Monday, January 12, 2015

“Is This Who We Are?”: London Marks 13 Years of Guantánamo Bay



Report by Aisha Maniar

courtesy of Faiz Baluch


Reading the Sunday newspapers on 11 January, one may be excused for not knowing that the date marks 13 years since the US-run concentration camp at Guantánamo Camp opened on 11 January 2002. The ongoing hunger strike and regime of indefinite detention for 127 prisoners almost all held wholly without charge or trial for so many years was barely worth a mention. To a media hungry for the next sensationalist scare story, torture and arbitrary detention are possibly too real. Providing little more than a pretext to justify the illegal actions of governments worldwide, the suffering of the remaining prisoners and their families otherwise lacks importance.
street theatre

This did not stop human rights activists across the world holding protest actions to mark this sombre anniversary. Protest actions were held in the UK, Ireland, Mexico and the US. In Australia, activists and singer-songwriter Les Thomas launched a new song “Guantanamo Blues” http://thejusticecampaign.org/?page_id=1927 In the evening, activists around the world joined the London Guantánamo Campaign and Free Omar Khadr Now for an online Twitter storm.
street theatre

In the afternoon, around 150 people joined the London Guantánamo Campaign for a unique protest action outside the US Embassy in London. As organisers of the main UK protest to mark the anniversary of Guantánamo opening over the past 8 years, people often expect to turn up to a sea of orange jumpsuits, black hoods and angry chanting. This year we adopted a very different approach. Realising that 13 years on, not only are people immune and accustomed to the abuses that occur at Guantánamo Bay on a daily basis, many are simply unaware altogether. With such little coherent coverage it is hard to know what is really happening. To address this, we performed a piece of street theatre called “The Three Obamas”, in which three actors, and some support, re-enacted various statements and promises Barack Obama has made since 2008 about closing Guantánamo Bay. As president, his first action in 2009 was to sign a decree ordering the closure of Guantánamo Bay by 2010. Five years later, 127 men are still waiting.
Noa Kleinman, Amnesty International UK
courtesy of Faiz Baluch
The street theatre was in two parts to reflect the period between 2011 and 2013, when Obama acknowledged his broken promises with silence and the start of the ongoing hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay which brought the prison camp back under the spotlight.

Ben Griffin, Veterans for Peace UK
Joy Hurcombe, Save Shaker Aamer Campaign

Jean Lambert, Green MEP for London

During the “intermission” between the two parts, activists were addressed by speakers including solicitor for several British nationals held in Guantánamo Bay, Louise Christian, London Green MEP Jean Lambert, Noa Kleinman from Amnesty International UK, Ben Griffin from Veterans for Peace UK and Joy Hurcombe from the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign. It has now been 10 years since the last British nationals were released from Guantánamo Bay. 
Louise Christian, solicitor


While the street theatre performance highlighted the hypocrisy of the US administration over Guantánamo Bay and CIA torture, the speakers focused mainly on the collusion of the British government. Pointing out that this year also marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, it is ludicrous that British resident Shaker Aamer remains in Guantánamo Bay after 13 years without charge or trial. Speakers also called for an independent torture inquiry into the UK’s collusion with the US and transparency over Britain’s role in the US’s wars on terror. Joy Hurcombe reminded people that David Cameron will be meeting President Obama later this month and urged people to write to the prime minister and their MP to urge that the question of Shaker Aamer’s release to the UK feature high up the meeting agenda. In an election year, this is also a perfect opportunity to raise your concerns about Guantánamo Bay with local election candidates.

courtesy of Faiz Baluch
After 13 years, this is indeed who we are, along with the US and all its other allies. In the meantime, the campaign to close Guantánamo will continue and we hope you will join us. The London Guantánamo thanks everyone who joined us for a successful and enlightening event, in particular the actors, singers and props persons involved in the street theatre performance. Special thanks to our speakers for sharing their expertise and concerns with us and to Occupy London for providing live streaming throughout the event.

In case you missed or did not get enough yesterday, the Islam Channel will feature a one-hour special about the anniversary action on “The Report” at 9pm on Monday 12 January, on Sky channel 806 and Freeview.



Media of the event:


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Is This Who We Are? Action to mark 13 years of Guantánamo, Sunday 11 January 2015

Join us on 11 January - we will need volunteers for this action. To volunteer, please get in touch. If you'd like to film or photograph the event, please let us know!
This action will be followed later in the evening by a global Twitter storm - look out for more details

Friday, January 09, 2015

MEDIA RELEASE: Activists in London to Mark Thirteenth Anniversary of Guantánamo Bay with Demonstration outside US Embassy, Sunday 11 January 2015, 2-4pm

For immediate release: Friday 9 January 2015

Activists will gather outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, London, to mark the 13th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo Bay prison camp.

