Several months ago, I responded to a request to attend the annual “Independence From America” protest on July 4, the American Day of Independence, outside RAF Menwith Hill near Harrogate in Yorkshire. The event is organised by the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases (CAAB), and I was invited by Lindis Percy, a veteran activist who has been arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned on numerous occasions, to speak about Guantánamo. I was, of course, delighted to accept the invitation, and I look forward to the brief return to my roots, as I grew up in the north of England.
The protest will be from 5 to 9 pm, and other speakers are Salma Yaqoob, psychotherapist, Chair of Birmingham Stop the War and a spokesperson for Birmingham Central Mosque, and the journalist Martin Wainwright of the Guardian. Other guests include Mizan the Poet, the folk singers Ziggurat, and the East Lancs Clarion Choir, “Quaker Walkers celebrating 100 years of the Northern Friends Peace Board,” and there will also be a drumming workshop with Steve Hill of the Daftasadrum Drum Circle group.
At the time I accepted the invitation, none of us knew how the existence of an alarmingly overreaching surveillance state would be in the news at the time of the protest, as a result of the revelations of the US whistleblower Edward Snowden, because there are few places that symbolize this problem as powerfully as Menwith Hill. Nominally an RAF station that provides communications and intelligence support services to the UK and the US, it has actually been controlled by America since its establishment in 1954, and has been in the control of the NSA (the National Security Agency, the organisation at the heart of Snowden’s complaints) since 1966.
In 1988, the journalist Duncan Campbell exposed how Menwith Hill played a key role in the ECHELON surveillance program, which, in 2000, led to an EU committee on ECHELON noting that it involved the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and, as Wikipedia describes it, “raised concerns about the incompatibility of the interception of private and commercial communications with the fundamental right to respect for private life,” enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights), all of which now sounds hauntingly familiar. In a Guardian article in 2012, Richard Norton-Taylor noted how the Federation of American Scientists, an independent US body, stated that computers at the base “are capable of carrying out 2m intercepts an hour.”
For further information, please see the report, “Lifting the Lid on Menwith Hill: The Strategic Roles & Economic Impact of the US Spy Base in Yorkshire,” written by Dr. Steve Schofield, with support from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and published by Yorkshire CND in March 2012. At the time the base was undergoing an expansion, as part of what was described as Project Phoenix, which Schofield called “one of the largest and most sophisticated high technology programs carried out anywhere in the UK over the last 10 years.”
In April 2012, Schofield told RT that Menwith Hill also played a role in drone attacks. He said, “The UK’s providing a facility here that’s involved in drone attacks that we know, from independent assessments, are killing and injuring thousands of civilians, and because of the covert nature of that warfare, it’s very difficult to provide information and accountability through the UK parliament. And yet these are acts of war. And normally when we have war, parliament should inform people that we’re involved in those. And we’re not being informed. We’re kept entirely in the dark about them.”
Below are my comments about the importance of the protest, and if anyone is able to make it to Menwith Hill on Thursday, I look forward to seeing you there:
The recent revelations about surveillance, involving Edward Snowden, only highlight how the UK government is throughly complicit in the illegal and undemocratic activities of the US. It’s a familiar story from the last 11 years of “war on terror,” with Britain as America’s staunchest ally amongst the numerous countries who volunteered, or were prevailed upon to assist in the Bush administration’s programme of rendition and torture.
The starkest icon of the “war on terror” is the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where 166 men are still held without rights, and where the majority of the men are taking part in a hunger strike that will have lasted five months on July 4, including Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, one of 86 prisoners cleared for release but still held.
July 4 is the day when America recalls its declaration of independence from the tyranny of the UK, but the US now needs to recognize that it has become the tyrant, and to take the necessary steps to release the cleared prisoners in Guantánamo, to close Guantánamo and end indefinite detention without charge or trial, to hold torturers to account, to end its mass surveillance programmes, and to drastically scale back its global military presence, including in the UK.
For further information, please phone 01423 884076.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and 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. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
On Facebook, Mo D’oh wrote:
wish i could attend… since i can’t, i hope that it will get recorded and posted on Facebook
Diana Murtaugh Coleman wrote:
See you there, in real time solidarity!
Oh great, Diana. Looking forward to seeing you there. Mo, I’m sorry you can’t make it, but I realize you are some distance away! I don’t know if it will be recorded. I hope so.
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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