Tuesday, June 30, 2015

LGC Newsletter – June 2015

During a private meeting of under an hour during the G7 summit in Germany, Prime Minister David Cameron raised Shaker Aamer’s case with Barack Obama and urged him to resolve Aamer’s case. Downing Street did not reveal the US President’s response, if any.

Following reports that Shaker Aamer and several other prisoners would be released within weeks and possibly by the end of June, this has not materialised. After the release of 6 Yemeni prisoners to Oman on 12 June, it emerged that no further cases had been put forward for clearance, meaning there would be no further releases in June. Nonetheless, the campaign for the release of Shaker Aamer, led by the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, has kept up the pressure over the past month with a demonstration to mark the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta opposite Downing Street on 15 June, a parliamentary meeting on 23rd June and weekly vigils opposite the Houses of Parliament.

Guantánamo Bay:
On 2 June, Reuters published an account of the torture Guantánamo prisoner and former secret CIA prison detainee Majid Khan faced while held at such facilities: “Majid Khan said interrogators poured ice water on his genitals, twice videotaped him naked and repeatedly touched his "private parts" – none of which was described in the Senate report. Interrogators, some of whom smelled of alcohol, also threatened to beat him with a hammer, baseball bats, sticks and leather belts, Khan said.”
Following the release of the Senate report on CIA torture in December 2014, more details have emerged of the various forms of torture faced by prisoners: this 27-page account by Khan to his lawyers was cleared for public release in May.
Khan was kidnapped in Pakistan in 2003 and held at secret CIA sites until 2006 when he was taken to Guantánamo. In 2012, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy, material support, murder and spying charges [note the first two are no longer offences that Guantánamo prisoners can be tried or convicted of]; he is currently awaiting sentencing.

French former Guantánamo prisoner Mourad Benchellali, released in 2004 without charge or trial, was prevented from boarding a flight to Montreal in Canada as the flight would have to pass through US air space and he is on a US no-fly list. He was due to address a peace conference.

In one of the most important pieces of news to come out of Guantánamo in a very long time, Yemeni prisoner Ali Hamza al Bahlul won his appeal against conviction in 2008 for a second time. He originally won his case in 2011 when all three of the convictions against him – material support, conspiracy and solicitation – were overturned. The US government sought a retrial which was granted. In July 2014, a panel of judges overturned the conviction on charges of solicitation and material support – leading to the quashing of other convictions, including that of Australian former prisoner David Hicks – but left the conspiracy issue to be appealed further. In the 2-1 decision on 12 June, judges decided that the military commissions did not have the jurisdiction to convict al Bahlul of a conspiracy charge as it is not a crime recognised under the international law of war.
This ruling may be further appealed by the US government but remains a very important decision which further undermines any future military commission trials and convictions and paves the way for the appeal of existing convictions, such as that of Omar Khadr.

On 12 June, 6 Yemeni prisoners were released to Oman, the second transfer of prisoners to the country, as they cannot be returned to their own country. All 6 men had long been cleared for release and never charged. There are currently 116 prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay.

Australian activist Dr Aloysia Brooks has won a 3-year Freedom of Information battle to have a series of documents and communication between the US and Australian governments over the repatriation and treatment of former Australian Guantánamo prisoner disclosed. The Australian Information Commissioner said he had no reason to block the disclosure of this information. The Australian government has 30 days to appeal this decision. Dr Brooks is also suing the CIA and the FBI in the US for the disclosure of further documents she has been unable to obtain in Australia.

Following a series of moves in the US Senate and Congress to block and impede the release of Guantánamo prisoners, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter stated that he is hopeful but not confident that Guantánamo will close before Barack Obama leaves office in early 2017.

On 23 June, a Libyan prisoner, Omar Khalif Mohammed Abu Baker, who has never been charged in over 13 years and is suffering at Guantánamo due to untreated wounds he suffered prior to his kidnap in Pakistan in 2002, had a hearing before the prisoner review board to see whether he could be cleared for release.
On 26 June, Saudi prisoner Abdul Rahman Shalabi, who has been on hunger strike for almost a decade, was cleared by the review board. Although this means he can be released, in practice it means he will remain where he is. He has never been charged.
The US has appointed Lee Wolosky, a former National Security Council director, as the new envoy for the closure of Guantánamo. The post has been vacant since Clifford Sloan stepped down in December citing the slow rate of transfers. Wolosky will start work in July.