The London Guantánamo Campaign [1] will host the demonstration, which will include:
·         a street theatre performance on Barack Obama’s many broken promises to close the Guantánamo Bay prison camp over the years (at 2:30pm)
·         speakers, including Louise Christian, solicitor for former prisoners [2]  

Aisha Maniar, organiser from the London Guantánamo Campaign, says, "Torture and the arbitrary, lawless regime at Guantánamo Bay have become defining features of our century. Barack Obama’s question posed rhetorically in 2013, “Is this who we are?” [3] received an emphatic, affirmative answer in the redacted US Senate report into CIA torture published at the end of 2014.

"The report also revealed the complicity of numerous US allies, including the United Kingdom. The British government must now take serious measures to investigate and prosecute all allegations of wrongdoing and torture complicity by UK agencies. It must also seize the opportunity presented by the recent drive to release Guantánamo prisoners held for 13 years without charge or trial, and cleared for release. It must use the opportunity to demand the release of the last British resident held in Guantánamo Bay, Shaker Aamer.”
 
ENDS

NOTES TO EDITORS
1. The London Guantánamo Campaign was set up in 2006 and campaigns for justice for all prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, for the closure of this and other secret prisons, and an end to the practice of extraordinary rendition. http://londonguantanamocampaign.blogspot.com     


3. Among remarks made by Barack Obama on the Guantánamo hunger strike on 23 May 2013 http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/05/23/remarks-president-national-defense-university

Friday, January 02, 2015

LGC Newsletter – December 2014



BRITISH RESIDENTS:
LGC monthly demonstration outside US Embassy, London
In late December, British newspapers reported that Shaker Aamer is among the prisoners cleared for release who are likely to be released by the US in the New Year. In recent months, Barack Obama’s administration has stepped up its effort to release prisoners who do not face charge or trial and are not deemed to pose a threat to the US. Dozens more may be released in the coming months. The Daily Mail stated “It is understood that he is one of 64 prisoners who have been cleared for release and will be released in the next couple of months.” However, there has been no official confirmation or suggestion of this. Shaker Aamer has been cleared for release since 2007.

Earlier in December, Hayes and Harlington Labour MP John McDonnell set up an all-party parliamentary group on Shaker Aamer as “Further parliamentary pressure is urgently needed.” The group has received broad cross-party support and held its first meeting on 10 December.
A few days later, a group of celebrities signed a letter in the Daily Mail calling for Shaker Aamer’s return to the UK. The Daily Mail also reported that in response deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg suggested that Shaker Aamer, who has never faced charges either in the US or the UK, should be brought back to the UK to face judicial process, showing the government’s continuing confusion about his status and how the law works.

NEWS:
Guantánamo Bay:
Fifteen more prisoners were released from Guantánamo Bay over December, bringing the number of prisoners held there down to 127 by the end of 2014, from 155 at the beginning of that year. A total of 28 prisoners were released in 2014, the largest number in one year since Barack Obama became president in 2009. More releases are anticipated in 2015.
On 7 December, 6 prisoners – 4 Syrians, 1 Tunisian and 1 Palestinian – were released to Uruguay which accepted them on humanitarian grounds. All 6 had been cleared for release since at least 2010 and the group included Syrian hunger striker Abu Wa’el Dhiab, who brought a case against the US government for the force-feeding of hunger-striking prisoners. The 6 men have not been subject to further incarceration in Uruguay and some have since found jobs and are living ordinary lives.
On 20 December, 4 prisoners were returned to Afghanistan - Shawali Khan, Khi Ali Gul, Abdul Ghani and Mohammed Zahir - following a review of their status which cleared them for release. 8 more Afghans are believed to be held at Guantánamo.
On 31 December, 5 prisoners, two Tunisians and 3 Yemenis were resettled in Kazakhstan in Central Asia following extensive negotiations with the government there. The five men are Asim Thabit Abdullah Al-Khalaqi, 46, Muhammad Ali Husayn Khanayna, 36, and Sabri Mohammad al Qurash, 44, all from Yemen and Adel Al-Hakeemy, 49, and Abdallah Bin Ali al Lufti, 48 from Tunisia. Tunisia is considered currently too unstable and dangerous to return prisoners to and although in 2013 Barack Obama lifted a moratorium on returning Yemeni prisoners who are cleared for release to their home country, all releases of Yemeni prisoners from Guantánamo Bay since have been to third countries. Nonetheless, in 2014, his administration was able to transfer two Yemeni prisoners held at the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan to the country.
In spite of these releases and promises to release further prisoners, in the same month, Obama also signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) 2015 which places checks on his ability to release prisoners and close Guantánamo without Congress’ approval. As in previous years that he signed up to similar provisions, he made verbal threats to use his executive power to override them. Nonetheless, with the “official” withdrawal of US troops and the end of hostilities in Afghanistan, there is no longer any basis to continue keeping Guantánamo open and may cause even greater legal problems for the US government.

