After nearly four days in New York as part of my US tour to mark the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, I’ve just taken a bus with Debra Sweet, the national director of the campaigning group The World Can’t Wait, who arranged my visit, heading down to Washington D.C. to take part in a number of events. Tomorrow lunchtime (Tuesday January 10, at 11.45), I’m taking part in a panel discussion at the New America Foundation, “Ten Years of Guantánamo: Will It Ever Close?” — with Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor for the Military Commissions at Guantánamo, who resigned in 2007, in protest at the planned use of evidence obtained through the use of torture, and is now the executive director of the Crimes of War Project, and Tom Wilner, Counsel of Record for the Guantánamo prisoners in their cases before the Supreme Court in 2004 and 2008. We will also be welcoming a special guest, Congressman Jim Moran, whose presence, in a Presidential election year, at an event that dares to mention Guantánamo is greatly appreciated.
At 5.30 pm, Tom Wilner and I will be at Busboys and Poets (at 5th and K) showing a new cut of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (which I co-directed with filmmaker Polly Nash), featuring new commentary by Tom, and, on Wednesday January 11 (the actual anniversary), I’ll begin, at 10 am, by attending an event at the National Press Club, at 529 14th St. NW, on the 13th Floor in the unironically entitled First Amendment Room.
Organized by the Center for Constitutional Rights, “Obama’s Prison: Guantánamo Turns 10” is an event to “discuss issues ranging from National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) provisions that prohibit the transfer of detainees unanimously cleared for release by the CIA,FBI, NSC, and Defense Department, to the continued lack of transparency and accountability for US torture practices.” The event features Stephen Olesky, co-lead counsel in Boumediene v. Bush, Col. Morris Davis, Retired Adm. Gen. John Hutson, Vince Warren, CCR’s Executive Director, and Baher Azmy, CCR’s Legal Director.
Afterwards, I’ll be attending “10 Years Too Many: National Day of Action Against Guantánamo,” consisting of a rally outside the White House at 12 noon, followed by a march to key institutions, including Congress, where I’ll be speaking — and berating lawmakers for their cynical fearmongering regarding Guantánamo.
I had a great time in New York over the last four days. The sun was shining, and there was also an unseasonable warmth, which may be an alarming portent in the long run, of course, but in the short term it made my visit very pleasant.
I arrived on Thursday evening, and was met by Debra Sweet. We immediately made our way to the Brecht Forum on the West Side Highway for a fascinating event, “Building a Movement to Close Guantánamo and End All Unjust Detentions,” which focused on building bridges between those working to close Guantánamo and those campaigning against unjust trials and detentions in the US. There I was delighted to meet up, for the first time since last January, with Pardiss Kebriaei and Leili Kashani of the Center for Constitutional Rights, with Guantánamo attorney and law professor Ramzi Kassem, and also Faisal Hashmi of the Muslim Justice Initiative, the brother of Fahad Hashmi, whose unfair extradition from the UK and unfair trial and disproportionately punitive sentence in the US in 2010 — after three and a half years kept in isolation in New York — I wrote about here. I then took a train uptown, to an apartment near Columbia University, where supporters of the World Can’t Wait looked after me throughout my stay.
On Friday, I was mainly working, although I appreciated hanging out at the World Can’t Wait office and having lunch with Debra and Louise, a visiting friend from Massachusetts. I also took part in an interview by phone with the progressive radio host Michael Slate on KPFK in Los Angeles, which is available here.
On Saturday, after an early start and more writing in the morning, I decided to take a break for some sightseeing, wandering for a while uptown, and then traveling downtown, getting off at Times Square, wandering over to Fifth Avenue, and then walking 15 blocks north. Architecturally and touristically, this was a fascinating detour, but of course there was no sign anywhere of the repressive machinery of empire (beyond the homeless people and those with unaddressed mental heath problems), or of people’s awareness of it. More revealing were overheard conversations at other times, on the Metro, about status or shopping, and a few glimpses of the aggression that is often just below the surface of US society, and, occasionally, the fear that has been pumped at the people so relentlessly since 9/11, and that shows no sign of abating.
Late in the afternoon, I gave a presentation at Revolution Books, which was excellent in every respect, except for the fact that it was rather sparsely attended, which is either a poor reflection on me (I hope not), or, I think more probably, a reflection on the fact that, even on the 10th anniversary of its opening, Guantánamo is a topic that has largely been forgotten about, or is being ignored, even by those who should care about its continued existence.