Extraordinary Rendition:
On 23 June, a group of civil rights organisations in the US sent a letter to the Department of Justice demanding it appoints a special prosecutor for torture and holds the CIA to account. http://www.amnestyusa.org/news/press-releases/amnesty-international-aclu-and-human-rights-watch-urge-doj-to-appoint-special-prosecutor-for-torture
Another letter to the UN, signed by over 100 organisations, called for accountability for CIA torture in the war on terror.
This was backed by the UN Special Rapporteur for Torture Juan Mendez

On 23 June, the European Court of Human Rights heard a case brought in 2009 by Abu Omar, a Milan-based imam who was kidnapped and rendered to Egypt by the CIA in 2003, and his wife. The criminal prosecution in Italy is the only case in the world where CIA agents have been convicted of extraordinary rendition-related offences; Italian agents were also convicted in the case, although their convictions were later quashed. Abu Omar himself was convicted in a 2013 case on terrorism-related offences in a case that pre-dates his kidnapping in 2003. He now lives in Egypt and did not appeal the conviction. Italy denies that its agents were involved in the rendition and states that it was the actions of the CIA alone, even though Abu Omar was kidnapped in broad daylight in the street.

LGC Activities:
The LGC June Shut Guantánamo demonstration was attended by 5 people. The July demo will be on Thursday 2 July: https://www.facebook.com/events/1458025957831108/

The LGC marked UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on Friday 26 June with a silent vigil in Trafalgar Square. Around 40 people joined as activists raised the issue of the right to rehabilitation of torture survivors.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

26 June: Torture Victims Have a Right to Rehabilitation

Solidarity Vigil

As we have done every year since 2010, the London Guantánamo Campaign held a vigil in solidarity with victims and survivors of torture everywhere on Friday 26 June to mark UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. The silent vigil, held in Trafalgar Square on a busy Friday evening was attended by around 40 people and supported by the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign.

Noel Hamel (centre) with the banner he made for this event)

One of dozens of events held worldwide to mark this important date, the theme this year is the right to rehabilitation. This involves a number of factors to help restore survivors to the situation they were in – physically, mentally, psychologically, materially – prior to being tortured as best as is possible. It covers a variety of means such as compensation, physical rehabilitation, therapy, justice and guarantees it will not happen again. Although a human right, many victims do not receive any such treatment or facilities.

The right to rehabilitation was highlighted at the vigil with placards, leaflets handed out with information on the issue and banners mentioning the relevant UN articles on rehabilitation for torture victims. Although usually very well received and supported by the general public, increasing misinformation and propaganda in the mainstream media over various issues has left quite a few people confused about what torture is and who torture victims are.

Right to Rehabilitation and Guantánamo Prisoners*
The right to rehabilitation is a major issue for both former and the remaining 112 Guantánamo prisoners. All are survivors of torture both at the prison camp and in other US military and CIA-run facilities. The release at the end of 2014 of a redacted version of the US Senate report into CIA torture under the so-called War on Terror has shed further light on the abuses and inhumane practices prisoners – the vast majority of whom have never been charged or tried – have been subjected to.

Earlier this month, gruesome details were published of the torture faced by Majid Khan who after being kidnapped in Pakistan in 2003 was held at secret CIA torture prisons between 2003 and 2006 until being taken to Guantánamo Bay. Earlier this year, lawyers for one of the defendants facing trial for alleged involvement in the September 11 2001 attacks revealed details of the torture their client suffered through CIA torture and from which he still suffers due to inadequate medical care, including the inability to sit down comfortably due to rape.
Few prisoners have ever received adequate medical care at Guantánamo Bay. It was only in 2014 that Omar Khadr, held at Guantánamo Bay for over a decade, and released to his native Canada in 2012 finally received treatment for a shoulder injury he sustained in 2002. A former Russian prisoner, released in 2004, still has a bullet lodged in his thigh from an injury in an Afghan prison in 2001 due to inadequate care at Guantánamo and in Russia. 