On 9 December, the periodic review board cleared a Yemeni prisoner, 35-year old Abdel Malik Wahab al Rahabi, for release, subject to some constraints, even though in March 2014, it deemed it was too dangerous to release him. He was one of the first prisoners to arrive at Guantánamo on 11 January 2002 and although he was never charged, he was accused of being a bodyguard of Osama Ben Laden. Following this decision, there are currently 35 prisoners being held indefinitely as “forever prisoners”, who cannot be charged but are deemed too dangerous to release, through an administrative and not a judicial procedure.

The US State Department’s special envoy for the closure of Guantánamo appointed in June 2013, Clifford Sloan, resigned from his post after 18 months citing his frustration at the delays in prisoner transfers. His job consisted of negotiating the release of prisoners with foreign states. The search is on now for a new envoy.

Omar Khadr will be heading back to the Supreme Court of Canada after it decided to hear an appeal by the Canadian government against an earlier decision to have Omar Khadr held as a juvenile prisoner, given that he allegedly committed the offences he was convicted of aged 15; this move would facilitate his rehabilitation. The decision comes as a surprise to his lawyers as the decision being appealed was unanimous and Khadr has not lost a single case against the Canadian government in the Supreme Court in over 10 years. His lawyer Dennis Edney QC said, “So once again, we're going back to the Supreme Court for a third time. The government will be using the taxpayers dollars, as usual, and I'll be using my own particular savings to fight on behalf of Omar Khadr”.
A few days early, his lawyers revealed that Omar Khadr, who lost sight in his left eye in a gunfight in Afghanistan in 2002, is now almost blind in his right eye too due to a lack of treatment over the past 12 years. He has a cataract in his right eye, probably caused by a piece of shrapnel that has remained lodged in it since 2002 and is currently unable to read or see clearly. He is urgently in need of a specialist operation to restore sight to his eye. Khadr has spent all of his time since his release to prison in Canada in late 2012 studying for his high school diploma and is hoping to continue with his studies to college level. Having been held as an adult at Guantánamo, he was denied an education during his formative teenage years.

On 23 December, former Guantánamo prisoner Rasul Kudaev, 36, who was released in 2004 along with 6 other Russian nationals held there, was given a life sentence in Russia’s longest-running terrorism trial involving the largest number of defendants. Accused of involvement in 2005 attacks on the city of Nalchik, near where he lives, he was tortured and forced into confessing to involvement in the attacks. His co-defendants were also tortured into saying he was involved, even though they didn’t know who he was. The fact that he had returned from Guantánamo unable to walk and had been seen by neighbours at the same time was discounted in favour of torture evidence. The fact that he had been held at Guantánamo, where he was never charged, was used as a hinge for the whole case against all 58 defendants in the case. His lawyers plan to appeal. He has suffered further torture in his past 9 years of incarceration in Russia and has a case against the Russian authorities pending before the European Court of Human Rights.

Extraordinary Rendition:
On 9 December, the long-awaited and controversial redacted and partial publication (introduction only) of 500 pages of the US Senate’s report on CIA torture under the premise of the “war on terror” was finally issued.
The document has confirmed much of what prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay or caught up in extraordinary rendition have said for years as well as revealing new claims. It has further sparked a false debate in the international media on whether and when torture can be justified. The answer should be simple to any literate person from the US or most of its allied and enemy states that are signatories to the UN Convention Against Torture, which in Article 1 imposes a blanket prohibition on the use of torture in all circumstances. The debate has no doubt been sparked – and sustained even by the so-called progressive media – to cover up the culpability of the US and its allies and the fact that the revelations made could spark a slew of new litigation or support existing claims. Some European allies, such as the Republic of Ireland and Iceland have also sought to cover their backs by asking the US to look again into US military flights that stopped in their territories that have later been called “torture flights”, carrying rendition victim from one location to another, when such flights stopped to refuel. It has also raised questions about the role of doctors and medical professionals in the practice of psychological torture methods.
The following day, Human Rights Day, 10 December, at the Australian Human Rights Award, former Guantánamo prisoner David Hicks took the Australian Attorney General George Brandis aback when he heckled him during his speech and reminded him of his government’s complicity in torture.
In addition, a few days later, a pre-trial hearing scheduled in the Guantánamo military tribunal of five men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks, was suspended. It has been reported that the findings in the disclosed part of the report could help their defence.
With respect to the United Kingdom, the report has raised questions as well about the US military’s use of the British-administered island of Diego Garcia in the Chagos Islands. The government has previously knowledge of or that the US was using the site to torture alleged terrorists. Fresh demands have been made that the UK hold an independent inquiry into the government’s torture complicity.

LGC Activities:
The December “Shut Guantánamo!” demonstration was attended by 4 people. We were joined this month by the wife and daughter of Shawki Ahmed Omar, an American national who remains in jail in Iraq under false allegations and having suffered torture after more than one decade: http://onesmallwindow.wordpress.com/2013/06/13/starved-of-justice-in-iraq-american-prisoner-on-hunger-strike/
There is no monthly demonstration in January. Please join us instead on Sunday 11th January at 2-4pm outside the US Embassy as we mark the 13th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo Bay on 11th January 2002. This year’s action is entitled “Is This Who We Are?”