“Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo”: A Day Out in Oxford


Outside the Law: Stories from GuantanamoOn Friday, there was another successful screening of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” the new documentary film, co-directed by Polly Nash and myself, which was chosen as the closing film in Oxford Brookes University’s 8th Human Rights Film Festival (also see here). The screening was part of an ongoing UK tour of the film, in which former prisoner Omar Deghayes and myself (who are both in the film) are attending post-screening Q&A sessions, in venues from Canterbury to Aberdeen — sometimes (as on Friday) with Polly Nash, and sometimes with other guests as well.

Over a hundred people crammed into the Music Room of Headington Hill Hall (a splendid 19th century mansion, which was once the home of Robert Maxwell) for the screening on Friday evening, and in a Q&A session following the film — after Polly and I had guided Omar Deghayes, travelling by car, to the correct location by mobile phone — we fielded a range of perceptive questions and comments from the audience.

This allowed me to encourage audience members to take action for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo (whose story is featured in the film), by sending a letter to foreign secretary David Miliband that is reproduced here (so you can cut and paste your own copy), and encouraging others to do so. You can also email David Miliband and send a letter to Prime Minster Gordon Brown via Amnesty International’s campaign page here.

I also discussed the latest revelations of British complicity in torture, in the cases of Binyam Mohamed (also featured in the film) and Shaker Aamer, and Omar, as always, provided some fresh insights into life in Guantánamo, where he was held for over five years, and the role of the British intelligence services in his interrogations in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Guantánamo. The Q&A session was filmed by BrookesTV, and will be available on the website soon.

Polly and I had decided to make a day of it in Oxford, arriving at 3 pm on a warm, sunny afternoon, and wandering down to Art Jericho (on King Street in Jericho) for “Homeland,” an exhibition of photographs by my old friend Adrian Arbib. The centerpiece of the exhibition, which runs until March 13, is a collection of Adrian’s powerful and poignant photos of the Solsbury Hill road protest in 1994.

As the publicity states, this constitutes “a unique record of an important moment in British political history when a political movement changed government transport policy,” but there are also many other protest photos from the last 15 years, including GM crop protests, Jeremy Clarkson being pied, and a series of photos from the occupation of the Castle Mill Boatyard, a little-reported story of British Waterways’ greed and stupidity, which led to the closure of the Castle Mill Boatyard in Jericho in 2005, and its subsequent occupation by canal boat residents and other members of the local community, while British Waterways tried to press ahead with a cynical property development, which ultimately failed.

I first met Adrian in 2003, when I was looking for photos for my book Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion, a history of the British counter-culture which included a section on the road protest movement of the 1990s. Adrian kindly allowed me to reproduce a number of his photos in my book, and I’m delighted to report that he has now produced a book of his Solsbury Hill protest photos, Solsbury Hill: Chronicle of a Road Protest, which is discussed in more detail in a separate article.

After the exhibition, Polly and I wandered through central Oxford, visiting New College, where I studied more years ago than I care to remember, and stopping for coffee at another old haunt, the Queen’s Lane Coffee House (which claims to be the oldest in Europe), before catching a bus up the hill to Headington and the screening. As with all the screenings since the launch of the film in October, the attendance demonstrated, yet again, that there is a real appetite for information about Guantánamo and the crimes and failures of the “War on Terror” that is not being adequately met by the mainstream media.

My thanks to the postgraduate students on Oxford Brookes University’s MA course in Development and Emergency Practice, who organize the festival each year, and who did such a great job of welcoming us, and attracting such a great crowd.

About the film

“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.

Recent feedback

“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.”
Harpymarx, blogger

“Last Saturday I went to see Polly Nash and Andy Worthington’s harrowing documentary, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” at London’s BFI. The film knits together narratives so heart-wrenching I half wish I had not heard them. Yet the camaraderie between the detainees and occasional humorous anecdotes … provide a glimpse into the wit, courage and normalcy of the men we are encouraged to perceive as monsters. Nash and Worthington’s film also explores the legal and pragmatic implications of our transatlantic freefall into ethical bankruptcy. It asks how we might navigate our way out of a situation that doesn’t legally exist. The answer is: with great difficulty. With lawyers like Clive Stafford Smith working tirelessly to defend people who have not been accused of a crime and have no evidence against them to refute, the courtroom has become the domain in which we watch the dream of European multiculturalism imploding. Here we see UK Muslims struggle to exert Enlightenment-based Common Law against a so-called civilized, liberal government who would apparently prefer the Magna Carta had never been written.”
Sarah Gillespie, singer/songwriter

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.

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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