Friday, February 25, 2011

LGC Newsletter - February 2011

LGC Newsletter – February 2011

British Residents:
British resident Shaker Aamer has now been held at Guantánamo Bay without charge or trial for over 9 years.
On 4 February, a Wikileak cable published in the Daily Telegraph from the US Embassy in London in 2009 showed that British diplomats had raised Shaker Aamer’s case with the US ambassador and sought his return. Officials from the Foreign Office told the US Embassy that they did not believe that he would be prosecuted if returned to the UK or Saudi Arabia. The failure to release Shaker Aamer is largely due to the American administration.
On 5 February, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign held a vigil outside Downing Street to mark the ninth anniversary of the illegal detention of Shaker Aamer at Guantánamo Bay. Around 40 people attended and were joined by Green MEP Jean Lambert and Kate Hudson from the CND. A letter demanding Shaker Aamer’s release was delivered to Downing Street. For a report and pictures of the demonstration:

Guantánamo Bay:
A seventh Guantánamo Bay prisoner has died in detention. Awal Gul, a 48 year old Afghan national, allegedly died of natural causes, most probably a heart attack on 3 February, after exercising. Held for over nine years without charge, the US accused Mr. Gul of being a member of the Taleban and supporting Al Qaeda but never brought any charges against him or produced any evidence to support these claims. His lawyers stated that they cannot know whether the stated cause of death is true. Mr. Gul left Guantánamo Bay in a coffin and was buried in Afghanistan on 7 February. More than 5000 people attended his funeral.
This month the Afghan government has been seeking the release of all Afghan prisoners held at Guantánamo, including a senior Taleban commander whose release could help to ease tensions in Afghanistan. There are currently over a dozen Afghan prisoners still held at Guantánamo Bay and it is likely that a delegation will visit the US to press for their release.

While Mohamed Riadh Nasri, a Tunisian prisoner transferred to Italy in 2009, was handed a 6-year sentence on 31 January for “criminal association with the aim of terrorism”, another Tunisian transferred along with him, Adel Ben Mabrouk, was released after his defence and the prosecution jointly pleaded that he had already spent eight years in Guantánamo and 18 months in jail in Italy prior to sentencing. He was given a two-year suspended sentence for associating with terrorists. However, following the recent upheaval in his native Tunisia, his future still remains uncertain.

Lawyers for Omar Khadr have filed papers seeking clemency from the military authorities at Guantánamo Bay so that he can spend a shorter time being held at the maximum security prison there and return to Canada earlier. Under the plea bargain and guilty plea reached in his case last autumn, Khadr must serve at least one year of his eight-year sentence at Guantánamo in a facility in which he is held in almost complete isolation.

The Obama administration notched up its third successive guilty plea in flawed military commission proceedings in mid-February when Sudanese prisoner Noor Othman Muhammad, in his 40s, pleaded guilty under a plea bargain which could see him released by 2015 and in which he must also testify in future cases against other prisoners. He “admitted” to working as a weapons trainer at terrorist training camps, supporting terrorism and conspiring with Al Qaeda. A lot of pressure is put on prisoners to plead guilty under these secret deals in kangaroo court proceedings and after nine years of arbitrary detention with no end in sight, a guilty plea may offer some glimpse of a chance of release from Guantánamo.

Extraordinary rendition:
In late January (27-31), Andrew Tyrie MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition appeared before the Information Tribunal to demand the disclosure of documents he had requested from the Ministry of Defence under the Freedom of Information Act. These documents concern the detention and transfer of detainees by British Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and may contain the names of individuals who have been rendered. The MoD has resisted making these documents public claiming it is expensive to do so and would undermine national security and relations with the US. Mr. Tyrie will continue to press for the disclosure of these documents as they are “important if we are to subject these and other allegations to scrutiny”.

On 4 February, German extraordinary rendition survivor Khaled El-Masri started proceedings in Macedonia against the government for its involvement in his kidnap and rendition. In 2003, in a case of mistaken identity, he was kidnapped while on holiday at the Macedonian border. He was held there for nearly a month before being taken to Afghanistan where he was tortured for four months. The experience has turned his life upside down, yet neither the American nor Macedonian governments have taken any responsibility for his ordeal. At the time, the US, Macedonia and Germany tried to play down what had happened. Similar proceedings were rejected by the US courts. He is suing the Macedonian government for €50,000 in damages and an apology. This case, which may last up to two years, is one of the very few opportunities any of the survivors or victims of extraordinary rendition have had to present their side of the story and seek justice in a court of law.

