Last Thursday, the Q&A session following the screening in Glasgow of the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington) was filmed by We Are Change Glasgow, and I’m happy to report that the session, featuring former prisoner Omar Deghayes, Andy Worthington and human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar (and chaired by Nicola Fisher, the chair of the Glasgow Stop the War Coalition) is now available via YouTube on six videos that are posted below:
In the first part, Andy discussed British resident Shaker Aamer, featured in the film, who is still held, despite being cleared for release from Guantánamo in 2007, and encouraged the audience to send a letter to foreign secretary David Miliband, handed out to everyone before the screening, asking him to do all in his power to secure Shaker’s return. Andy also explained that the letter asks for the return of Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian who lived in the UK and is terrified of returning to Algeria, and also asks for the British government to accept other cleared prisoners like Ahmed, who cannot be repatriated because they face the risk of torture in their home countries.
The rationale, as Andy explained it, is in part as a recompense for Britain’s intimate and extensive involvement in the crimes committed in the “War on Terror,” and in part because David Miliband’s protestations that Britain has already done its part in helping to close Guantánamo is a naked lie, as the UK has done no more than accept its own nationals and residents, and has not taken other prisoners who cannot be repatriated, like Algeria, Belgium, Bermuda, France, Georgia, Hungary, Ireland, Palau, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Switzerland.
Aamer Anwar followed up by explaining how ordinary people can help, and referred, as an example, to how he had attended a meeting in Glasgow many years ago, attended by Moazzam Begg’s father, when people asked what difference their own contributions could make, and were provided with clear evidence that they could indeed make a difference when Moazzam was finally released. Aamer also spoke about the recent revelations of British complicity in torture, insisting that public pressure would help to expose this story.
In the second part, Aamer concluded this theme, and then handed the mike on to Omar, who talked about how British agents had interrogated him in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Guantánamo, and also explained how Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve, had encouraged Omar’s family to use the media to press for his release, and how this message had been picked up on by local campaigners in Brighton, who mounted a concerted campaign, which, ultimately, was successful.
Sadly, the next few questions asked by the audience are largely inaudible (although they concerned religious abuse, compensation for former prisoners, and a question about why President Obama has failed to close Guantánamo), until one audience member was given a mike, and asked about whether Omar was given any counseling after his release. In response to the questions, Omar discussed how the US authorities used religious abuse in Guantánamo, and also answered the question about compensation by discussing the work of the Guantánamo Justice Centre, of which he is the legal director. Established by former prisoners, part of the GJC’s work involves attempts to provide welfare for former prisoners, who are given no support — either financial, psychological or medical — on their release, and part involves establishing cases for compensation, like the one that is currently before the UK courts.
In the third part, Aamer continued a statement about the failure to close Guantánamo that he started at the end of part 2, and Andy ran through the reasons that the deadline for the closure of Guantánamo by January 2010 was initially feasible, but was derailed when Barack Obama sidelined White House Counsel Greg Craig, who had insisted on the deadline and came close to bringing some cleared prisoners to live in the US. Andy also ran through the statistics regarding the remaining prisoners — Obama’s interagency Task Force’s conclusion that 101 of the remaining 183 men can be released, 35 should face trials, and 47, shockingly, should continue to be held without charge or trial. Andy also pointed out the significance of how, in 34 of the 45 habeas corpus petitions examined in US courts, judges have concluded that the government failed to establish a case that the men in question had any connection with either al-Qaeda or the Taliban.
At the end of the previous section, two audience members raised the topic of torture and accountability for those responsible for the crimes of the “War on Terror,” and this theme continued throughout the final round of questions (and, sadly, includes one long and largely inaudible question). In response, Andy reiterated how torture is not only illegal, morally corrosive and counter-productive, but also how it is unacceptable that it has become regarded as something necessary to many in the West, and that we must continue to oppose it, and to educate people about why it is wrong.
Andy’s answer continued into part 5, when Aamer took over, explaining, once more, how public pressure is immensely important, and running through Britain’s history of complicity in torture, how it has been hidden for many years, and why we need a public inquiry to reveal the full details of UK involvement in the “War on Terror.” Omar then mentioned how the story of the “War on Terror” goes beyond Guantánamo, stretching to Bagram in Afghanistan and up to 20 prisons in Pakistan, run on behalf of the CIA.
In the final part, Omar continued his concluding comments, speaking more about the legal work of the Guantánamo Justice Centre, and its mission to build cases against those who authorized and abetted the crimes committed in the “War on Terror,” at Guantánamo and elsewhere, and called for help from lawyers, law professors and law students to help accomplish this work. As he did elsewhere on the trip, Omar also spoke about the significance of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, tortured in Egypt on behalf of the CIA until he came up with a false confession about connections between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein that was used to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2003, explaining how he was then returned to Libya, when he was of no further use, and was killed in May last year.
My thanks, again, to Scotland Against Criminalising Communities and the Glasgow Stop the War Coalition for organizing the event in Glasgow. A report on the whole Scottish trip — which included screenings in Dundee, Aberdeen and Edinburgh — is available here, and full details of the ongoing UK tour are here.
“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, 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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