On the Anti-Cuts Protest in London, 500,000 Say No to the Coalition Government’s Arrogant, Ideological Butchery of the British State

by Andy Worthington

Posted at www.andyworthington.co.uk on 26.3.11

Today was the long awaited TUC-led “March for the Alternative” in London, calling for jobs, growth and justice, in the face of the savage programme of public sector cuts imposed by the Tory-led coalition government, which I have been covering since October in a series of hard-hitting articles under the heading, Battle for Britain: Fighting the Coalition Government’s Vile Ideology.

Those of you who have been following my work closely will understand that I was not able to be on the march today, as I’m in St. Thomas’ Hospital, where I’m undergoing treatment for a serious and painful blocking of the blood supply to the toes of my right foot, caused by arterial damage. However, with my magnificent overview of the march from the 11th floor window of my hospital room, overlooking the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Bridge and today — crucially — the Embankment, where the march began at 12 noon, I’m able to confirm that this was undoubtedly the biggest protest I’ve ever seen, with the noble but ultimately doomed exception of the February 2003 demonstration against the Iraq War, which, with an estimated two million attendees, was by far the largest protest in British history.

Continue reading “On the Anti-Cuts Protest in London, 500,000 Say No to the Coalition Government’s Arrogant, Ideological Butchery of the British State”

Former Prisoner Omar Deghayes on 9th Anniversary of Guantánamo

First posted by Andy Worthington

I’m delighted to reproduce below a statement by my friend, the former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Deghayes, which was read out at a rally (at which I spoke) outside the White House on January 11, 2011, the 9th anniversary of the opening of the prison. Omar, whose testimony is at the heart of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” which I co-directed with Polly Nash, was held in US custody from May 2002 until December 2007, and spent most of that time at Guantánamo, after being held first in Pakistan and in Bagram, Afghanistan.

His comments provided a powerful conclusion to the rally, and a reminder not only of how justice still eludes the 173 men still held, but also of how the American people are prevented from hearing about the injustices of Guantánamo first hand, as Omar, and every other cleared prisoner, is prevented from visiting the US to meet people and to tell their stories, and the Obama administration, Congress and the D.C. Circuit Court have all made sure that no cleared prisoner will be allowed to live in the US, even if they face torture in their home countries, and no other country can be found that is prepared to offer them a new home.

A statement from Omar Deghayes, January 11, 2011

Two years ago, President Barack Obama pledged to bring an end to the anomaly that is Guantánamo within a year, and to thereby restore America’s moral standing in the world. Yet today, on January 11, 2011, we are marking the beginning of the tenth year since the first prisoners were transferred to Camp X Ray — and Guantánamo remains open, Obama’s promise in ruins.

Continue reading “Former Prisoner Omar Deghayes on 9th Anniversary of Guantánamo”

On Guantánamo, Obama Hits Rock Bottom

by Andy Worthington

(Photo: AP/Brennan Linsley)

On national security issues, there are now two Americas. In the first, which existed from January to May 2009, the rule of law flickered briefly back to life after eight years of the Bush administration.

In this first America, President Obama swept into office issuing executive orders promising to close Guantánamo and to uphold the absolute ban on torture, and also suspended the much-criticized system of trials by Military Commission used by the Bush administration to secure just three contentious convictions in seven years.

In addition, in April 2009 he complied with a court order to release four “torture memos” issued in 2002 and 2005 by lawyers in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which purported to redefine torture so that it could be used by the CIA (in 2002), or broadly upheld that decision (in 2005). As well as confirming the role of the courts in upholding the law, these documents contained important information for those hoping to hold senior Bush administration officials and lawyers accountable for their actions in the “War on Terror.”

The final flourish of this period was the decision to move a Guantánamo prisoner to New York to face a federal court trial, which took place in May 2009. Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian seized in Pakistan in July 2004, was held in secret CIA custody for over two years, until he was moved to Guantánamo in September 2006, with 13 other men regarded as “high-value detainees.”

Continue reading “On Guantánamo, Obama Hits Rock Bottom”

London student revolt a sign of things to come

by Andy Worthington

They came from all over the country, creating a 50,000-strong throng of students and University lecturers that filled Whitehall. Peaceful but vocal, the protestors were armed only with banners and placards, but at times the noise, as they chanted their opposition to the government’s planned £2.9 bn cut in university funding, was deafening.

I attended the demo for about an hour and a half, and was heartened that so many had turned up. To be frank, every single student in the country should have been there, or they might as well have had ministers turning up at their door asking them to agree that, from today, they will start paying up to £9,000 a year in fees — as opposed to the current rate of £3,290.

There was anger too, as some protestors smashed up Tory HQ on Millbank, while others took to the roof of the building. Some were students, others were not, but predictably, the violence overshadowed the main events of the day in the majority of media reports, and in much of the hand-wringing commentary today. In truth, however, both the massive peaceful demo and the considerably smaller group of violent protestors were indicative of much more unrest to come — and for good reason.

On university education, as on welfare, the coalition government is mounting nothing less than a full-scale assault on the State and on fundamental notions of how British society operates. Critics — either the usual suspects whining about students’ privileges, or the new breed of middle class hypocrites ignoring the fact that their own university educations were subsidized — seem content to accept that university education is not something that contributes to the good of society as a whole, and also to accept, without a murmur, that as a result the axemen of Downing Street should be allowed to impose the most swingeing cuts imaginable.

