Lush celebrates the release from Guantánamo of al-Jazeera journalist Sami al-Haj

7.5.08

Lush, the ethical — and politically motivated — cosmetics company, which launched a nationwide initiative in March to raise awareness of the plight of the prisoners in Guantánamo (who have been held without charge or trial in the offshore prison for up to six years and four months), celebrated the release of al-Jazeera journalist Sami al-Haj at the weekend by issuing a new poster for the “A” boards outside all 84 of its UK stores, bearing the headline, “Sami Freed!” but pointing out that “Thousands of people are still being illegally held in secret prisons around the world.”

Lush's new Sami al-Haj poster

Sami, along with British resident Binyam Mohamed, who remains in Guantánamo, is featured in Lush’s “Guantánamo Garden” bath ballistic, which dissolves to reveal a picture of one of the two men, and a link to the website of the legal action charity Reprieve, which represents Sami, Binyam and 35 other prisoners in Guantánamo, and is the beneficiary of the company’s latest campaign.

Lush is to be congratulated for fearlessly celebrating Sami’s release — and for pointing out that thousands of other men are still being held without charge or trial in US-run prisons around the world — because, as I reported when the initiative began, the company immediately ran into trouble in Reading, where the owners of the Oracle shopping centre objected to a similar poster requesting “A Fair Trial for Sami/Binyam” by claiming that it contravened the terms of the lease, which stipulated that retailers were prohibited from displaying signs which, “in the reasonable opinion of the Landlord,” are of a “distasteful, offensive or political nature.”

This act of political censorship provoked a stern rebuke from Reprieve, whose Director, Clive Stafford Smith, pointed out, “The management of the Oracle at Reading has failed to demonstrate why a fair trial is either distasteful or political,” and added that “numerous avowedly political campaigns have been — and continue to be — presented in the centre’s stores. Topshop, for example, has rightfully campaigned for Fair Trade, and Lush itself has campaigned against animal testing and against unnecessary packaging, without attracting criticism from the management.” He concluded that the Oracle’s position was, inexplicably, “Fair trade is okay, fair trials are not.”

The Oracle was not the only venue for critics who seemed to have swallowed the US administration’s long-derided claims that men held without charge or trial can be described as “the worst of the worst.” Lush’s own customers, commenting on the “Guantánamo Garden” page, seemed to be divided about the merits of the campaign, and it remains to be seen whether this latest statement by Lush will bring forth critics anxious to deride the company for promoting the release of a “terrorist.”

I think not, somehow, but I may be wrong.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

As published on Indymedia.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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