George Bush cancelled a trip to Switzerland in mid-February where he had been invited to deliver a speech for the United Israel Appeal, fearing that he may be arrested for war crimes or have to deal with demonstrations against him. Human rights groups in the country had been planning both. This would have been Bush’s first trip to Europe since outing himself as war criminal guilty of torture for having sanctioned the use of waterboarding. Human rights organisations had prepared a dossier of evidence for his arrest and instead presented it at a media event.

The forthcoming Gibson Inquiry into the involvement of the British intelligence services in torture, which may start hearing evidence as early as next month, is currently facing a boycott from several human rights NGOs. Nine organisations have been involved in talks with the three members of the inquiry panel concerning the structure of the inquiry, yet there are concerns that it will not meet the standards required under human rights law and may be little more than a pointless exercise with the very security agencies who are to be scrutinised continuing to insist on various information and hearings being kept secret. There are also fears that there will not be sufficient transparency and independence in the proceedings.

Rangzieb Ahmed, 35, from Rochdale, currently serving a life sentence for terrorism-related offences had his appeal to have his conviction overturned rejected by the Court of Appeal after he argued that he had been tortured at the behest of MI5 in Pakistan. The court held that he had not been tortured but allowed him to appeal to the Supreme Court concerning MI5’s involvement in his case. Some parts of his hearing were held in secret and these were not all mentioned in the open judgment, nor were the points raised about his case by David Davis MP in parliament in 2009 all raised.

LGC Activities:
Ten people attended the February Shut Down Guantánamo! Demonstration which marked the fourth anniversary of our regular presence outside the embassy. The next demonstration is at 12-1pm on Friday 4 March outside the US Embassy, Mayfair and then from 1.15-2.15pm at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park. Please join us if you can.

Friday, February 04, 2011

""Extraordinary Rendition" has a human face, and it is mine"

Today, Khaled El-Masri, a German survivor of the CIA's extraordinary rendition programme will bring a court case against the Macedonian government seeking €50,000 in damages for his torture and abuse and an apology. Similar claims were rejected in the US and Germany. The US has never openly admitted involvement in his ordeal, however the recent Wikileaks showed that diplomats in the US and Germany did their best to keep the story out of the news at the time, in 2004. The case is expected to last at least two years and is one of the few windows of opportunity for some form of justice for the victims of this extra-legal regime. Please read his moving story below in his own words.

Also today, former Australian prisoner and survivor of extraordinary rendition, Mamdouh Habib, addressed an anti-Mubarak rally in his town of Brisbane. Mr. Habib recently reached an out-of-court settlement with the Australian government, although Prime Minister Julia Gillard is to launch an inquiry into Australia’s role in his kidnap and torture. Mr. Habib said he would use the undisclosed amount he received under the settlement to sue the Egyptian and American governments for torturing him. He also states that the new Egyptian vice-president Omar Suleiman was personally present on at least one occasion when he tortured. Of Egyptian origin, Mamdouh Habib was rendered from Pakistan to Afghanistan, Egypt and then on to Guantánamo Bay. Omar Suleiman has been closely linked to the CIA programme since the mid-1990s when he helped the Clinton administration design and implement it.

Here is Khaled El-Masri’s public statement about his ordeal (and as read by George Saunders

The US policy of "extraordinary rendition" has a human face, and it is mine.

I was born in Kuwait and raised in Lebanon. In 1985, I fled to Germany in search of a better life. I became a citizen and started my own family. I have five children.

On December 31, 2003, I took a bus from Germany to Macedonia. When we arrived, Macedonian agents confiscated my passport and detained me for 23 days. I was not allowed to contact anyone.

I was forced to record a video saying I had been treated well. I was handcuffed, blindfolded and taken to a building where I was severely beaten. My clothes were sliced from my body with a knife or scissors, and my underwear was forcibly removed. I was thrown to the floor, my hands pulled behind me, a boot placed on my back.

When my blindfold was removed, I saw men dressed in black wearing ski masks. I was put in a diaper, a belt with chains to my wrists and ankles, earmuffs, eye pads, a blindfold, and a hood. I was thrown into a plane, my legs and arms spread-eagled and secured to the floor. I felt two injections and became nearly unconscious. I felt the plane take off, land, and take off.

