A Tribute to Sarah Meyer, human rights activist

13.3.10

“Autumn Leaves,” a photo by Sarah Meyer of her garden. She wrote on November 1, 2009, “Huge winds and storms. The autumnal leaves on my lawn remind me of the autumn of my life.”I have just been informed that Sarah Meyer, a wonderfully supportive friend in the struggle for a better world, recently died of cancer. A retired UK registered homoeopath, Sarah had studied Jungian psychology for 30 years, while simultaneously studying Tibetan Buddhism, and, after retiring, worked as a freelance researcher, investigating human rights abuses worldwide from her home in Sussex. Born in the US, she was married, for 12 years, to the author and journalist Karl Meyer, with whom she had three children — Jonathan, Heather and Ernest.

Sarah and I had never met, but I had come across her prodigious research on global human rights abuses on her website, Index Research, while I was researching my book The Guantánamo Files in 2006, and we had been in email contact ever since. She was, as I mentioned above, wonderfully supportive, as, for example, when she sent me an email last March stating simply, “Thank you, dear person, for all your work. It is so superb. You remind me of another favorite friend of mine, Dahr Jamail.” On a cold morning in London, words like these provided a real spur to carry on with what can sometimes seem like a thankless task.

I had been particularly drawn to Sarah’s work because she covered Afghanistan in extraordinary detail, compiling and commenting on a wide range of reports, but she also covered other aspects of the “War on Terror” — and the crimes of the West that preceded it. Even while very ill in November last year, she was working with the BRussells Tribunal Advisory Committee, a group of “intellectuals, artists and activists who denounce the logic of permanent war promoted by the American government and its allies” (of which she was a member) on a legal case filed in Spain against George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown “for commissioning, condoning and/or perpetuating multiple war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Iraq.” Her last post on human rights issues in relation to terrorism, entitled, “Surveillance Societies,” was posted on her site on October 31 last year. Inspired by journalist Henry Porter’s assiduous campaign against ID cards and the surveillance state in the UK, it contained a wealth of information that was typical of her reports, and I urge readers with an interest in any of these issues to investigate her research.

My thoughts are with Jonathan, Heather and Ernest, and, as part of a small tribute to Sarah, I’d like to quote from the introduction to her last post on Index Research, “Birth Is The Disease; Death Is The Cure,” in which she discussed her illness and prepared for her death:

The language applied to cancer sounds like Obama’s wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. We hear about “battles” — “Fighting the Enemy” and the “War on Cancer.” Constructively discussing the actual process of life and death can often be a no-go zone. Even the word “death” is replaced by the awful term, “passing away.”

I am almost 73 now, and I am ready for death. The suffering of peoples on our planet is a burden for me. I have tried for much of my life to be useful, but of course one cannot “cure” this central crux of life itself.

I can think of no finer tribute to Sarah than for her work to be preserved at Index Research, for future researchers to use, to continue her struggle for a better world, and would like to share with readers the last email I received from Sarah, in January, which shows the generosity of spirit that she maintained throughout her life:

Dear Andy,

Sorry to tell you that I have stage 4 terminal cancer. I no longer have the ability to use the computer (Jonathan is typing this for me) and my memory is shot to hell. However, I am still reading everything you write. Thank you for everything you have done for me and for everybody else.

Love Sarah

My response was poor but heartfelt. I told Sarah that her news rather put everything else in perspective, and that my thoughts were with her. I should have mentioned that her work, and her life, will live on in the lives of those who were touched by her great feeling for humanity.

In conclusion, there are, perhaps, no better words to sum up Sarah’s belief in human rights than those of Martin Luther King Jr., which she included in every email:

Cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” Vanity asks the question, “Is it popular?” But, conscience asks the question, “Is it right?” And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.

Note: An index of Sarah’s work can also be found on the BRussells Tribunal website here, where she was described by her colleagues as “A remarkable and strong woman,” who “contributed a lot to our efforts to expose the criminal US war policies.”

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, 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.

4 Responses

  1. Frances Madeson says...

    Cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” Vanity asks the question, “Is it popular?” But, conscience asks the question, “Is it right?” And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.

    Andy,
    Do you have a picture of her? I’d like to look in her eyes.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    So would I, Frances, but I haven’t seen a photo of Sarah. I do wish that I could have met her last year, but will content myself with knowing that one of the strengths of this world wide web that can so often be a distraction is that it can, when we use it for constructive purposes, help us connect with people that we otherwise wouldn’t get to know at all.

  3. Charles Gittings says...

    Sarah was a great person.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Charly. Good to hear from you, and good to know that another indefatigable chronicler of injustice also knew her.

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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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