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  January 14, 2013

Protestors and Former Detainees Mark Guantanamo Anniversary in London


Human Rights Groups emphasise that rule of law and due process have been further eroded under Obama
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Protestors and Former Detainees Mark Guantanamo Anniversary in LondonHassan Ghani

Another year, and another sombre vigil outside the US embassy in London. A somewhat eclectic gathering in near freezing temperatures ensured that 11 years of Guantanamo did not go unmarked.

Aisha Maniar, London Guantanamo Campaign

“It’s down to the public now. President Obama broke his promise four years ago to close Guantanamo Bay. The argument with so-called terrorists, is that terrorists act outside of the law; but what we actually see is governments acting like mafia, like terrorists themselves, and they too are acting outside the known confines of the law. There’s no exceptions for the use of torture, there’s no reason for arbritrary detention – if people have committed crimes then try them, in a normal court of law. Try them and then lock them up. Don’t lock them up and then hold them for eleven years and say ‘oh these people are bad because we say so’.”

Alice, Student Activist

“It’s just unintelligible that it would still be open. And especially the inhumane treatment to people that have been proven innocent.”

Hassan Ghani

Of the nearly 800 men and children held in Guantanamo over the years, today 166 still remain. More than half of them have also cleared for release, some many years ago. But despite having come out clean after years of detention without trial, interrogations, and torture - or what the US department of defence called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’, they remain trapped in this legal blackhole.

Staff at ‘Reprieve’, the legal action charity, have been working on some of the cases.

Hilary Stauffer, Deputy Director of Reprieve

“The US Congress in 2010 passed a law called the National Defence Authorisation Act – that is the defence bill for the year, that’s just the spending bill that manages the budget for the army. But they also tacked on a provision in there that had a lot to do with Guantanamo.

It said that no US funds could be used to transfer detainees. It said that detainees could never be transferred or resettled in the United States, even the ones that are completely innocent. And it said that if they were going to be released, the Secretary of Defence, the Secretary of State, and the Director of National Intelligence all had to agree. And that the country he went to had to certify that he would never commit an act of terrorism again, certify that he would never pose a threat to the United States ever again, and had to certify that they would watch him in perpetuity. And it’s very difficult to meet those, no one’s been released since the NDAA came into effect, except through political deals behind the scenes.”

Hassan Ghani

Among those cleared for release several years ago is the last remaining British resident in Guantanamo, Shaker Aamer. His family have been campaigning on his behalf. But, for the moment, there doesn’t seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel.

Hilary Stauffer, Deputy Director of Reprieve

“In many cases these men don’t want to go back to where they are from. Shaker is a British resident, he’s married to a British citizen, has children who are British citizens, but he’s originally from Saudi Arabia. If he went back to Saudi Arabia he’d probably be very very mistreated or tortured, because that happens in a lot of places, these guys go back to countries that are less democratic than others, and it’s guilt by suspicion. So they don’t want to go back to their country of origin, they want to be resettled to a third country. But in many cases these countries say ‘if the US wont take them, why should we?’”

Hassan Ghani

For those who’ve survived rendition, torture and detention without trial, and have begun rebuilding their lives, the mental scars are enduring. And the anniversary brings with it a reminder of those left behind.

Bisher al-Rawi, Guantanamo Detainee 2002-2007

“We write them letters, we keep in touch with their families, we try to send them news. And although it’s extremely important to work, it’s extremely painful. Every day is a reminder. I look in the faces of my children and I think of the brothers who have left their children behind, the brothers who have not had families – people who got married and never had kids.”

Hassan Ghani

Omar Deghayez was held in Guantanamo for five years. At one point he was beaten so badly, that he lost the use of one of his eyes.

Omar Deghayes, Guantanamo Detainee 2002-2007

“They were holding my head back and holding me down, and then he pushed his fingers into my eyes. I didn’t understand what he was doing so I had my eyes clearly open, until I felt the pain of his fingers coming wholly inside the eyes, and he was pushing harder. So I closed my eyes but it was too late when his fingers were already inside. And the officer kept saying to him ‘more more’, and the guard was screaming, because he was I think frightened himself, saying ‘I am I am’.

I think they wanted to make an example of us, we were in a ‘Oscar’ block where they thought we were rebellious, because they did that to me and then they went to the next cell and the next cell, and they did it to all of them. It was one night they did that. Several people lost their eyes.

The mistreatment in Guantanamo will last with you, I think, forever. It’s a grave wound, probably it will stay in the heart, in the psyche, of the person.”

Hassan Ghani

Like other former detainees, he too feels a sense of guilt at being free when others remain inside.

Omar Deghayes, Guantanamo Detainee 2002-2007

“There are still people who were with us, comrades, people who are inmates, friends of ours, people who we lived with and we promised that when we go out.. they had expectations that we would be able to speak about them – especially us in the United Kingdom, because many who are released to Saudi Arabia, Yemen and others are gagged, imprisoned, sometimes silenced by force.

When they heard the announcement in Guantanamo that I was going to be released, people were celebrating as if they were going to be released. Because they know my background, I’m a lawyer, a human rights lawyer, and on top of that I speak English, on top of that I’m in the UK.”

Hassan Ghani

But while media attention is generally drawn to Guantanamo, the US administration and the CIA hold prisoners in even more controversial facilities in other countries around the world, known as black sites, where few know what really goes on. And now, with drone strikes, human rights organisations say the Obama administration has completely bypassed the whole legal process.

Hilary Stauffer, Deputy Director of Reprieve

“It’s a controversial policy, but instead of capturing terrorism suspects he’s often just killing them abroad through drone strikes, so that you negate the need for a prison if you’re not even bringing people to any kind of trial, or you’re just killing them on the ground. Generally, the vast majority of them are just unnamed alleged terrorists abroad, but nobody has any idea what they’re being charged with. And drone strikes are particularly problematic because Obama has said that his justification is basically anybody in military age, between 18 and 65, is a target, a potential militant, and it’s up to them to prove after the fact that they weren’t a militant. But if they’re dead, it’s very difficult to prove that.”

Hassan Ghani

For protestors outside the US embassy in London, Guantanamo remains a powerful symbol of a wider unjust system, and they say they know their work isn’t over if the prison closes tomorrow.

“It’s likely that opponents of the US government’s network of renditions, black sites, and drone killings will be meeting here for many more years to come. The US administration says that some of the detainees it currently holds can be held indefinitely, without charge or trial, pending an end to hostilities, as prisoners of war. The seemingly never-ending, ever-expanding, war on terror. Hassan Ghani, for the Real News, London.



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