Sunday, October 30, 2011

LGC Newsletter – October 2011


Guantánamo Bay:
Since September, the US Congress has been debating a new law, the National Defense Authorization Act 2012, which would allow “terrorism” suspects to be transferred to Guantánamo Bay and tried before military tribunals there and perpetuate the regime of indefinite detention at Guantánamo Bay. A clause in it would also legalise “enhanced interrogation techniques”, otherwise known as “torture” in the English language. President Obama, who remains committed to closing Guantánamo, has expressed his opposition to this plan. On 4 October, Senator Harry Reid blocked the bill from being debated by the Senate (equivalent to the British House of Lords) due to the language used in framing these proposals which would keep Guantánamo Bay open indefinitely. Since then, another senator, John McCain has asked President Obama to ignore Senator Reid and push ahead with the law. The president has the right to veto it. On 18 October, the Pentagon’s top lawyer spoke out in favour of closing Guantánamo and against “over-militarizing our approach to al-Qaida and its affiliates.” [Source: Miami Herald]
More on this news and link to Amnesty USA action to block this law:

Although Omar Khadr is eligible to leave Guantánamo Bay on Monday 31 October, his return to his native Canada may take up to 18 months, the usual term for the repatriation of offenders to the country. The Canadian government is unlikely to expedite his case. After pleading guilty to war crimes in a secret plea bargain, in a trial which admitted torture evidence and was the first military trial for crimes allegedly committed as a minor since WWII, Omar Khadr was allowed to serve the last 8 years of his sentence in a Canadian jail. His lawyers have stated that the transfer process has been started.

Extraordinary rendition:
On 19 October, the government published its Justice and Security Green Paper, proposing to introduce the use of closed hearings, secret evidence and “special advocates”, lawyers who represent but cannot communicate with their clients, in national security-sensitive cases, essentially to prevent information about the government’s involvement in torture and international criminal activity abroad falling into the public domain. The proposals would also introduce the use of closed inquests in such cases too. This follows, in particular, the Binyam Mohamed case in which the government, following years of denial of awareness of his torture and extraordinary rendition, was forced to admit that it had lied to the courts, parliament and the British public, on the grounds that it would affect intelligence-sharing relations with the US. A potential outcome of this case is that had certain documents not been disclosed, evidence obtained through torture from Binyam Mohamed could have been used as evidence against him. The green paper was announced on 6 July 2010 along with the forthcoming Gibson Inquiry, which also intends to use secret evidence and closed hearings. As well as preventing information about the government’s collusion in torture being disclosed and essentially making any such legal action pointless, it will also strongly undermine the right to a fair trial and a centuries-long tradition of open trials in the United Kingdom. There is also a potential for this to seep into other areas of the law; secret evidence and closed hearings are already used in other national security-sensitive cases, including those tried under laws introduced in the UK post-9/11 and pre-Guantánamo leading to a regime of arbitrary detention without charge or trial at HMP Belmarsh for foreign terrorism suspects, dubbed “Britain’s own Guantánamo”.
For more on this news:

A case that is likely to be argued under the same principles as the Binyam Mohamed case, if it is successful, is that brought this month by Libyan extraordinary rendition victim Sami Al-Saadi. In 2004, Al-Saadi, his wife and his four young children were kidnapped in Hong Kong and “rendered” to Libyan where they were detained and tortured. Documents disclosed by Human Rights Watch since the fall of the Gaddafi regime show that Britain was instrumental in their rendition and confirm his claims that he was questioned by UK intelligence officers while held in Libya. Mr Al-Saadi has said that he is bringing the case so that the truth is known and to prevent this happening again.

Prosecutors in Lithuania have decided not to reopen an investigation into possible CIA-run secret torture prisons in the country, in spite of new evidence provided to them by Amnesty International and Reprieve. The investigation was closed in January due to a lack of evidence. A 2009 parliamentary investigation in the country had confirmed the presence of such jails but not that anyone had been held there. The two human rights organisations have provided names of individuals alleged to have been held there. Since then, Guantánamo Bay “high-value” prisoner Abu Zubayda, kidnapped in 2002 and held in secret detention facilities for almost five years, where he was subject to waterboarding, among other forms of torture, is bringing a case against Lithuania at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, over its role in his extraordinary rendition.