In running through the story of why Guantánamo is still open, three years after President Obama promised to close it, I was able to explain, in appropriate detail, how the President, Congress and the judiciary must all bear responsibility for having failed to close Guantánamo, and, in some cases, have actively worked to keep it open, not just in the short term, but forever.
In addition, what I also touched upon, with some sadness, was the fact that the recent uproar about the provision for the mandatory military custody of all terror suspects with ties to al-Qaeda in the National Defense Authorization Act, by focusing solely on the perceived threat to US citizens, overlooked the fact that, without Guantánamo, and the indefinite military detention of foreign terror suspects for the last ten years, Congress would not have been in a position to regard such a proposal as feasible.
Afterwards, I made my way to the West Village, to attend an evening of music, poetry and politics at Judson Memorial Church, described as “Dan Berrigan’s Freedom Ride: Get on the Bus to Shut Down Guantánamo,” including poetry by the veteran activist priest Dan Berrigan, music by William Parker, and a presentation on Guantánamo, which sounded, at times, like an echo of my own words, by Baher Azmy, the new legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights, with whom I’ve been working closely of late, while I was writing a series of reports on Guantánamo for CCR, which will be published on Wednesday. Afterwards, we went for a coffee and a chat about the future, which was very pleasant, and I then wandered around the West Village for a while, soaking up the Saturday night vibe, before heading back uptown for a late dinner, and some more burning of the midnight oil.
On Sunday morning I did some more work, had breakfast with my hosts, and then made my way downtown again for a fundraiser for the World Can’t Wait, which was a wonderful event, and well attended. It was a chance to meet up with some people I had met before, including the author Mike Otterman, and the former Muslim chaplain at Guantánamo, James Yee, who, notoriously, was imprisoned after the authorities wrongly concluded that he was a spy. I also had the opportunity to meet Sunsara Taylor for the first time, which was a great pleasure.
After an introduction from Debra, I ran through another version of my explanation of why Guantánamo is still open, with its cast of miscreants and incompetents, including the President, lawmakers and the judges of the D.C. Circuit Court. This was followed by a powerful performance by American Creative Dance, drawing on the stories of the prisoners, and inspired, as director Nancy Vining Van Ness explained, after she saw “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” exactly a year ago, during my previous visit.
Afterwards, there was a very lively discussion, and once the event wound up, a number of us went to a lovely Persian restaurant for great food and further discussion of our objectives, and the wider problems facing our respective countries, as the powers-that-be try to shore up our broken systems, and to blame the ordinary working people for the colossal crimes of the financial sector and the corporate world.
So now I’m in the belly of the beast, and looking forward to the events of the next few days, when, for a moment, the mainstream media will be glancing towards Guantánamo, remembering the men held there, before moving on and chasing the next ambulance. I hope we can provide them with some notion that, behind the indifference and the resignation, many people remain deeply troubled by the continued existence of Guantánamo.
Note: For further information, and to sign up to a new movement to close Guantánamo, please visit the new website, “Close Guantánamo,” which you can join here, and also please sign a new White House petition on the “We the People” website calling for the closure of Guantánamo. 25,000 signatures are needed by February 6.
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, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see 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.
Hopefully you’re not burning anything besides oil! Stay healthy and safe. Cheers!
Thanks, Mark, for the good wishes. I’ll do my best to stay healthy and safe. You too, my friend!
On Facebook, Lidia Berger wrote:
You’re welcome, Lidia. Good to hear from you.
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
My “share” function is malfunctioning, so I posted this from my I Phone, by opening in Safari and copying the URL into a status, with several words by me, as introduction.
That’s complicated! Thanks for making the effort, George. I appreciate it!
Dear Andy, as always, I love reading your writing and story telling. I’ll see you in a few hours in DC. Join us in the audience of the National Press Club in the morning at 10am! I’m glad you’ll be with us to mark this shameful anniversary; may we hasten its last.
Thanks, Leili, for the kind and supportive words. I look forward to seeing you too. We had two excellent events today at the New America Foundation and the World Can’t Wait event at Busboys and Poets, and I hope we get good weather — not essential, but helpful — tomorrow, and a good media turnout.
[...] You can read all of Andy’s account of his experience on that tour of the US here. [...]
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