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Bush Admits he Authorized Torture – Does Anyone Care?

by Andy Worthington

With just days to go before George W. Bush’s memoir, Decision Points, hits bookstores (on November 9), and with reports on the book’s contents doing the rounds after review copies were made available to the New York Times and Reuters, it will be interesting to see how many media outlets allow the former President the opportunity to try to salvage his reputation, how many are distracted by his spat with Kanye West or his claim that he thought about replacing Dick Cheney as Vice President in 2004, and how many decide that, on balance, it would be more honest to remind readers and viewers of the former President’s many crimes — including the illegal invasion of Iraq, and the authorization of the use of torture on “high-value detainees” seized in the “War on Terror.”

As I fall firmly into the latter camp, this article focuses on what little has so far emerged regarding the President’s views on Guantánamo, and, in particular, on his confession that he authorized the waterboarding of “high-value detainee” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, which is rather more important than trading blows with a rapper about whether or not his response to the Katrina disaster was racist, as it is a crime under domestic and international law.

On Guantánamo

On Guantánamo, the only comments in the book that have so far emerged are insultingly flippant, which is disgraceful from the man who shredded the Geneva Conventions and authorized an unprecedented program of arbitrary detention, coercive interrogation and torture. In addition, Bush’s baleful legacy lives on in the cases of the 174 men still held, in the recent show trial of Omar Khadr, and in the complacency regarding the basis for detaining prisoners of the “War on Terror” — the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed by Congress the week after the 9/11 attacks — on which Barack Obama continues to rely, despite its formidable shortcomings.

As Michiko Kakutani explained in a review of the book for the New York Times:

He tries to play down the problems of Guantánamo Bay, writing that detainees were given “a personal copy of the Koran” and access to a library among whose popular offerings was “an Arabic translation of Harry Potter.”

Continue reading “Bush Admits he Authorized Torture – Does Anyone Care?”

US Court Denies Justice to Dead Men at Guantánamo

by Andy Worthington

Last Wednesday, in the District Court in Washington D.C., Judge Ellen Huvelle turned down (PDF) a second attempt by the families of Yasser al-Zahrani, a Saudi, and Salah al-Salami, a Yemeni (two of the three men who died in mysterious circumstances in Guantánamo on June 9, 2006, along with Mani al-Utaybi, another Saudi) to hold US officials accountable for the circumstances in which their family members were held and in which they died.

Judge Huvelle’s ruling came in spite of additional evidence submitted by the families (PDF), drawing on the accounts of four US soldiers who were present in Guantánamo at the time of the deaths, and who have presented a number of compelling reasons why the official story of the men’s triple suicide (as endorsed by a Naval Criminal Investigative Service report in 2008) is a cover-up. That story, written by Scott Horton, was published by Harper’s Magazine in January this year, and I covered it here, and also in an update in June, although it has largely been ignored in the mainstream US media.

The case, Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld, was initially filed in January 2009, and primarily involved the families of the dead men seeking to claim damages through the precedent of a case known as Bivens, decided by the Supreme Court in 1971, in which, for the first time, damages claims for constitutional violations committed by federal agents were allowed. The families claimed relief under the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause (preventing individuals from being deprived of life, liberty, or property without “due process of law”) and the Eighth Amendment (which prohibits the infliction of “cruel and unusual punishments”), as well as submitting a claim, under the Alien Tort Claims Act, “alleging torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and violations of the Geneva Conventions.”

Despite the families’ claims, the case was dismissed by the District Court on February 16, 2010, for two particular reasons. One involved a handful of legal precedents — including Rasul v. Myers, a case brought in 2006 by four former Guantánamo detainees from the UK, which was finally turned down by the Supreme Court in December 2009. In the hope of making tortuous legal reasoning comprehensible to the lay reader, these rulings essentially provide precedents for preventing the courts from providing a Bivens remedy and entitle the defendants to “qualified immunity against plaintiffs’ constitutional claims.”

Rather more readily comprehensible, and deeply shocking, is a clause in the Military Commissions Act, passed by Congress in the fall of 2006 and unchanged in the legislation revived under President Obama in 2009, which, as well as creating — or bringing back to life — the much-criticized Military Commission trial system for Guantánamo prisoners that was ruled illegal by the Supreme Court in June 2006, also granted blanket immunity to anyone involved in any activities relating to the detention and treatment of prisoners held in the “War on Terror.”

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Omar Khadr has lost one third of his Life in US Custody

by Andy Worthington

Omar Khadr, the only Canadian citizen in Guantánamo, was seized in Afghanistan on July 27, 2002, when he was just 15 years old. On September 19 he turned 24, and has grown, physically, into a man during the eight years and two months he has spent in US custody, first at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, and, since October 2002, at Guantánamo. At heart, however, he remains a child, whose youth has been stolen from him by the US authorities responsible for detaining him, and by the Canadian government, which has refused to demand his return.

I don’t want you to reflect, however, particularly on the abuse to which he has been subjected throughout his detention, or on the US government’s shameful refusal to rehabilitate him, rather than punishing him, as required by its obligations under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which includes the agreement that all States Parties who ratify the Protocol “[r]ecogniz[e] the special needs of those children who are particularly vulnerable to recruitment or use in hostilities,” and are “[c]onvinced of the need [for] the physical and psychosocial rehabilitation and social reintegration of children who are victims of armed conflict.”

I don’t want you to reflect particularly on the Canadian government’s shameful refusal to demand his return to his homeland, despite severe criticism by the Canadian courts, or on the Obama administration’s shameful refusal to cancel his scheduled trial by Military Commission, on war crimes charges that — even if the allegations are true — are not war crimes at all, as Lt. Col. David Frakt, the military defense attorney for another former child at Guantánamo, Mohamed Jawad (who was released last August), has explained.

Continue reading “Omar Khadr has lost one third of his Life in US Custody”

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