On Saturday afternoon, a packed house at the National Film Theatre watched the new Guantánamo documentary, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (directed by filmmaker Polly Nash and myself), in a screening organized by the BFI (British Film Institute). Afterwards, in a Q&A session filmed by the production company Spectacle (which will be online soon), and admirably chaired by the journalist and broadcaster Victoria Brittain, the UK’s most celebrated human rights lawyer, Gareth Peirce, delivered a passionate call to action, asking the audience to overcome the UK’s prevailing political apathy, and to campaign on behalf of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo — and the focus of the film, along with released prisoners Binyam Mohamed and Omar Deghayes.
An innocent man with a British wife and four British children, Shaker was cleared for release from Guantánamo in 2007 (when the British government first asked for his return to the UK), but continues to be held not because of any involvement with terrorism, but because of what he knows about the dark workings of Guantánamo, as the most articulate and committed defender of the prisoners’ rights. Disturbingly, it suits both the British and the American government to return Shaker to Saudi Arabia, the country of his birth, where he will be deprived of the opportunity to speak out, and will also be prevented from acting as a witness in court cases against both governments.
“10 x 10 x 10 for Shaker Aamer”: An instant campaign
In a rousing attempt to encourage the kind of concerted activity that is required to effect political change, Gareth not only encouraged the audience to send letters to foreign secretary David Miliband, demanding the immediate return of Shaker to the UK — through a campaign organized by Amnesty International — but also initiated a new campaign, “10 x 10 x 10 for Shaker Aamer” (which I think Gareth came up with on the day), whereby everyone concerned about this gross miscarriage of justice urges ten people they know to send a letter to David Miliband, and each of these ten people is urged to tell another ten people, and so on. Please try it, and also please encourage your MP to sign an Early Day Motion, introduced by Shaker’s MP, Martin Linton, calling for his immediate return to the UK. You can contact your MP here.
In the rest of the Q&A session, I addressed questions raised about the future of Guantánamo, and accountability for those who approved the use of torture. This has a particular resonance in the UK right now, as the government struggles to cope with recent revelations about its complicity in the torture of Binyam Mohamed, and also, for different reasons, in the US, where, scandalously, a senior lawyer in the Justice Department recently overruled the findings of a four-year investigation into the behaviour of John Yoo and Jay S. Bybee, the lawyers responsible for attempting to redefine torture, and to approve its use by the CIA. The report recommended that they should be punished for “professional misconduct,” but in the watered-down version they were merely criticized for exercising “poor judgment.”
After the Q&A, the majority of the audience convened in a conference room upstairs, where HHUGS (Helping Households Under Great Stress), the Institute of Race Relations, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign (based in Shaker’s home borough of Wandsworth), Spectacle and I all had stalls, and there was a further opportunity to discuss strategies for the future, including the campaign to bring an end to Britain’s own version of Guantánamo, the system of control orders and deportation bail that was introduced in 2005, when the previous regime — imprisonment without charge or trial — was ruled illegal by the Law Lords.
This was a genuinely inspiring afternoon, and I’d like to thank David Somerset of the BFI for organizing it, and Victoria and Gareth for taking part.
Screening at the LSE, Monday March 1
On Monday evening, a good-sized crowd watched “Outside the Law” as the centerpiece of LSE Amnesty International Society’s Human Rights Week 2010. I’m delighted to report that Omar Deghayes was present for the post-screening Q&A, along with myself and Polly, and that we also had a special guest, Michel Paradis, a civilian defense lawyer in the US Defense Department, who is assigned to the Military Commissions, and is currently appealing the life sentence received by Ali Hamza al-Bahlul after a one-sided show trial in October 2008.
Again, we had a lively discussion after the film, even though, to be honest, none of us could see any easy way for Guantánamo to close in the imminent future, as President Obama lost the momentum he had when he came into office, and now seems to be floundering. However, we were, at least, able to push the message about Shaker Aamer, and I’m delighted to report that a stack of letters to David Miliband were taken away by those present, as were letters to Canadian PM Stephen Harper, asking the Canadian government to bring to an end its unprincipled refusal to call for the return from Guantánamo of Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was just 15 years old when he was seized, and who, to Obama’s eternal shame, has been put forward for a trial by Military Commission.
Feedback from the NFT screening
“I thought the film was absolutely brilliant and the most powerful, moving and hard-hitting piece I have seen at the cinema. I admire and congratulate you for your vital work, pioneering the truth and demanding that people sit up and take notice of the outrageous human rights injustices perpetrated against detainees at Guantánamo and other prisons.”
Harriet Wong, Medical Foundation for Care of Victims of Torture
“[T]hought-provoking, harrowing, emotional to watch, touching and politically powerful.”
About the film and the UK tour
“Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” is currently on a UK tour, with Omar Degahyes and Andy Worthington appearing in person, to attend post-screening Q&A sessions. On some dates, Omar, who is now the legal director of the Guantánamo Justice Centre, and Andy will be joined by Polly Nash and, occasionally, other guests.
“Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” tells the story of Guantánamo (and includes 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.
Throughout the tour, Omar, Andy and Polly (and other speakers) will continue to focus on the plight of Shaker Aamer. To provide more background information, readers may want to know that 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.
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.
Other recent feedback
“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.
[…] spreading the word further, you can follow the advice of Shaker’s solicitor, Gareth Peirce, who told the audience at the NFT for last Saturday’s screening of “Outside the Law” that we should initiate a new campaign, […]
[…] let me know that she wanted to write a song about Guantánamo, and last February she came to see a screening at the BFI of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” the film I co-directed with Polly Nash, which […]
Writer, campaigner, investigative journalist and commentator. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.”
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