In addition, the response to prisoners protesting their indefinite detention through hunger strikes has been met with more torture through force-feeding. The long-term effects of such action on the body are not dealt with and can lead to further health complications later on. The US must provide the prisoners it is currently holding with adequate medical care and also expedite periodic reviews of prisoners held without charge or trial, deemed “forever prisoners”, as a means of rehabilitation.

For prisoners who are released, rehabilitation can remain a challenge. With the current drive to empty Guantánamo by the Obama administration, over the past year, many of those released have been sent to third countries due to insecurity and war in their own countries of origin. As the US washes its hands of prisoners as soon as they are released, some can find themselves facing almost-complete isolation and poverty in their new surroundings. In May 2015, a former prisoner released to Kazakhstan at the end of 2014 died of kidney failure due to inadequate medical care at Guantánamo and after his release. 
While the US is applauded for prisoner releases, not much emphasis is put on the often precarious situations former prisoners find themselves in post-release. The US must ensure that all prisoners are released to countries where they are safe and their physical and moral integrity is not compromised. They must be guaranteed the right to rehabilitation, including legal, medical and financial assistance.
The London Guantánamo Campaign remains committed to ensuring justice for all Guantánamo prisoners. While we emphasised how this issue affects Guantánamo prisoners, it relates closely as well to all prisoners who have been and are the subject of extraordinary rendition, an ongoing programme by the CIA.

Media of the event:

* These issues were raised at a meeting held in the UK parliament on Tuesday 23 June 2015 on the case of British resident and Guantánamo prisoner Shaker Aamer by Aisha Maniar, organiser of the London Guantánamo Campaign

Friday, June 26, 2015

THE TORTURE TRAP: 26 June vigil for International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

The London Guantánamo Campaign invites you to join us at


a solidarity vigil in support of victims of torture on

UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

At 5.30-7pm, on Friday 26 June 2015

outside the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square

Torture is a life sentence without a judge or a jury. It is not used to obtain a reliable confession but to break the tortured individual and serve as an example to others. The physical and mental trauma of torture continues to haunt the lives of victims, and often their families and communities, long after the physical pain has ended. Where torture is used in a systematic and widespread manner, whole societies can be traumatised.
Torture survivors have a right to rehabilitation, yet for many, there is often little official recognition of what they have suffered.
The London Guantánamo Campaign invites you to join us and stand in recognition of the suffering and rights of victims and survivors of torture: a humane gesture alien to many in positions of power able to put an end to the use of torture.

For more details, e-mail london.gtmo@gmail.com or call 07809 757 176

The London Guantánamo has been campaigning since 2006 for the return of all British residents from the Guantánamo Bay prison camp, the release of all prisoners, the closure of this prison and other similar prisons and an end to the practice of extraordinary rendition. Human rights for all.

Friday, May 29, 2015

LGC Newsletter – May 2015

On 19-20 May, a delegation of four British MPs – Jeremy Corbyn (Labour), Andy Slaughter (Labour), Andrew Mitchell (Conservative) and David Davies (Conservative) – from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Shaker Aamer travelled to the US to raise awareness of the plight of the last British resident in Guantánamo Bay, Shaker Aamer, who has been held there without charge or trial for over 13 years. During the intense two-day visit, meetings were held in Washington between the MPs and the British Ambassador, the Special Envoy for the Closure of Guantanamo, Ambassador Paul Lewis from the Pentagon, acting Special Envoy Charles Trumbull from the State Department. They held discussions with influential Senators and attorneys including John McCain (Rep. Arizona), Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Joe Manchin (Dem, West Virginia), member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Bill Monahan, senior  counsel to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Patrick Leahy, (Dem. Vermont), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dianne Feinstein (Dem, California), Chair and ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Dick Durbin, (Dem. Illinois), Chair and Ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law. US officials were informed of concerns and interest in the UK in the case and popular support for Shaker Aamer to return to his family here, as well as MPs raising the fact that the continued detention of Aamer, in spite of repeat requests from the UK for his return, is undermining the special relationship between the two states.

Funding for the delegation was made possible through efforts by the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, including a day-long ‘cage’ action in Trafalgar Square on 16 May, which raised both funds and awareness.