LGC Activities:
A dozen people attended the October Afghan War Anniversary Shut Down Guantánamo! demonstration on Friday 7 October. The November demonstration will be held on Friday 4 November at 12-1pm outside the US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, London W1A 1AE and 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner, Hyde Park (opposite Marble Arch).With just months to go until Guantánamo marks its first complete decade of torture and arbitrary detention, please join us if you can to show your opposition to its on-going existence
The London Guantánamo Campaign also took part in the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign’s very successful action alongside the Stop The War Coalition’s Mass Anti-War Rally on 8 October to mark the tenth anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, where most Guantánamo detainees were held prisoner before being transferred, including British resident Shaker Aamer. A cage display was held, 100s of signatures were collected on petitions and leaflets were handed out; at one stage, campaigners managed to get Tony Blair, David Cameron and Barack Obama behind bars but they escaped quite quickly…
For pictures and a report of the action:

Please sign the London Guantánamo Campaign’s e-petition to the US Ambassador to London which we intend to deliver on 11 January 2012 addressed to the US ambassador to the UK calling for the return of Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha to the UK and the closure of Guantánamo Bay. Please add your name (and comments, if you wish) and ask your friends and family to do as well. Look out for further updates on planned actions.

Monday, October 10, 2011

10 years in Afghanistan: 10 years of torture and arbitrary detention

Afghan War Anniversary

Friday 7th October 2011 marked the tenth anniversary of the start of the current NATO-led war in Afghanistan in 2001. As well as leading to the death of thousands of civilians and soldiers, the war in Afghanistan is also the birthplace of one of the lesser known aspects of the so-called "war on terror": the torture and arbitrary detention of thousands of prisoners of all ages and nationalities.

Most of the prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay had been held at prisons in Afghanistan, such as Bagram and the Salt Pit near Kabul, before being taken to Guantánamo, on the other side of the world, or were taken to Afghanistan as victims of the CIA's kidnap and torture programme, "extraordinary rendition".

Campaigners from the London Guantánamo Campaign and the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign held actions on Friday 7th and Saturday 8th October to mark ten years of this ongoing brutality.

London Guantánamo Campaign Demonstration on 7 October
On the evening of 7th October, around a dozen people gathered outside the US Embassy in Mayfair to stand in solidarity with all victims of torture and prisoners held without charge or trial over the past ten years. This demonstration, part of a monthly action held outside the US Embassy by the London Guantánamo Campaign, was held especially to mark 10 years of arbitrary detention and torture at Bagram and other prisons. In particular, they called for justice for victims and for the American government to return Guantánamo prisoners Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha, who have links to the UK, to this country.

"Ten Hours for Ten Years" and STWC Anti-War Mass Assembly, 8 October, Trafalgar Square
On 8th October, the London Guantánamo Campaign joined the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign for a special "Ten Hours for Ten Years" action to mark ten years of Shaker Aamer's illegal detention in Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay as part of the Stop The War Coalition's Anti-War Mass Rally in Trafalgar Square. Shaker Aamer, a 44 year old Saudi national, who has a British wife and four children, including a son he has never met, was abused and tortured at Bagram before being sent to Guantánamo Bay where he has been held without charge or trial for almost the past ten years; he had been working for a Saudi charity in Afghanistan in 2001. He has never faced any charges or trial. Four other British residents whose release was sought at the same time as his by the British government in 2007 have long since returned to the UK. Although the government insists it is doing all it can, it has never explained why it has failed to secure his return to the UK.

Over 5000 people attended the successful anti-war rally, according to the Stop The War Coalition, from all over the UK. Talks were given by politicians, representatives of NGOS, celebrities, journalists and musicians. Speakers included Stop The War President Tony Benn, journalists John Pilger and Lauren Booth, Jemima Khan, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, musicians Lowkey and Brian Eno as well as many others. The names of over 120 people who have died in Afghanistan were read out.

The action for Shaker Aamer, which was eventually reduced to 8 hours (ending at 6pm instead of 8pm) by the powers that be, consisted of volunteers taking turns to stand inside a cage to highlight his plight. Signatures were also collected on a petition to the government calling for his release to the UK. In another cage, protesters donning Bush, Blair and Cameron masks and wearing the notorious Guantánamo orange jumpsuits were finally - temporarily - put behind bars for their crimes against humanity. They were joined for a short while by Kate Hudson, CND General Secretary, and anti-war campaigner Pat Arrowsmith who spoke out against Shaker Aamer's continuing imprisonment without charge or trial. At 3pm, around 20 protesters held up letters spelling "B-R-I-N-G S-H-A-K-E-R A-A-M-E-R H-O-M-E". The stall and the action attracted a lot of interest from demonstrators and passers-by.

At 4pm, the rally concluded with protesters being led down Whitehall to Downing Street by veteran 105-year anti-war campaigner Hetty Bower and former soldier Joe Glenton, who was jailed for refusing to serve in Afghanistan, to deliver a letter to the Prime Minister from military families and soldiers calling for British troops to return home from Afghanistan. Over a thousand people joined this part of the rally. However, protesters were only allowed to go as far as Downing Street and not towards Parliament Square, further down the road, and those who remained outside Downing Street were threatened with arrest under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) 2005.

