It was a full house yesterday evening at Amnesty International’s Human Rights Action Centre in London, for a screening of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” directed by Polly Nash and myself. I’m glad to report that the film was very well received, and was followed by an excellent Q&A session with myself and former prisoner Omar Deghayes, chaired by Widney Brown, the Senior Director of International Law and Policy at the International Secretariat.
Widney read out a statement by Moazzam Begg, reproduced here, in which, as I explained yesterday, Moazzam described why, following a lamentable campaign of vilification directed at Amnesty’s relationship with him and with Cageprisoners (the organization of which he is director), he had decided not to take part in the Q&A session following the screening. He explained that he was only doing so to ensure that the focus of the evening was “not about my personal beliefs or Amnesty’s internal issues but [so] that the lives of men who have suffered human rights violations for so many years, as discussed in ‘Outside the Law,’ [were] not overshadowed.”
In the event, none of Moazzam’s detractors turned up, and Omar and I were able to focus on the important questions: whether any government official anywhere will ever be held accountable for the crimes committed in the “War on Terror”; how to work towards securing the release of Shaker Aamer in the UK; and why the British government should also accept other cleared prisoners, including Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian (cleared for release since 2007) who lived in the UK for several years, and is terrified of returning to his homeland, and, following the example of other countries in Europe, others who have no connection to the UK. Given that Belgium, France, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Switzerland have all given (or have promised to give) new homes to prisoners who had no prior connection with the countries — as part of a pan-European effort to help President Obama to close Guantánamo — both Omar and I feel that it is hypocritical of the British government to claim that it has done its fair share — accepting the return of British nationals and residents — when it has done nothing beyond the bare minimum that was expected.
On accountability, I spoke about the promising Court of Appeal ruling in Binyam Mohamed’s case last week, which I contrasted with the lamentable state of affairs in the US right now, and Omar spoke about the work of the Guantánamo Justice Centre (for whom he is the Legal Director), which not only aims to provide help for released prisoners who have no financial support, but is also involved in a number of court cases in the US and Spain, seeking to bring senior officials — and lawyers — in the Bush administration to justice.
The campaign to bring Shaker Aamer home not only focused on Amnesty International’s petition, available here, which everyone was encouraged to sign, but also on a lively intervention by a member of the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, based in Shaker’s home borough of Wandsworth, who encouraged the audience to demand action from foreign secretary David Miliband at a meeting he is attending on Friday (February 19) at 5.30 pm at St Paul’s Church, Hammersmith Broadway, London W6.
My thanks to Amnesty — and, especially, to AIUK Director Kate Allen, Widney Brown, Sara MacNeice and Alison Willis — for hosting the first date of the UK tour of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo.” Over the next few weeks there will be further screenings in London (at QMUL on Tuesday February 23, at the NFT on Saturday February 27, in a major event organized by the BFI, and at LSE on Monday March 1) and a screening at a human rights film festival at Oxford Brookes University (Friday March 5), followed by screenings in Bradford, Norwich, Sheffield, London (SOAS), Canterbury, Dundee, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Nottingham and Colchester. The full itinerary can be found here, and will be updated as new dates are added.
I’m delighted to report that, in the last 24 hours, two more events have been confirmed — at Roehampton University on Thursday March 4, and at UCL on Wednesday March 17, where Omar Deghayes and I will be joined for a post-screening Q&A by Philippe Sands, Professor of International Law at UCL, and the author of Torture Team. We also now have a confirmed venue for the screening in Edinburgh on Wednesday March 24.
About the film
“Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” is a new documentary film, directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, telling the story of Guantánamo (and including sections on extraordinary rendition and secret prisons) with a particular focus on how the Bush administration turned its back on domestic and international laws, how prisoners were rounded up in Afghanistan and Pakistan without adequate screening (and often for bounty payments), and why some of these men may have been in Afghanistan or Pakistan for reasons unconnected with militancy or terrorism (as missionaries or humanitarian aid workers, for example).
The film is based around interviews with former prisoners (Moazzam Begg and, in his first major interview, Omar Deghayes, who was released in December 2007), lawyers for the prisoners (Clive Stafford Smith in the UK and Tom Wilner in the US), and journalist and author Andy Worthington, and also includes appearances from Guantánamo’s former Muslim chaplain James Yee, Shakeel Begg, a London-based Imam, and the British human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce.
