Now that we have a new government — involving an unprecedented coalition between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats — the ongoing UK tour of the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (directed by filmmaker Polly Nash and myself), continues with renewed purpose. Throughout the election period, the screenings that took place were dogged with a sense of indecision that has now been swept away — and I’m relieved that former prisoner Omar Deghayes and myself, who are taking part in Q&A sessions following the majority of the screenings, will now be able to focus once more on asking the audiences to take action for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo (whose story features in the film).
Audiences — and readers of this article — can do this by writing to the new foreign secretary, William Hague (and also to David Cameron and Nick Clegg) to ask the government to do all in its power to secure his return from Guantánamo, to be reunited with his British wife and children as swiftly as possible.
I’ll shortly be drafting a letter to William Hague, which I’ll post here, and this — and a letter to MPs (which I made available on Friday, and which also includes questions about the use of secret evidence in UK courts, about control orders, and about British complicity in torture) — will be handed out at screenings, to encourage audiences to get involved, and, crucially, to demonstrate that there is action that can be taken. Omar is a living example of the success of political campaigning, as the high-profile campaign mounted in Brighton to secure his release undoubtedly played a part in securing his freedom.
Shaker Aamer was cleared for release from Guantánamo over three years ago, but remains held despite the Labour government’s claims that it persistently pushed for his release. His lawyers, however, have long wondered if this is strictly true, given that Shaker knows so much about the workings of Guantánamo (having been the foremost advocate of the prisoners’ rights within the prison) that, when he is finally released, his revelations may well be deeply embarrassing for both the British and the American governments.
With a change in leadership in the UK, now is a vital time for those who support Shaker’s return to renew pressure on the government, and to point out, if necessary, that his revelations — not only about Guantánamo, but also about conditions in the US prisons in Afghanistan, where prisoners were held before Guantánamo, and the involvement of British agents in interrogations in Afghanistan — concern the Labour government at the time, and do not reflect directly on the Conservative Party.
As I explained in a recent article, the Conservative Party has a poor record when it comes to supporting human rights while countering terrorism in the UK, and also has a poor record on calling for the closure of Guantánamo (I Googled in vain for a clear message). However, William Hague has made encouraging noises over the years. Back in 2006, he told a meeting in the House of Commons organized by Human Rights Watch, “Reports of prisoner abuse by British and American troops — however isolated — and accounts, accurate or not, of the mistreatment of detainees at Guantánamo and extraordinary rendition flights leading to the torture of suspects, have led to a critical erosion in our moral authority. In standing up for the rule of law, we must be careful not to employ methods that undermine it.”
Moreover, Hague has, on at least one occasion, addressed the return of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo. In March 2009, he submitted a written request in the House of Commons in February 2009, “To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, whether US officials have acceded to the request to return Mr Shaker Aamer to the UK; and if he will make a statement.”
In addition, he has maintained his opposition to British complicity in torture — and calls for accountability for those involved — telling the House of Commons in February, after the Court of Appeal ordered David Miliband to release information regarding the torture of British resident Binyam Mohamed, that “we [the Conservative Party] have consistently argued for full investigation of all credible allegations of UK complicity in torture, and for the Government to find a way in this particular case to balance the needs of national security with the need for justice and accountability in our democratic society.”
Hague may well find his principled stance evaporating now he is in office, but his record in opposition means that campaigners for Shaker Aamer’s return — and for accountability for British complicity in torture — at least have some leverage. Listed below are five new screenings of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” at which these topics and others will be discussed. I’ve also added this information to the dedicated page for the UK tour, to be updated as further screenings are added, and please also note that all screenings are free. Please feel free to publicize them, and I hope to see some of you at one or other event.
Friday May 21, 7.30 pm: Film screening – “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo.” Followed by Q&A.
Christ Church College, Blue Boar Lecture Theatre, the University of Oxford, St. Aldates, Oxford, OX1 1DP.
With Omar Deghayes, Andy Worthington and Polly Nash.
This screening is organized by the Oxford University Amnesty International group, and a Facebook page is here. For further information, please contact Amnesty Oxford.
Thursday May 27, 7 pm: Film screening – “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo.” Followed by Q&A.
The Broca, 4 Coulgate Street, Brockley, London, SE4 2RW.
With Andy Worthington.
This screening is organized by The Broca as a prelude to the annual Brockley Max arts festival. On Tuesday June 1, at 7 pm, Andy will also present a screening of “Operation Solstice,” a documentary about The Battle of the Beanfield, on the 25th anniversary of this often-overlooked confrontation between travellers/political activists and the State (under Margaret Thatcher). For further information, please contact Andy, or, for the Broca, by email here.
Friday May 28, 6.30 pm: Film screening – “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo.” Followed by Q&A.
Arts A1 Lecture Theatre, The University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton, BN1 9RF.
With Omar Deghayes and Andy Worthington.
This screening is organized by the University of Sussex Amnesty International group. For a map of the campus, showing the Arts A1 Lecture Theatre (No. 22 on map), see here. For other maps, see here, and for further information, please contact Michael Fisher.
Saturday May 29, 2 pm: Film screening – “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo.” Followed by Q&A.
Under the Bridge music studio, 7 Trafalgar Arches, Brighton, BN1 4FQ.
With Omar Deghayes and Andy Worthington.
This screening is organized by Under the Bridge (see the website here, and also see here for “Radio Free Brighton,” housed in the studios). For a map, see here (the studios are underneath the main railway station), and for further information, please contact Jackie Chase on 07799 564620.
Wednesday June 2, 6 pm: Film screening – “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo.” Followed by Q&A.
Birkbeck College, University of London, Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HX.
With Omar Deghayes, Andy Worthington and Polly Nash.
This screening is organized by the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies. Please contact Barbara Zollner for further information. Also see MeetUp pages here and here.
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.
““Outside the Law” is essential viewing for anyone interested in Guantánamo and other prisons. The film explores what happens when a nation with a reputation for morality and justice acts out of impulse and fear. To my mind, Andy Worthington is a quintessential force for all things related to the journalism of GTMO and its inhabitants. As a military lawyer for Fayiz al-Kandari, I am constantly reminded that GTMO is ongoing and that people still have an opportunity to make history today by becoming involved. “Outside the Law” is a fantastic entry point into the arena that is GTMO.”
Lt. Col. Barry Wingard, attorney for Guantánamo prisoner Fayiz al-Kandari
“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.”
“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.”
Sarah Gillespie, singer/songwriter
“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
“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, and see here for a short trailer.
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 currently on tour in the UK), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
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