: New Cross Gate)

Ben Griffin, Veterans for Peace UK
Adriana Edmeades, Rights Watch UK
Dr Juliet Cohen, Freedom From Torture

On 9 December 2014, the US Senate published part of its report into the CIA’s use of torture in its global programme of kidnap and torture: extraordinary rendition. The programme would have been impossible but for the collusion of other states, including the United Kingdom. 

With the recent return of the last British resident held in Guantánamo Bay and fresh claims of prisoner abuse by the British army in Afghanistan, we invite you to join us to consider the impact the use of torture has on individuals, communities and social and political movements. We will also reflect on questions of impunity and what the use of state-sanctioned torture says about us as a society.

To get to venue (fully accessible):
Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths website: 
* In August 2014, these were the words used by Barack Obama to admit the CIA had indeed used torture in its extraordinary rendition programme

Sunday, November 01, 2015

LGC Newsletter – October 2015

British residents:
The last British resident held at Guantánamo Bay returned home to the UK on Friday 30 October. Shaker Aamer arrived on a private jet at the Biggin Hill Airfield shortly before lunchtime where he met his legal team and was then taken to a private hospital to receive urgent medical attention following his 14-year ordeal of detention without charge or trial at Guantánamo Bay. He has been reunited with his wife and children, including his 13-year old son who he has met for the first time.
Shaker Aamer will require a considerable amount of medical care and specialist rehabilitation therapy. His British lawyers have reported that he is seeking an inquiry into the British government’s role in his ordeal and questioning by British intelligence services while he was detained.
Upon his release, Shaker Aamer issued the following statement:
“The reason I have been strong is because of the support of people so strongly devoted to the truth. If I was the fire to be lit to tell the truth, it was the people who protected the fire from the wind. My thanks go to Allah first, second to my wife, my family, to my kids and then to my lawyers who did everything they could to carry the word to the world. I feel obliged to every individual who fought for justice not just for me but to bring an end to Guantanamo. Without knowing of their fight I might have given up more than once; I am overwhelmed by what people have done by their actions, their thoughts and their prayers and without their devotion to justice I would not be here in Britain now.
The reality may be that we cannot establish peace but we can establish justice. If there is anything that will bring this world to peace it is to remove injustice.”
The London Guantánamo Campaign’s statement on his release can be read here:
Aisha Maniar from the LGC spoke to Russia Today UK about his release and what lies ahead for the remaining 112 prisoners:

Although there are no longer any British residents in Guantánamo Bay, the LGC will continue to update this section with any relevant news concerning those who have been released. The release of all the British residents from Guantánamo was one of the campaign’s three goals when set up in 2006. We are pleased that after a decade one of our main aims has been achieved!

Guantánamo Bay:
Following a bail decision in September easing conditions for Omar Khadr as he appeals his US military commission conviction from Canada, on 1 October, Omar Khadr travelled to Toronto by aeroplane with his lawyer Dennis Edney to meet his grandparents, the first time he has met family in person since his release from Guantánamo Bay in 2012. As part of his bail conditions, access to his family is restricted.
Following the election of Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on 19 October (he will officially assume the position on 4 November), Dennis Edney told reporters that the new Liberal Prime Minister could show his commitment to civil liberties and breaking with the policies of his predecessor Stephen Harper by dropping the appeal against Omar Khadr being granted bail pending his US appeal. Bail with conditions was granted in May this year and no date has been set for appeal.

Afghan prisoner Mohamed Kamin whose case was heard by the periodic review board in August has been cleared by the review board. He was brought to Guantánamo in 2004 and was once considered for a war trial. He was charged but the case was dropped in 2009. This decision means that 52 prisoners are now cleared for release and 28 are classified as ‘forever prisoners’.

