Below is an article I wrote for the Guardian’s Comment is free America, after editor Matt Seaton got in touch to ask if I’d be interested in writing a short article promoting the screening of my film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed with filmmaker Polly Nash) at Revolution Books in New York this evening, as part of my short US tour to raise awareness of the plight of the remaining 173 prisoners during the week that the prison begins its tenth year of operations (on January 11). I was, of course, delighted to accept Matt’s offer, and hope some to see some of you at Revolution Books this evening, where I will be joined by Scott Horton, law professor and columnist at Harper’s Magazine. I’d also like to encourage anyone in the D.C area to come to The White House for the rally and protest on the morning of January 11.
Ending Bush’s big lie on Guantánamo
Andy Worthington, The Guardian, January 6, 2011
In the Bush administration’s “War on Terror,” it was important to dehumanise the men held at Guantánamo, to give life to the myth that the prison held “the worst of the worst” terrorists, picked up on the battlefields of Afghanistan.
This was not true, as reports over the years have demonstrated. A former military interrogator in Afghanistan, writing under the pseudonym Chris Mackey, explained in his book The Interrogators that there was no screening process in place, and that every Arab who came into US custody, by whatever method, had to be transferred to Guantánamo.
Moreover, in 2006, an analysis of the Pentagon’s own allegations against 517 prisoners (compiled after 200 men and boys had already been released), and conducted by researchers at the Seton Hall Law School in New Jersey, found that 86 percent were captured by the Northern Alliance or Pakistani forces, 55 percent were not determined to have committed any hostile acts against the US or its allies, and only 8 percent were alleged to have had any kind of affiliation with al-Qaeda.
In addition, around half the prisoners were not captured in Afghanistan, but were either seized in Pakistan, or crossing the border from Afghanistan to Pakistan, and although many of the men were foot soldiers for the Taliban, who had been involved in the long-standing civil war against the Northern Alliance, which had begun many years before the 9/11 attacks, others were missionaries, humanitarian aid workers, or economic migrants, and only 33 of the remaining 174 prisoners have been recommended for trial by President Obama’s interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force, which reviewed all the cases in 2009.
As the prison at Guantánamo prepares to start its tenth year of operations (on January 11), and as I begin a week of events in New York and Washington D.C. to raise awareness of the remaining prisoners, these men are still, for the most part, as dehumanised as they were under President Bush.
Part of the attempt to raise awareness involves showing the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” which I co-directed with filmmaker Polly Nash, and which features compelling and emotional testimony from former Guantánamo prisoners Omar Deghayes and Moazzam Begg, both seized in 2002 from the homes where they were living in Pakistan, many hundreds of miles from the battlefields of Afghanistan, and sent to Guantánamo.
Last year, I travelled around the UK with Omar Deghayes, showing the film to audiences of students and activists who were grateful for the opportunity to meet Omar, after listening to his harrowing descriptions of how he was mistreated, and how the British security services colluded in his abuse, but when I travel to the US, I am not allowed to visit with Omar, or with Moazzam, or with any other cleared prisoner.
Audiences in the States are also moved by Omar’s testimony, when they have the opportunity to see it, but it would have a much greater impact if they were able to meet a former prisoner in person.
Sadly, the Obama administration is largely to blame for this state of affairs. In early 2009, White House Counsel Greg Craig was close to finalising a plan to rehouse a handful of cleared prisoners who could not be repatriated safely. These men were the Uighurs, Muslims for China’s Xinjiang province, seized by mistake, who had won their habeas corpus petition in a US court in October 2008, and their presence in the US would have done more to destroy the Bush administration’s enduring lies than any other gesture.
However, when Republicans got wind of it, and reacted with unjustifiable outrage, Obama quashed the plan, making it difficult for the US to find third countries prepared to take cleared prisoners who could not be repatriated, and contributing to the paralysis that Obama finds himself in today: presiding over a prison in which, although over half the remaining prisoners have been cleared for release by Obama’s Task Force, cynical lawmakers, and the President’s own cowardice, have made it increasingly difficult for him to release anyone.
Anonymity — the dehumanisation of these men — helps to maintain the illusion that their ongoing detention is somehow justifiable, but if their stories, and the circumstances of their capture, were more widely known, the Bush administration’s enduring mythology might be thoroughly punctured, and more substantial steps taken — or demanded — to secure their release. Bringing the stories of Omar Deghayes and Moazzam Begg to the American public can, hopefully, play a part in this still necessary process.
Details of this evening’s screening:
Friday January 7, 7 pm: Film screening – “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” followed by Q&A with Andy Worthington and Scott Horton.
Revolution Books, 146 West 26th Street (between 6th & 7th Ave.), New York, NY 10001.
A donation of $10 is requested for the film, drinks and popcorn, to benefit Revolution Books. For further information, see the Revolution Books website, or contact the store by email or by phone: 212-691-3345. A Facebook page is here.
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), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
Amazing that a British newspaper would ask you to write something to promote a US visit. Tip of the hat to The Guardian. I trust the NYT, WaPo and USA Today didn’t contact you. It’s too late now, but have you ever tried contacting C-SPAN’s BookTV for coverage? I would love to watch your talk with Horton – any plans to video it?
Hi, Norwegian Shooter. Yes, I was very pleased, obviously. Not a bite from the US bigwigs, though!
As for the panel discussion, it will be filmed, I believe, so watch this space!
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