Wednesday, September 30, 2015
On 25 September, the British government announced that it had been informed by the US that the last remaining British resident Shaker Aamer, a Saudi national whose British wife and four children live in south London, has been cleared for release to the UK. Previously he had only been cleared for release to Saudi Arabia, a country he does not want to return to. The British government has pressed for his release to the UK since 2007, after he was cleared for release by the US for the first time. Following clearance by multiple agencies, it is estimated that he should be released to his family in the UK by 25 October. His family have called for his release not to be delayed. Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed this news and has called for Guantánamo to close.
Held at Guantánamo since February 2002, Shaker Aamer has never been charged or tried.
Prior to the summer recess, in July, Barack Obama announced that he would have a plan to submit to Congress in early September for the closure of Guantánamo before the end of his final term as president in early 2017. The plan never transpired and the media remained silent.
On the other hand, in early September, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told the US navy that the plan to close Guantánamo is by transferring prisoners who have not been cleared for release to military prisons on the mainland. He also said that there is no plan to evacuate the base at Guantánamo and return it to Cuba.
In early September, a number of possible locations – existing military prisons and land owned by the military to construct such a facility – were visited. Congress is likely to object to any transfers of prisoners to the US mainland and senators for the states visited have already expressed their objections. The LGC objects to any plans to franchise Guantánamo and anything short of the safe release of all the prisoners held there almost wholly without charge or trial. The LGC also believes this to be a stalling tactic as there is no plan, given that the Obama government is fully aware that Congress will pose a block to such “plans”. Furthermore, transfer to the US mainland is unlikely to confer any new constitutional rights on the prisoners and they may be held in worse conditions.
Showing that there are no actual plans to close Guantánamo or release all the prisoners, a contract has been put out for tender by the government until 2025 to provide prosthetics for 5 prisoners who need them.
On 11 September, Omar Khadr had a bail hearing to have the conditions relaxed and so that he may be able to visit his family in Toronto, especially as his grandmother is ill. A number of conditions were lifted on the same day to allow him to attend night school and early morning prayers. On 18 September, the same judge also ruled to lift most of his bail conditions, as he had been compliant since his release in May this year but kept a few in place. He is allowed to visit his family before the end of this year provided he is accompanied by one of his lawyers.
On 25 September, Omar Khadr joined the audience at a screening of a new documentary about his life, Guantánamo’s Child, at the Calgary International Film Festival in Canada. After the showing, he answered questions from the public along with his lawyer Dennis Edney and the filmmaker journalist Michelle Shepherd.
Following an investigation into the risk of cancer at the war court at Guantánamo Bay, which has already caused some casualties and at least seven illnesses in legal staff, the US navy has concluded that there is no need for a full investigation and that air samples and other tests had shown there is no major risk.
Three prisoners were cleared for release by the prisoner review board this month. Libyan prisoner Omar Khalif was cleared for release on health grounds; he is considered too ill to pose a threat. He is an amputee with no right leg below the knee, is blind in one eye and has glaucoma as well as suffering from a psychiatric condition.
The last Kuwaiti prisoner Fayiz Al-Kandari, who had his bid for release turned down by the board last year, has finally been cleared too.
Saudi prisoner Mohammed Shimrani, one of the first to arrive at Guantánamo was also cleared for release following a review. He had previously boycotted his review hearing in protest at genital searches by guards.
There are 29 prisoners who are ‘forever’ prisoner, who are subject to indefinite detention. 53 prisoners have been cleared for release.
There are currently 114 prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. The first transfer in over 3 months was made on 16 September when Moroccan prisoner Younes Chekkouri was returned to his country of origin. However, he remains detained there; Chekkouri was held incommunicado for two days after which the authorities stated that he was being held on remand at the notorious Salé prison pending an investigation into terrorism-related charges. He was never charged or tried at Guantánamo. Following a meeting with his Moroccan lawyer, it emerged that the US had blindfolded and shackled him on his return journey to Morocco, traumatising him. He has, however, been allowed to meet his family for the first time in 14 years. His lawyers believe that the US has confidential information which if released to Morocco could see Chekkouri released.
On 22 September, Saudi prisoner Abdul Shalabi was returned to Saudi Arabia where he will be enrolled in a rehabilitation programme. An alleged close associate of Osama Bin Laden, he was never tried for any offences. He is reported to have been on hunger strike since 2005.
According to lawyers of rendition victim and current Guantánamo prisoner Abu Zubaydah, the Senate Torture Report, a redacted part of which was published in December 2014, provides evidence that Lithuania hosted a CIA torture prison. The report also makes hundreds of references to Abu Zubaydah’s case. He was one of the parties who won a case against Poland for torture at the European Court of Human Rights earlier this year. A similar case is pending against Lithuania, which reopened an inconclusive investigation it had earlier closed, claiming there was no evidence.
Lawyers for one of the 9/11 defendants Mustafa Al-Hawsawi have also filed a case with prosecutors in Lithuania to find out more about what happened at alleged torture sites in the country.
Police in Canada have brought charges against a Syrian colonel, Georges Salloum, for his role in the torture of Canadian-Syrian citizen Maher Arar who was rendered to Syria in 2002 and was tortured and held illegally in prisons there. An Interpol notice for Salloum’s arrest has gone out. Arar has sought his arrest and prosecution since 2005. In 2007, he received CA$10,000,000 from the Canadian government and has also had an official apology from Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Canada was complicit in his torture. The US has never apologised.
