Posts Tagged ‘Amnesty International’

Guantanamo – America’s Shameful Prison

Tuesday, January 11th, 2022

Amnesty International protesters close to the US Embassy

January 11th was for quite a few years a busy day for protests; it marked the anniversary of the setting up by the United States of a military prison as a torture camp at the disputed US Guantanamo Bay naval camp on the island of Cuba.

Prisoners’ had taken turns in the cage overnight

Set up in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack as a part of George W Bush’s ‘War on Terror’, the camp and the activities which took place there destroyed any final vestige of higher moral ground America could lay claim to in its role of world policeman, something that its various largely clandestine involvements in various South American American coups and activities in the Middle East and elsewhere had already largely laid waste.

Guantanamo is still there, still open, though the great majority of the 779 men brought there have been released. Most were totally innocent, victims of a US policy of offering $5,000 rewards for the capture of ‘terrorists’ to Pakistani and Afghan groups, who took the money for turning in anyone they felt would get them the money.

In October 2021, there were still 39 men held at Guantanamo, including ten who had long been cleared for release. Very few of those held over the years have faced trails trials and very few were involved in any acts of terrorism. Bush and Obama acted slowly but together released well over 700 of the prisoners, but Trump only released one, effectively stopping the process.

Protests continue in the UK, but on a much smaller scale, particularly since the last British resident, Shaker Aamer was released without charge or trial after 13 years of imprisonment and torture in 2015.

In 2008 Amnesty International organised a large protest in Grosvenor Square, a few yards from the US Embassy, though the street in front of the embassy had been closed to prevent protests there. They brought with them two cages, similar to those in which the prisoners were imprisoned outdoors at Guantanamo, with a large group of people wearing the orange jumpsuits which they are made to wear there. Protesters dressed as guards in military style uniforms harassed the ‘prisoners’ interrogating them and threatening them with violence and with aggressive-looking dogs.

From Grosvenor Square I went up to the Regents Park Mosque, where activists from Cageprisoners and the London Guantánamo Campaign, some also in those orange jumpsuits and one manacled hand and foot. There they were handing out leaflets to those attending Friday Prayers.

Later I went with them to Paddington Green Police station, where terrorist suspects are detained and questioned in this country. They were going on to continue to protest in Parliament Square, but I returned first to the US Embassy, where the London Catholic Worker Community was holding a two hour vigil closed to the corner of the Embassy, holding placards and lighting candles for those still held and several who had died there. Several were alleged to have committed suicide, but later evidence emerged strongly suggesting they had died during torture.

The final event of the day was a rally in Parliament Square organised by Cageprisoners and the London Guantánamo Campaign with a number of speakers including Victoria Brittain, former Guantanamo prisoner Moazzam Begg, laywers including Gareth Peirce, Bruce Kent, Yvonne Ridley and Jean Lambert MEP.

It was dark, cold and wet, but those present were cheered by the announcement at the end of the rally that Scotland Yard were investigating allegations of 14 criminal offences committed by Tony Blair and Lord Goldsmith and others which resulted in the deaths of Iraqi citizens during the armed invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Unfortunately and predictably these investigations came to nothing, and though the Chilcot report was damning in parts, Blair not only got off scot-free but this New Year was awarded a knighthood. A few days ago one of several petitions to have his “Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter” rescinded reached over a million signatures. Mine was one of them.

Six years of Guantanamo: Amnesty
London Guantanamo Campaign / Cageprisoners
Guantanamo – London Catholic Worker
Guantanamo – Parliament Square Rally


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US Shame – Jan 11th

Monday, January 11th, 2021

Many commentators after the recent Trump-induced invasion of the US Capitol said that the 6th January 2021 (1/6/21) is a date that will go down in history as a day of shame for the US, comparing it to December 7, 1941, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. The latter was perhaps a little over the top, as that attack killed 2,403 US personnel, while the death toll after police let Trump supporters in to protest currently stands at five, three of these from health-related issues. But certainly it was a shameful day for US democracy – and a date that might well have been better compared to 1/11/02, 11th January 2002, the date when the first prisoners were held in illegal detention at Guantánamo Bay.

It was five years later than I first photographed a protest against this illegal detention, outside the US Embassy in London, still then in Grosvenor Square, where Amnesty International had brought over a hundred people dressed in orange jump suits to represent the detaines, forming them up into a large block in front of the embassy.

The following year on the sixth anniversary I photographed rather more demonstrations around London. Amnesty were back again outside the US Embassy, though the area in front of the embassy had been sealed off, presumably to prevent the protest taking place there. Instead it was on the street just to one side.

My next stop was the Regents Park Mosque, where I met a group of campaigners, some dressed in the now familiar orange jump suits, from the London Guantánamo Campaign and Cageprisoners who were handing out fliers calling for the closure of the Guantánamo prison camp at various sites around London all day. After giving them to people leaving the Mosque after Friday prayers I went with them to Paddington Green Police Station, where terrorist suspects were normally detained and questioned.

From there I returned to the US Embassy, where the pavement in front was now open again, and a small group from London Catholic Worker had come to hold a vigil. A man from the US Embassy came out and tried to get them to move away, but they stood their ground, lighting a circle of candles as it grew dark.

The final event of the day was a rally in Parliament Square, with speakers including former Guantánamo detainee Moazzam Begg (above) and leading campaigners for the closure of this illegal prison which has cast huge shame on the claims of the USA to be a freedom-loving democracy which upholds international law. Of course those claims have long been known to be largely sham, with the USA backing many of the world’s most repressive regimes, taking part in shady affairs such as the Bay of Pigs attempted invasion, and sponsoring coups such as the 1973 Chilean coup d’état that deposed the Popular Unity government of President Salvador Allende on ‘9/11’ 1973.

Although many detainees have been released – there was no evidence against the great majority who were simply foreigners who far various reasons in the wrong place at the wrong time, many held by militias and sold to the US who were offering considerable bounties – the camp remains open. President Trump in 2018 signed an executive order to keep the detention camp open indefinitely, and currently 40 prisoners remain there, still subject to torture and degrading conditions. Guantánamo remains a shameful blot on the United States.

2007
Close guantanamo 5th anniversary demonstration

2008
Six years of Guantanamo: Amnesty
London Guantanamo Campaign / Cageprisoners
Guantanamo – London Catholic Worker
Guantanamo – Parliament Square Rally

There are reports on many later protests calling for the closure of Guantánamo on My London Diary.

Enforced Disappearance

Tuesday, April 14th, 2020

A post by Shahidul Alam, The journalist who got too close, reminded me of the dangers faced by journalists and photographers in some countries of the world, and in Bangladesh in particular, where extra-judicial killings and ‘disappearances’ are now common, despite government protestations there that they show ‘zero tolerance’ to extra-judicial killings, or torture and death in custody.

Alam writes:

On March 10, 2020, the Bangladesh police registered a case against photojournalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol and 31 others under the country’s draconian Digital Security Act for publishing ‘false, offensive and defamatory’ information on Facebook. He has not been seen since.

You can read more about his case at Amnesty International who have released a video showing CCTV footage of unidentified men interfering with his motorbike outside the offices of his Bangla daily Dainik Pokkhokal for which he was both editor and photojournalist shortly before he left the office and rode away on the evening of 10 March 2020. He has not been seen since. Police filed a new case against him three hours after he was last seen.

You can see a few photographs by Shafiqul Islam Kajol on the Majority World agency web site. His disappearance took place after he and 31 others were accused of publishing “false, offensive and defamatory” information on Facebook. He had been publishing about sex scandals by members of the ruling party. He had previously been badly injured in several attacks when covering their political rallies.