Wednesday, December 30, 2015

LGC Newsletter – December 2015

British residents:
Shaker Aamer gave his first interviews to the media this month including an interview with the Daily Mail and a television interview with the BBC, in which he talked about his time in Guantánamo and how he is adapting back to normal life since release.

Guantánamo Bay:
The US administration has announced that 17 prisoners are scheduled to be released in January, with the first prisoners due to be released in the first week of 2016. The Kuwaiti parliament has confirmed that a delegation will visit Guantánamo on 5 January to repatriate the last Kuwaiti prisoner Fayiz Al-Kandari, who was cleared for release a few months ago. The releases will bring the prison population down to 90. Currently, 48 prisoners have been cleared for release. A further three prisoners are due to appear before the periodic review board to determine whether they can released as well. Most prisoners who have appeared before the board since it recommenced work in late 2013 have been cleared. The first review will take place on 12 January for Afghan prisoner Haji Hamidullah.
A special report by Reuters has claimed that the Pentagon has deliberately thwarted Obama’s plan to close Guantánamo and delay prisoner releases. However, this does not absolve Barack Obama of his ultimate responsibility to take action to close Guantánamo Bay, as he has promised since 2008. Nonetheless, during a visit to San Bernardino, prior to leaving for his Christmas holidays, Barack Obama yet again affirmed his commitment to close Guantánamo and to go through with his plan to close the facility (and potentially not end indefinite detention) by possibly using executive action if Congress fails to approve it.

On 1 December, Yemeni prisoner, Mustafa Al-Shamiri, 37, appeared before the review board to consider whether he can be cleared for release. During the review, it emerged that he had been wrongly profiled by the US military as an al-Qaida facilitator. The assessment had claimed he had fought in Bosnia in 1995, even though he would have been 16 or 17 at the time. It appears that his name was confused with that of other people. He has thus been held on false premises, like most of the other prisoners, since 2002. A decision on his status has yet to be made.
Another Yemeni ‘forever’ prisoner Zahir Hamdoun, 36, had his review board hearing on 7 December, during which his lawyers said that he realized that it was not possible for him to return to Yemen, and so if he is allowed to be released to a third country, they are prepared to offer him full support, including financial assistance, mental health care, etc. He was captured in Pakistan and handed over to the US in February 2002. The US claims he had been fighting for the Taleban and had run away. It is likely he was sold to the US by the Pakistani military.

On 1st December, the case of Ali Hamza Al-Bahlul, who was convicted by a military tribunal in 2008 and has since had his conviction overturned twice, had his case heard by the federal court of appeals for the third time, with the US government bringing new arguments to try to make the conviction stand. The conviction was originally overturned over 3 years ago and those decisions have led to other convictions being successfully appealed. However, if the US government loses this case again, it will strongly undermine the already weak premise of military commissions, and ultimately detention, at Guantánamo Bay. Some of the legal arguments are discussed here:

Former Yemeni prisoner, Nasser El-Bahri, in his 40s, died in Yemen on 28 December following a long illness, his family has reported. He was released from Guantánamo without charge in 2008. The US military claims he was Osama Bin Laden’s bodyguard.
In June, the last Mauritanian prisoner in Guantánamo and best-selling author of  Guantánamo Diary Mohamedou Ould Salahi filed an application in the courts to try to compel the government to give him an immediate periodic review board hearing for his case to be reviewed and to consider whether he can be cleared for release. The government rejected the application and on 18 December the court rejected it too, claiming that it did not have the jurisdiction to order the government to carry out an immediate review and did not consider the US government to be impeding Ould Slahi’s access to his legal papers.

The latest pre-trial hearing in the case of 5 men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks in 2001 took place on 8-11 December, the first military tribunal hearing for almost 10 months. During the hearing, lawyers for the men presented a motion for the case to be dismissed given how slowly it is progressing – an actual trial is unlikely to take place until possibly 2020 – and as statements made by the US president and his administration make it highly unlikely that the men will get a fair trial and have already prejudiced the proceedings. Other issues considered were the use of female guards.

Extraordinary Rendition:
Two US citizens convicted in Italy for their role in the 2003 rendition to torture of Abu Omar, a Milan imam, have received a partial pardon from the Italian president. Robert Seldon Lady, a former CIA agent, had his 9-year sentence reduced to 7 years and Betnie Madero had her 6-year sentence effectively wiped out. The sentences against 26 US citizens were made in absentia and in 2013 Lady was arrested briefly in Panama pending extradition proceedings by Italy. The ruling means that Lady and the other 24 whose convictions stand cannot travel to Europe or they will be extradited to Italy to serve their sentence. Following the Panama incident, Lady had asked for a pardon. Abu Omar and his wife currently have a case before the European Court of Human Rights related to Italy’s complicity in human rights abuses.

On 1st December, Human Rights Watch marked the first anniversary of the US Senate’s report into CIA torture with the publication of a report, No More Excuses, setting out information about the torture report and a roadmap of what states must do not to ensure accountability and prosecutions for those involved.

LGC Activities:
The final Shut Guantánamo demonstration for 2015 was 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. There is no monthly demonstration in January. Our next demonstration in February will mark 9 years of this action.