A Very Brief History of Torture, Arbitrary Detention, Life and Death at Bagram, Guantánamo and Elsewhere over the Past Decade
Back in 2001/2002, foreigners in Afghanistan were arrested by local warlords who sold them to the American military for a bounty of $5000, a small fortune to its recipients. Many had their personal items and identification stolen. After being tortured and abused in Afghan prisons, most were then sent to another illegal prison at Guantánamo Bay. Conditions in Afghan prisons are reported to be worse, with former British Guantánamo prisoner, Moazzam Begg, describing Bagram as being worse than Guantánamo. Deaths are not uncommon; the 2007 Oscar-winning documentary film Taxi to the Dark Side tells the true story of the savage murder at the hands of US soldiers of an Afghan taxi driver in 2002. Banned torture techniques such as hooding, sleep deprivation, the use of white noise and repetitive music as torture as well as physical and sexual abuse have been reported.

Prisoner conditions have not improved over the past decade; Bagram is very much in the same state Guantánamo Bay was in several years with no exact details of the prisoners held there, although the majority are reported to be Afghan nationals. Prisoners do not have access to medical and legal representation or communication with their families, except through the Red Cross. While prisoners at Guantánamo Bay have described the experience of being held there as "being buried alive", in parts of Bagram, prisoners are quite literally buried alive in tiny cells in underground bunkers. Since Barack Obama became president in 2009, the facility has grown fourfold in size, going from a prisoner capacity of 600 to over 2400. Although the Afghan government is due to assume control of all prisons in Afghanistan from January 2012, the US military has decided to retain control over a prison at Parwan near Bagram, which it is currently expanding and claims it is using it to hold high-value detainees.

Afghanistan has also been a hotspot for secret CIA-run torture jails and a destination for victims of extraordinary rendition. British residents, formerly held at Guantánamo Bay, Binyam Mohamed, who was kidnapped in Pakistan and Bisher Al-Rawi and Jamil El-Banna, who were kidnapped in Ghana were all taken to Afghanistan where they were tortured. In spite of pressure from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition, the transfer of prisoners will not feature in the forthcoming torture (detainee or Gibson) inquiry set up by the government; the British government was aware that British residents and nationals were being tortured while detained in Afghanistan in 2002.

Perhaps one of the most extraordinary stories to emerge is that of German citizen, Khaled El-Masri, who was kidnapped on holiday in Macedonia in 2003 and taken to Afghanistan where he was detained for several months:

The main feature of this decade-long practice of torture and abuse of prisoners is the complete lack of justice and due legal process. Prisoners are detained and held outside of the recognised confines of the law. Wikileaks earlier this year revealed how random the investigation of prisoners conducted at Guantánamo Bay were, prisoners - 170 of whom are still held without charge or trial - considered to be "bad men" and the "worst of the worst". While all the main political parties in Britain have openly condemned the continuing regime of illegal detention at Guantánamo Bay, for the main part, they continue to support the ongoing war in Afghanistan, in which similar, if not worse, facilities exist as part of the war effort there. Similarly, while Barack Obama talks about closing Guantánamo (he had promised to close it by January 2010 - last year!), money is being pumped into expanding the illegal detention facilities at Bagram and Parwan.

What Can You Do? Get Involved!
The London Guantánamo Campaign will continue to seek the closure of Guantánamo, Bagram and similar prisons elsewhere. We are currently in the process of organising a series of events to mark the tenth anniversary of Guantánamo Bay in January 2012; this will include a candlelight vigil outside the US Embassy on Wednesday 11 January at 6-8pm and a demonstration in central London on the afternoon of Saturday 7 January. Please check us on Facebook or visit our blog: for updates and more details.

We are also collecting signatures on a petition to the American ambassador which we will deliver to the embassy on Guantánamo's 10th birthday on 11 January 2012. Please add your name to the petition:

The Save Shaker Aamer Campaign will also hold an event outside Downing Street on International Human Rights Day, 10 December, calling for the release of Shaker Aamer. Please check out the website: for details.

A new documentary film, "YOU DON'T LIKE THE TRUTH - 4 days inside Guantánamo" about Omar Khadr, a Canadian national who has been held and convicted at Guantánamo Bay for war crimes allegedly committed in Afghanistan when he was 14 (he is now 24), went on general release on Friday 7 October. It is currently playing at the Ritzy in Brixton: The Ritzy - Picture House, Brixton Oval, Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, London, SW2

© Pictures and report by Aisha Maniar for the London Guantánamo Campaign