Although Obama failed to outline his promised plan to close Guantánamo to Congress in September, in October the Pentagon carried out visits to potential sites in Colorado to house up to 60 prisoners the US may transfer to the mainland to continue their indefinite detention without charge or trial.
On 22 October, Barack Obama made the rare move of vetoing the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) 2016, which authorises the military budget for the coming year and has for many years placed restrictions on transfers from Guantánamo. Proposed clauses would have made it even harder for Barack Obama to close Guantánamo.
Although he gave Guantánamo as the reason for his veto, spending provisions also played a large part. A new budget deal has since been negotiated but the provisions concerning Guantánamo remain the same and are not expected to change. One Congress member said that the NDAA “provisions on Guantanamo are the "exact same language" Obama has signed into law in defense bills over the past five years.”
A vote is scheduled for 5 November to override Obama’s veto and while the spending amendments are likely to be incorporated, with no changes likely to be made concerning Guantánamo, it remains to be seen whether Obama will exercise his power to veto again over Guantánamo.

At a hearing on 22 October for former Guantánamo prisoner Younis Chekkouri, who was released last month but continues to be held in prison in Morocco and potentially faces terrorism charges, lawyers presented a letter from the US authorities showing that all charges had been dropped against him in 2011. In order to consider this new information and other information from the US, the judge set back a date to hear the charges against him to 4 November, citing a need for more information from the US on links it alleges he had to Moroccan terrorist groups. He remains in jail.

Shaker Aamer is not the only prisoner who was released from Guantánamo this month. On 28 October, Ahmed Ould Abd al Aziz, 45, was released to Mauritania. He had been cleared for release in 2009. Since his return, the government has announced that he faces no charges or detention and has returned to his family. The only remaining Mauritanian prisoner in Guantánamo Bay is Guantánamo Diary author Mohamedou  Ould Slahi

Former Australian Guantánamo prisoner Mamdouh Habib and his wife Maha were arrested and prevented from entering Turkey on 29 October. They had travelled to the country from Lebanon and were detained and questioned at Istanbul airport about past allegations that he was an “Al Qaeda terrorist trainer”.  Their passports were temporarily confiscated and they were then returned to Lebanon. The couple is reported to be in the Middle East as Mr Habib, a joint Egyptian-Australian national, is taking legal action in Egypt against his rendition and the complicity of Australian intelligence (ASIO). The Turkish authorities named the Australian authorities in preventing their entry to the country.
Earlier that week, in ongoing legal action to make the Australian government disclosed documents related to its complicity in the torture of David Hicks, the Australian Information Commissioner ordered the office of the Prime Minister to disclose the documents as there is no practical reason to refuse to do so. A similar order made in June 2015 has yet to be complied with by the Australian government.

Pre-trial hearings continued on 22 October in the military tribunal case of five prisoners alleged to have links to the 11 September 2001 attacks in New York. Following initial problems, the hearing was held and an application by one of the defendants, Walid bin Al-Attash, to fire and replace his current lawyer was rejected. If granted, this would have further delayed the hearings by months.

Extraordinary Rendition:
Following the publication of the US Senate report into CIA torture in December 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is bringing a lawsuit against two psychologists, James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen, on behalf of three victims: Suleiman Abdullah Salim, Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, and Gul Rahman, who died at the secret ‘Salt Pit’ prison: The crimes against humanity they are accused of being involved in include “water torture, forcing prisoners into boxes, and chaining prisoners in painful stress positions to walls”. The two surviving men continue to suffer physical and psychological damage as a result of their ordeals, details of which can be read in this article:

LGC Activities:
The November Shut Guantánamo demo will be on Thursday 5 November:

The London Guantánamo Campaign is continuing its weekly #GitmObama Twitter storms since Barack Obama’s failure to announce a plan to close Guantánamo in September. Tweets that can be used during the action with this hashtag are provided in a pastebin (click on it and copy & paste the tweets) and everyone everywhere (who is on Twitter) is welcome to join in. The twitter storms are held on Mondays at 9pm GMT/ 4pm EST / 1pm PST. Please check our Twitter @shutguantanamo for further details and the pastebin to take part.