The LGC was joined by the family of American-Palestinian prisoner in Iraq Shawki Ahmed Omar at the September demonstration. The October Shut Guantánamo demo will be on Thursday 1 October: https://www.facebook.com/events/444096722441447/
The London Guantánamo Campaign, along with Free Omar Khadr Now, held a Twitter storm on 8 September when Barack Obama’s plan to close Guantánamo failed to materialise. Encouraged by the success of this action, the LGC has held two other #GitmObama Twitter storms since then. 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 next Twitter storm will be on Monday 5 October at 9pm BST/ 4pm EST / 1pm PST. Please check our Twitter @shutguantanamo for further details and the pastebin to take part.
Tuesday, September 01, 2015
The main news about Guantánamo was the announcement by the White House that it will present a plan to close Guantánamo to Congress in early September: http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/pentagon-to-release-gitmo-closure-plan-after-august-recess/article/2569950
Although 52 of the remaining 116 prisoners have been cleared for release, including Shaker Aamer, no transfers have been made since June. In August, it emerged the delay is due to the new Defense Secretary Ashton Carter refusing to sign off their release. All previous releases had been signed by his predecessor Chuck Hagel. This is in spite of the fact that earlier in August the new envoy for the closure of Guantánamo Lee Wolosky stated that he had secured deals with around one dozen countries to accept at least half of those men.
For the remaining prisoners who are not facing trial and have not been cleared for release, the “forever prisoners”, it appears that Obama’s plan will not involve ending their 14 years of indefinite detention without charge or trial but simply shifting the physical prison at Guantánamo Bay to the US mainland, keeping the men in existing military prisons where they will remain under military control and will not be subject to potential trial in federal courts. The plan is not to close Guantánamo but to shift it and potentially franchise it. It has been reported that the Pentagon has already made visits to facilities in South Carolina and will visit others in Kansas and four other potential sites. Some media have reported that it is possible that a new Guantánamo will be built from scratch on military-owned land. There do not appear to be plans to release these prisoners. However, a potential block to the forthcoming plan is whether Congress will allow prisoners to be transferred to the US mainland.
The governors of South Carolina and Kansas have stated that they will block efforts to send the prisoners there and have threatened to sue if the plan goes ahead. Mistakenly calling the prisoners “terrorists”, it must be pointed out that there are no terrorists at Guantánamo Bay; the few prisoners who have been convicted have not been convicted of terrorism charges.
It has also been revealed that out of the remaining 116 prisoners, only 3 were captured on the battlefield by the US. This includes those accused of involvement and facing trial for the 9/11 attacks. The others, like the majority of Guantánamo prisoners overall, were sold to the US military by allied Afghan warlords, many of whom in practice bore little difference to the Taliban.
On 5 August, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) published a new report “Towards the Closure of Guantanamo” which condemns the US for its human rights abuses at Guantánamo, the discriminatory nature of the detention of Muslim men and demands its closure without further delay:
Pre-trial hearings for five men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks was cancelled yet again. A hearing scheduled from 24 August to early September was cancelled, meaning that no hearings have been held at all this year.
Afghan prisoner Mohammed Kamin, 37, had his hearing before the periodic review board on 17 August. He arrived at Guantánamo in 2004, was subject to charges that were later dropped and never pursued and has been described as “one of the most compliant detainees at Guantánamo”.
In June, AlJazeera showed film footage on its Arabic channel, reportedly showing a raid by Slovakian police on the home of former Guantánamo prisoner Hisham Sliti, a Tunisian, who was released there last year. Although he is supposed to be resettled, he is at a centre for asylum seekers. The video, shot by another resident on a mobile phone, showed the police violently entering, sounds of shouting and later images of broken household items from inside, as well as Sliti being led away by the police. Slovak media have also alleged he was tortured. The police deny all the claims. Amnesty Slovakia has written to the government demanding an independent and thorough investigation of the incident.
Lawyers for prisoner Tariq Ba Odah, a 36-year old Yemeni, who was cleared for release years ago, have lost their legal case to have him released on medical grounds. He has been on hunger strike since 2007 against his detention and continually force fed. He currently weighs 34kg. Although his lawyers say he is poor health, the US military maintains that he is fine.
Former Bagram prisoner, Russian national Irek Hamidullin, was found guilty by a jury of all charges including providing material support to a terrorist organisation and trying to destroy US military aircraft in Afghanistan in 2009, where he was arrested. He was held without charge at Bagram until 2014 when he was transferred to the US and to the FBI to stand trial in a federal court for an attack in which his alleged Taliban co-defendants were all killed and no US personnel or tanks were harmed. During his trial, he did not speak. His lawyers claimed there was insufficient evidence to back up the evidence. He was found guilty on 7 August and will be sentenced later this year. He faces a life sentence.
The LGC August Shut Guantánamo demonstration was attended by 8 people in the pouring rain. The September demo will be on Thursday 3 September: https://www.facebook.com/events/1482180842105413/
The LGC will be holding its second campaigns meeting this year on Monday 14 September at 6pm in Friends House, Euston Road, NW1 from 6pm onwards. Please join us and get involved in our work to close Guantánamo. We will meet in the café. Please e-mail us for more details. All are welcome.