Focusing on the stories of Shaker Aamer, Binyam Mohamed and Omar Deghayes, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” provides a powerful rebuke to those who believe that Guantánamo holds “the worst of the worst” and that the Bush administration was justified in responding to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 by holding men neither as prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions, nor as criminal suspects with habeas corpus rights, but as “illegal enemy combatants” with no rights whatsoever.
Take action for Shaker Aamer
Throughout the tour, Omar, Andy, Moazzam and Polly (and other speakers) will be focusing on the plight of Shaker Aamer, the only one of the film’s main subjects who is still held in Guantánamo, despite being cleared for release in 2007, and despite the British government asking for him to be returned to the UK in August 2007.
Born in Saudi Arabia, Shaker Aamer moved to the UK in 1994, and was a legal British resident at the time of his capture, after he had traveled to Afghanistan with Moazzam Begg (and their families) to establish a girls’ school and some well-digging projects. He has a British wife and four British children (although he has never seen his youngest child).
As the foremost advocate of the prisoners’ rights in Guantánamo, Shaker’s influence upset the US authorities to such an extent that those pressing for his return fear that the US government wants to return him to Saudi Arabia, the country of his birth, where he will not be at liberty to tell his story, and recent revelations indicate that, despite claims that it has been doing all in its power to secure his release, the British government may also share this view.
In December 2009, it emerged in a court case in the UK that British agents witnessed his abuse while he was held in US custody in Afghanistan, and in January 2010, for Harper’s Magazine, law professor Scott Horton reported that he was tortured in Guantánamo on the same night, in June 2006, that three other men appear to have been killed by representatives of an unknown US agency, and that a cover-up then took place, which successfully passed the deaths off as suicides.
At the screenings, the speakers will discuss what steps we can all take to put pressure on the British government to demand the return of Shaker Aamer to the UK, to be reunited with his family. To get involved now, please visit this Amnesty International action page, to find details of how you can write to David Miliband and Gordon Brown, asking them to demand Shaker’s return. Please also visit this page for a video of Shaker’s daughter Johina handing in a letter to Gordon Brown at 10 Downing Street on January 11, 2010.
“The film was great — not because I was in it, but because it told the legal and human story of Guantánamo more clearly than anything I have seen.”
Tom Wilner, US attorney who represented the Guantánamo prisoners before the US Supreme Court
“The film was fantastic! It has the unique ability of humanizing those who were detained at Guantánamo like no other I have seen.”
Sari Gelzer, Truthout
“Engaging and moving, and personal. The first [film] to really take you through the lives of the men from their own eyes.”
Debra Sweet, The World Can’t Wait
“I am part of a community of folks from the US who attempted to visit the Guantánamo prison in December 2005, and ended up fasting for a number of days outside the gates. We went then, and we continue our work now, because we heard the cries for justice from within the prison walls. As we gathered tonight as a community, we watched “Outside the Law,” and by the end, we all sat silent, many with tears in our eyes and on our faces. I have so much I’d like to say, but for now I wanted to write a quick note to say how grateful we are that you are out, and that you are speaking out with such profound humanity. I am only sorry what we can do is so little, and that so many remain in the prison.”
Matt Daloisio, Witness Against Torture
For further information, interviews, or to inquire about broadcasting, distributing or showing “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” please contact Polly Nash or Andy Worthington. For inquiries about screenings, please also feel free to contact Maryam Hassan.
“Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” is a Spectacle Production (74 minutes, 2009), and copies of the DVD are now available. As featured on Democracy Now!, ABC News and Truthout. See here for videos of the Q&A session (with Moazzam Begg, Omar Deghayes, Andy Worthington and Polly Nash) that followed the launch of the film in London on October 21, 2009.
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, updated in January 2010, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
I’m gutted that I won’t be in Bradford to see this film (and do hope to see it sometime, looks brilliant) but I wish you every success with the tour.
Hi Abdel Halim,
Yes, I’m disappointed to hear that you’re not going to be around. Would have been good to meet.
Check out the blog, folks: “Tales from Bradistan.” Excellent stuff.
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