On 8 December, the LGC marked the first anniversary of the partial publication of the US Senate’s CIA Torture Report in December 2014 with a panel discussion focusing on the UK’s involvement and the personal, community and military ramifications of the use of torture. We were joined by Head of Doctors at Freedom from Torture Dr Juliet Cohen and Veterans for Peace UK coordinator Ben Griffin who both made excellent contributions A report of the meeting can be read here:  

Please join us on 11 January to mark 14 years of Guantánamo at our vigil “History in the Making” at 6-8pm outside the US Embassy. We will need volunteers on the day so please let us know if you can help. This is a candlelight vigil with an open mic so contributions –speeches, poems, songs – that are relevant are welcome. All are welcome. Please spread the word: and

Thursday, December 10, 2015

We Tortured Some Folks Too: event report

By Aisha Maniar
On 8 December, the London Guantánamo Campaign held a public meeting in cooperation with the Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London, to mark the anniversary of the publication of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report (Torture Report) into the CIA’s use of torture under the extraordinary rendition programme. A heavily redacted 500-page summary of the full 6700 page report was published on 9 December 2014. The report took 5 years to compile, details 119 cases from 2002 to 2009 and cost $40 million to produce. Although since then no more of the report has been made public and there have been no prosecutions in the USA, the report has provided confirmation and shed further light of some of the worst forms of physical, sexual and psychological torture carried out by the CIA this century.
Given its international expanse the programme would have been impossible without the collusion of at least 54 other states, as detailed in a 2013 report by the Open Society Foundations, including the United Kingdom. According to this report (the 2014 Torture Report does not name any countries): “The U.K. government assisted in the extraordinary rendition of individuals, gave the CIA intelligence that led to the extraordinary rendition of individuals, interrogated individuals who were later secretly detained and extraordinarily rendered, submitted questions for interrogation of individuals who were secretly detained and extraordinarily rendered, and permitted use of its airspace and airports for flights associated with extraordinary rendition operations.” There are at least two ongoing prosecutions related to information in the Torture Report.

The meeting focused on torture as a practice, rather than as a policy, the needs of survivors and how it is that the UK has become involved in such practices many times. Indeed, in the same time period, Britain was also involved in the torture and abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, and claims have come to light concerning earlier abuses in Northern Ireland, Kenya and Malaya.

Dr Juliet Cohen, Head of Doctors at Freedom From Torture which is celebrating 30 years of rehabilitating torture survivors this year, spoke first about the devastating impact torture has on the individual affected. She defined torture as per the UN Convention against Torture, which both the UK and US are signatories to: “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”
Dr Cohen outlined one such case from Sri Lanka, of the many she has documented, involving physical and sexual torture by the police, which made the male victim afraid to seek to medical help for rectal bleeding, impotence, anxiety and difficulty eating and sleeping as a result and being afraid to share his experiences as well as triggering difficult memories for him when encountering objects or sounds that reminded him of his imprisonment. She described shame and degradation as the most pervasive of the negative emotions experienced by survivors. The very fact that torture is always carried out law enforcement personnel - overwhelmingly the police and military - means that justice is often a closed door. 

Nonetheless, it is important to hold perpetrators of such crimes to account and have prevention mechanisms in place to reduce the occurrence of such practices. Even so, survivors face challenges in accessing healthcare for treatment and psychiatric support can be difficult to get.

Dr Cohen noted two particular areas where the UK is failing in its responsibilities with respect to torture: the ongoing detention of torture survivors seeking asylum in immigration detention facilities, where they cannot access the specialists who can provide medical proof of their claims to support asylum applications, the ongoing distress caused by this administrative detention as well as the failure to protect torture survivors through the application of Rule 35 which provides that such vulnerable people should only be detained under exceptional circumstances.  The other failing is the UK’s evasion of responsibility for torture collusion by seeking to prevent cases going to court, such as the current case being heard by the Supreme Court of Libyan dissident Abdel Hakim Belhaj. Britain is preventing both individual accountability of those involved as well as criminal accountability. She stated that the impact of torture is devastating and those responsible must be held to account.

Ben Griffin, coordinator of Veterans for Peace UK, spoke of his experiences in the British army. Following 9/11, there was a change in attitude within the military. Using the analogy of the Nazi concentration camps during World War II, he explained the process of how it is a person comes to be tortured during war. There is a process of people being arrest, transported, starved, humiliated, until they are eventually tortured – looking far more haggled and different to the person who was arrested – and sometimes killed. The torturer doesn’t see the person taken from their home: he or she sees the dehumanised shell: the person who has been starved, had their hair shaved, deprived of sleep, etc. Furthermore, the process is broken down; it is compartmentalised, so that those involved are only involved in one part of the process, such as that he was involved in, in Iraq, of arresting alleged insurgents. Creating a suspect profile also helps to dehumanise those who are suspected of fitting it. 
Prisoners in Iraq, where Griffin served until he left the army in 2005, were often held by the British military in completely degrading situations. For example, at Camp Nama, prisoners were held in dog kennels under the heat of the sun. This compartmentalisation of the brutal treatment meted out to prisoners makes it easier to evade responsibility for it. 

In addition, soldiers are indoctrinated to act brutally. This has increased in training methods since World War II, worldwide. Griffin called on people to celebrate acts of resistance by soldiers to the dominant narrative of violence being the solution.
Questions and comments were raised about accountability, the need for a judge-led inquiry in the UK and the inhumane treatment of terrorism suspects under house arrest in the UK.

 Not avoiding the legal issues, Aisha Maniar, LGC organiser, has produced the following brief summary of outstanding torture claims against the British government and the progress that has been made over the past year:

Although the Torture Report was a big news story at the end of 2014, its anniversary has been ignored by the media. Nonetheless, the following reports provide interesting and informative updates:

The LGC thanks the Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London, for facilitating this event.