When we landed again, I was beaten and left in a dirty and cold concrete cell with a bottle of putrid water. I was taken to an interrogation room where I saw men dressed in the same black clothing and ski masks as before. They stripped and photographed me and took blood and urine samples. I was returned to the cell.

The following night my interrogations began. They asked me if I knew why I had been detained. I did not. They told me I was now in a country with no laws, and did I understand what that meant?

They asked me many times whether I knew the men who were responsible for the September 11th attacks, if I had traveled to Afghanistan, and if I associated with certain people in Germany. I told the truth: that I had never been in Afghanistan and had never been involved in any extremism. I asked repeatedly to meet with a representative of the German government, or a lawyer, or to be brought before a court. My requests were ignored.

In desperation, I began a hunger strike. After 27 days without food, I was taken to meet with two Americans — the prison director and another man, referred to as “the Boss.” I pleaded with them to release me or bring me before a court, but the prison director replied that he could not release me without permission from Washington. He also said he believed I should not be detained in the prison.

After 37 days without food, I was dragged to the interrogation room, where a feeding tube was forced through my nose into my stomach. I became extremely ill.

I was taken to meet an American who said he had traveled from Washington and who promised I would soon be released. I was also visited by a German-speaking man who explained that I would be allowed to return home but warned that I was never to mention what had happened because the Americans were determined to keep it secret.

Almost five months after I was kidnapped, I was again blindfolded, handcuffed and chained to an airplane seat. I was told we would land in a country other than Germany, but that I would eventually get to Germany.

After we landed I was driven into the mountains. My captors removed my handcuffs and blindfold and told me to walk down a dark, deserted path and not look back. I was afraid I would be shot in the back.

I turned a bend and encountered three men who asked why I was illegally in Albania. They took me to the airport, where I bought a ticket home (my wallet had been returned to me). I had long hair, a beard, and had lost 60 pounds. My wife and children had gone to Lebanon, believing I had abandoned them. We are now together again in Germany.

I still do not know why this happened to me. I have been told that the American Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, confirmed in a meeting with the German chancellor that my case was a "mistake" — and that American officials later denied she said this. No one from the American government has ever contacted me or offered me any explanation or apology for the pain they caused me.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

LGC Newsletter - January 2011


Guantánamo Bay:
Former Australian prisoner Mamdouh Habib has dropped his case against the Australian government for its complicity in his torture and rendition. Arrested in Pakistan shortly after 9/11, he was held and tortured in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Egypt before being taken to Guantánamo Bay. He was released without charge in 2005. In 2006, he started proceedings against the Australian government, which sought to prevent this, but was last year given the right to bring his case and sue the government. He alleges that Australian agents were present when he was tortured during interrogations. In a similar move to the British government, the case was dropped after a confidential, out-of-court settlement was reached between the parties. Similarly as well, the Australian government does not accept liability for the claims that it was complicit in his torture.

On 6 January, a second Algerian prisoner was forcibly returned to his country. Saeed Farhi Mohammed, 49, was returned to the country even though he had expressed fears about possible further arbitrary detention and torture there. A federal judge ordered his release in November 2009 and held that his detention was illegal. In a similar situation to Ahmed Belbacha, having also been held at Guantánamo Bay for over eight years and having lived in the UK, he appealed against his return to Algeria. Like Ahmed, this was temporarily prevented, however since last year, as with the several other Algerian prisoners in the same situation, he was at risk of being returned at any time. Although his appeal is still pending before the US Supreme Court, he was sent to Algeria nonetheless. There has been no news of his situation since his return there. 173 prisoners remain.
More on this news:

On 11 January, another Algerian prisoner, Abdul Razak Ali, captured in Pakistan in 2002, had his habeas corpus petition rejected. He had been seeking a court order for his release on the basis of mistaken identity, that he had been mistaken for an Al-Qaeda member, but this was rejected by the court.

