On Thursday, I was interviewed by Peter B. Collins for a podcast (available here) on his listener-funded new media project, whose intention is to make hard-hitting political interviews available online without editorial interference from networks and without the often extensive advertising breaks that do so much to disrupt the flow of so many shows. I’ve been interviewed several times before by Peter, and was glad when we met for the first time in Berkeley during my recent US tour, at a screening of the new documentary film “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and myself).
After some introductory comments about the film and the book, I discussed how both attempt to tell the story of how the prisoners, who were labeled as “the worst of the worst,” in a propaganda coup by the Bush administration that is shockingly resilient, were, in fact, largely rounded up by the US military’s allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, at a time when bounty payments were widespread, and, on instructions from the White House and the Pentagon, were never screened to determine whether they were terrorists, or whether they were innocent men or Taliban foot soldiers who had nothing to do with al-Qaeda or the 9/11 attacks.
Over the course of 70 minutes, Peter and I had the opportunity to discuss not only the back story of Guantánamo, but also how, this year, the Obama administration, through inertia, lost the advantage it had immediately on taking office, when President Obama announced that Guantánamo would be closed within a year, but then did nothing concrete for several months, allowing Republicans to revive Dick Cheney’s evil scaremongering about the “terrorists” in Guantánamo. This led to a revolt against the President, which included numerous members of his own party, and also led, after wrangling throughout the year, to the passing of laws which prevented the administration from bringing Guantánamo prisoners to the US mainland for any reason other than to face trials.
We also talked about Obama’s announcement, in China, that the deadline for the closure of Guantánamo would not be met, and the departure of Greg Craig as White House counsel, who, it seems, was the scapegoat for the administration’s failure. I explained, as I did in my recent article, “Obama’s Failure To Close Guantánamo By January Deadline Is Disastrous,” that the announcement that the deadline will be missed is particularly depressing news, because it appears to leave all the prisoners who will not be brought to the US mainland to face a trial stranded in Guantánamo, possibly for the rest of their lives.
These men are either cleared prisoners (around 90 in total), who, for the most part, cannot be repatriated, and others (around 75, apparently), who, disturbingly, are regarded as too dangerous to release, but who cannot be charged because there is insufficient evidence against them. In other words, they are regarded as dangerous because of evidence derived through the use of torture, or because of the kind of dubious allegations made by other prisoners, which have been dismissed by judges in District Courts in habeas corpus petitions over the last 13 months.
We also spoke about the administration’s announcement of trials for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his alleged co-conspirators in the 9/11 attacks, in which Peter mentioned his concerns about statements made by Obama and by Attorney General Eric Holder, publicly guaranteeing convictions, and I spoke of the three levels of justice conceived by the administration, as demonstrated through its announcement: federal courts in clear-cut cases that the government is convinced it can win, Military Commissions for more dubious cases, and indefinite detention for those against whom, in essence, the government has no case at all.
We then moved on to talk about torture in the US prisons in Afghanistan and at Guantánamo, spurred by comments made by attorney Tom Wilner in the film, and Peter then asked me about the three men whose stories are the focus of the film — Shaker Aamer (who is still held), Omar Deghayes (released in December 2007), and Binyam Mohamed (released in February 2009) — and the stories of the many men (including Shaker Aamer) who had been in Afghanistan on humanitarian aid missions, but who were then given no opportunity to clear their names, and, in some cases, are still waiting for that elusive opportunity.
There’s more to the interview than I’ve managed to cover here (including some final discussions regarding the US prison at Bagram airbase), and, in closing, I’d like to thank Peter for providing the time for us to cover such important topics in such depth.
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 I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
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