Great Malvern Gives Resounding Welcome to “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo”

21.10.10

Congratulations to the Malvern Hills Amnesty International Group for demonstrating, on Tuesday evening, that compassion and empathy are not dead.

Less than 24 hours before the coalition government announced its spending review, which demonstrated a notable absence of compassion and empathy for the poor and the disadvantaged, several hundred people turned up at Malvern Theatres to watch “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” the documentary film that I co-directed with filmmaker Polly Nash, which tells the story of Guantánamo, and of the Bush administration’s secret prison program, through the stories of three British residents: Shaker Aamer, who is still held, Omar Deghayes (released in December 2007), and Binyam Mohamed (released in February 2009).

In turning up in force, the members of the Malvern group, other members from surrounding areas, and the many sixth-formers from local schools, whose presence was deeply appreciated, bucked a trend that has seen Guantánamo slip off the mainstream media’s radar, and showed that, as Amnesty International prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary next year, founder Peter Benenson’s belief in the power of “common action” against arbitrary imprisonment, torture and extrajudicial killings remains as important, and as powerful as ever.

As Peter Benenson stated in an article for the Observer on May 28, 1961 that led to the creation of Amnesty International, “Open your newspaper any day of the week and you will find a report from somewhere in the world of someone being imprisoned, tortured or executed because his opinions or religion are unacceptable to his government … The newspaper reader feels a sickening sense of impotence. Yet if these feelings of disgust could be united into common action, something effective could be done.”

I was delighted that the audience responded to the film with enormous support and enthusiasm — and also that they were able to overlook the absence of both Omar Deghayes and Moazzam Begg, who had also been scheduled to appear — and I was particularly pleased that some of the sixth-formers expressed an interest in showing the film in their schools, as it is young people who will carry Peter Benenson’s struggle forward, and their engagement in human rights issues, in a world that tries incessantly to sideline them into more trivial pursuits, is both commendable and worthy of unconditional support.

In the question and answer session that followed the film, I was unable to tell the Malvern audience that Guantánamo would be closing anytime soon, because of the ways in which President Obama has allowed his promise to close the prison to be undermined by his opponents, and by his own excessive caution. However, I am aware that the importance of action has always been crucial to Amnesty International, and I was pleased to be able to tell the crowd that they can — and should — write to the government to ask why Shaker Aamer has not been freed, despite being cleared for release in 2007 (a template of a letter is here), and I also explained how he may well be “the man who knows too much,” and that, as a result, both the British and American governments appear to be putting off his release as long as possible. This also allowed me to point out to audience members that they should not put up with risible arguments that the US authorities still have “security concerns” about Shaker Aamer, as these could be safely and adequately addressed by the British government if ministers were genuinely prepared to press for his return.

I also pointed out that it would be useful to ask the government to offer asylum to Ahmed Belbacha, a cleared Algerian, who lived in the UK from 1999 to 2001, and who is terrified of returning to Algeria, and that, given Britain’s distressing role as America’s closest ally in the “War on Terror,” it would also make sense to press the government to take other cleared prisoners, who cannot be repatriated because they face the risk of torture, and to follow the lead established by 16 other countries — including Albania, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland — who have all given homes to men who had no prior connection to their countries.

I’d like to particularly thank Trevor Trueman and Sue Wolfendale of the Malvern group for looking after me, and for putting together and publicizing such a well-attended event, and if there are any sixth-formers out there who would like to show “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” then please get in touch.

Please see here for further information about the film, and see here for details of how to order it on DVD. Information about previous screenings can be found here, and I’ll shortly be publicizing new screenings in November and December.

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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. 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 July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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The Battle of the Beanfield

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Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo

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