January 2011 marked two important anniversaries in the current incarnation of Guantánamo Bay: 11 January marked the entry into the tenth year of its operation as an illegal torture and arbitrary detention camp and 22 January marked the first anniversary of President Obama’s order to have the prison closed by early 2010, in one of his first acts as president. Since then, with the small number of prisoners released, continuing allegations of torture at the prison and the recent law passed in Congress to prevent the transfer of any more prisoners to the US mainland until at least October 2011, it is very clear that there is no political will or desire whatsoever to close Guantánamo Bay. President Obama’s office is allegedly working on plans to provide a legal structure for the continuing and indefinite detention without charge or trial of at least 50 of the prisoners who cannot be tried. The almost non-existent column space and air time given to this important issue over the past month show that in international and domestic political circles, this is no longer an issue of concern. That Guantánamo Bay and the illegal apparatus that come along with it will remain open and operational is now a given.

On 25 January, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, 36, who was convicted in November of one out of 285 charges against him linking him to the bombing of US embassies in east Africa in 1998, was handed a life sentence. He was found guilty of conspiracy to damage US property. Earlier in the month, lawyers representing him had pleaded for clemency in his sentencing as he had been tortured and “disappeared” for two years into CIA-run torture prisons, however when sentencing, Judge Kaplan stated that his claims of mistreatment “pales in comparison to the suffering and the horror he and his confederates caused”. Eric Holder, the US Attorney General, took the opportunity of his sentencing, to commend the work of the US civilian courts, as he is still in favour of civilian trials for prisoners as opposed to the military commissions which have since been promoted following the success of this hearing. He is now likely to be held at a super-max facility in the US. Gross abuses of prisoners are rife within the US domestic prison system as well.
For more on this news:

Mohamed Riadh Nasri, a Tunisian prisoner who, along with two other prisoners, was transferred to Italy in 2009, was handed a 6-year sentence on 31 January for “criminal association with the aim of terrorism”. Along with two other prisoners, he had been sent to Italy where they were wanted for prosecution. He had previously lived in Italy. Upon arrival in the country, the three men were held at the notorious Macomer Prison in Sardinia.

Extraordinary rendition:
In spite of the out-of-court settlement between the British government and former Guantánamo prisoners in November 2010, the case was brought to the Supreme Court on 24-26 January as several media and non-governmental organisations (BBC/The Guardian/The Times/Liberty/Justice) are bringing a case against MI5 and MI6 for attempting, in this case, to have evidence heard in secret without the knowledge of the claimants or their legal representatives. This would have involved the use of a “special advocate” system such as is in place for control order and national security deportation cases in which specially-vetted lawyers represent the claimants instead without any access to them. The security agencies argue that no intelligence obtained from abroad, through torture or otherwise, should ever be heard in court. However, last year the High Court held that such a move would undermine a claimant’s right to know what the evidence against them is.
In the light of the embarrassment of the Binyam Mohamed case last year, the government will propose a green paper later this year to restrict, if not to withhold completely, the disclosure of intelligence evidence in court.

LGC Activities:
The LGC held a silent vigil in Trafalgar Square at lunchtime on 11 January to mark the solemn ninth anniversary of the opening of the prison camp in solidarity with the prisoners still held there, including Shaker Aamer. This was preceded by the delivery of a letter, with PeaceStrike, to Downing Street signed by over 75 organisations and individuals demanding that the British government step up its action to help close Guantánamo and the immediate release and return to the UK of Shaker Aamer. The LGC has received official acknowledgement of its letter. A shorter version of the letter was published in the Guardian newspaper on the same day.
Over 70 people attended the vigil which was a bright and colourful display that attracted a lot of attention on a grey day against the wonderful backdrop of the National Gallery. The LGC thanks everyone who attended and made this event a success.
For a report with some pictures:
With more pictures:
Videos of the event (both around 3 minutes):

To mark the first anniversary of President Obama’s broken promise to close Guantánamo Bay by early 2010, the LGC had the following comment piece published on Open Democracy:

There was no monthly Shut Down Guantánamo! Demonstration in January. The next demonstration is at 6pm on Friday 4 February outside the US Embassy, Mayfair. It will mark the fourth anniversary of our regular demonstrations (first weekly and now monthly) outside the US Embassy. Please join us if you can. Guantánamo Bay must close and the remaining prisoners, like Shaker Aamer, and their families must be reunited. This will only happen through increased public pressure.
We also urge you to join the demonstration outside Downing Street on Saturday 5 February at 12pm to mark the ninth anniversary of Shaker Aamer’s illegal imprisonment at Guantánamo Bay.