Following similar media reports in April, on 27 May, Shaker Aamer’s lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith from Reprieve reported on BBC radio that he had been informed by various US officials that Shaker Aamer could be released within weeks and could be reunited with his family as early as June. However, similar reports by officials have been made in the past and did not materialise.

Guantánamo Bay:
On 1st May, in an unusual step, the US government won a military commission appeal which means that the conviction of former Sudanese prisoner, Ibrahim Al-Qosi, who was convicted in 2010 and returned to Sudan in 2012 after serving his sentence, remains intact. In a short judgment, judges dismissed the appeal as his lawyer lacked jurisdiction as she did not have his permission to represent him in the appeal. The military commission court had however denied her application for funding to travel to Sudan to get his permission to do so. One of his convictions – for material support for terrorism – has since been successfully appealed by others. This is only the second of seven sentences handed down by the military commission court that remains intact.

It is not just the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay that US military staff bully and abuse. Although no one has been charged or convicted for the abuse of prisoners, in mid-May, Staff Sgt. Dustin A. Barker from Scott, Kentucky was found guilty of ‘hazing’ -humiliating and intentionally physically abusing - Marines at Guantánamo in 2013. In one incident he ordered one marine to punch another so hard that he urinated blood. He was found guilty of the charges and demoted in rank.

A retired Supreme Court judge has called for some prisoners to be compensated for having knowingly been held illegally by the US. He said that prisoners who continue to be detained after being cleared for release should be given reparations as the US knows that they do not pose a threat to it.

Having won the right to be bailed by a Canadian court in late April, Omar Khadr’s hearing at which his bail term would be heard was delayed from Tuesday 5 May to Thursday 7 May, as there was an election being held in the state of Alberta. On Thursday, the judge agreed to generous bail terms while Khadr appeals his military commission conviction in the US and dismissed an appeal against bail by the Canadian government. Leaving the court, it was the first time Khadr has walked through a door pushed by him and freely in almost 13 years. He is currently living with the family of his lawyer Dennis Edney QC in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He spoke to the press on the evening of his release and was the subject of a documentary – the first time he has been able to speak to the press – that was aired on Canadian television on 28 May and will be repeated on Al Jazeera in early June.
On 14 May, in a further victory, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that – while detained – Omar Khadr should be treated as a juvenile and not an adult offender. Now bailed, the ruling in moot but was brought by his lawyers to have removed to a provincial correctional facility rather than a federal penitentiary.

On 19 May, four former prisoners accepted as refugees in Uruguay who had held a protest outside the US Embassy in the capital Montevideo demanding extra support and that the US gives them reparations for holding them illegally for 13 years struck a deal with Uruguayan government negotiators. The deal, which is not much of a real improvement on the original deal offered to the men, will see them receive rent for their own homes, assistance in finding jobs and learning Spanish and a small monthly stipend to cover their basic needs. Since arriving in the country at the end of last year, the six men who are all torture survivors and in need of rehabilitation, have all struggled. They were given a flat to share but wanted privacy. They were offered menial jobs, such as working as fruit pickers, even though the jobs were sometimes difficult to get to and difficult to carry out given their physical health. In addition, the men were seeking to bring their families to the country – four of the men are from Syria and their families are still in the war-torn country – but the small wages they will receive in addition to the stipend will not be sufficient to do this. As proof that the men are eager to adapt to their new surroundings and to get on with their lives, local Uruguayan media has reported that two of them will be getting married to Uruguayan women at the beginning of June.

Asim Thabit Abdullah al-Khalaqi, 47, a Yemeni prisoner held without charge or trial at Guantánamo for over 12 years and released to Kazakhstan at the end of 2014, died on 7 May. He is reported to have been in poor health and died of kidney failure. It is reported that poor medical care at Guantánamo may have contributed to his death.
Extraordinary Rendition:
Prosecutors in Scotland investigating the use of airports in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Prestwick and Aberdeen for CIA torture flights have submitted a request to the US authorities to receive a complete and unredacted version of the Senate torture to help its inquiries.

LGC Activities:
The LGC May Shut Guantánamo demonstration was attended by 9 people. We were joined by the family of American prisoner in Iraq Shawki Ahmed Omar. The June demo will be on Thursday 4 June: https://www.facebook.com/events/1612696089007212/