Last week, I had the opportunity to join up with a phenomenal collection of activists — from the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases (CAAB) — on top of the Yorkshire Dales at Menwith Hill, an RAF base that acts as a front for the NSA (the US National Security Agency), which has been in charge of the base since 1966 — a very topical arrangement, given the recent revelations about the NSA by former analyst Edward Snowden.
I had been invited — to speak about Guantánamo — by Lindis Percy, a tireless campaigner against militarism, who has been arrested and imprisoned on numerous occasions, and my talk — just over 20 minutes in total — is available here, as an MP3.
An Indymedia page reporting on the event — including the photo above — is here, and it also includes links to some of the other guests, including Salma Yaqoob, psychotherapist, Chair of Birmingham Stop the War and a spokesperson for Birmingham Central Mosque, who gave a great speech.
My talk was, I believe, a useful explanation of why Guantánamo is still open, and why it remains, as it has always been, a moral, legal and ethical abomination, and a place that should be a source of shame to anyone with a shred of decency.
I spoke about the prison’s history, about the ongoing prison-wide hunger strike, now in its sixth month, about the obstacles raised by Congress to prevent the closure of the prison and the release of prisoners, and about the generally lesser-known obstacles raised by President Obama.
I also mentioned other important facts — that 86 of the remaining 166 prisoners were cleared for release three and a half years ago by an inter-agency task force established by the president when he took office, and that one of those men is Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo. I also explained how, despite Congressional obstructions, a waiver exists in the legislation that allows President Obama to bypass Congress if he regards that as being “in the national security interests of the United States.”
That waiver, of course, needs to be used by President Obama, and it needs to be used now.
My thanks to Lindis, and to everyone who took part in the protest; to her husband Christopher, who picked me up at Harrogate station and drove me up to Menwith Hill in the bright sunlight, where I was surprised at how shocking it was to see a row of US flags flying upside down as part of the protest; to Martin Wainwright, recently retired from the Guardian, for driving me to Leeds afterwards, with his wife Penny; and to Martin Schweiger (doctor, Quaker and CAAB member) and his wife Liz for putting us all up for the night. I was also very pleased to meet Carol Anne Grayson, an activist and Facebook friend, who I had never met in person before, who took the opportunity to film me, for an ongoing project. See here for Martin Wainwright’s profile of Carol last year.
I’ll be posting some photos of the event soon, but in the meantime I hope you have the time to listen to my talk, and to share it with others who might appreciate it.
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.
When I posted the link on Facebook, I wrote:
Here’s a recording of the 20-minute talk I gave about #Guantanamo at the “Independence from America” protest on July 4 outside RAF Menwith Hill in Yorkshire (which topically, is run by the NSA and has been since 1966). The protest was organised by the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases (CAAB), and it was an inspiring event that I was very happy to be part of.
Willy Bach wrote:
Andy, nice to see the UK celebrating Independence from America, so it is not just Australia and other groveling client states. Sharing.
By the way, the tee shirt is about MIA-POW and it is partly about what happened in Laos. This was a myth the CIA thought up during Nixon’s regime. It was a cruel and cynical deception perpetrated on grieving US families. The idea was to produce a victim culture in the US about their genocidal wars of aggression in Indochina. Have a look at Bruce Franklin’s book ‘M.I.A or Mythmaking in America: how and why belief in live POWs has possessed a nation’. It is remarkable that this myth still persists.
Instead of coming clean about how many Asians they had killed in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam (between 8 and 13 million) North Americans were side-tracked into believing that ‘our boys’ were ‘being enslaved to grow rice for Uncle Ho’. It would have been a very inefficient way to grow rice in a country where agricultural workers were not paid very much at all.
Franklin shows that shot down flight crews captured in Laos were mostly dead, killed by enraged villagers or injured in their parachute landing. Mostly these landing sites were in remote locations where medical assistance was not available and tropical infections together with unattended broken limbs saw most die quickly. Yes, some were taken prisoner, but they were exchanged in an honourable way at the end of hostilities.
US people know in their hearts about Operation Phoenix (see Mark Curtis: ‘How to Kill a Rational Peasant’ or Browning and Foreman’s ‘Wasted Nations’). Between 100,000 and 400,000 people were swept up by Diem’s forces in South Vietnam, backed by the CIA, and many were killed under torture including ear-doweling (I leave to your imagination) and being thrown out of helicopters. The barbarity on the US side was not matched by the Viet Cong and their allies. Even an arse-hole like John McCain survived.
So, have a care about myths.
Thanks, Willy, for the reminder about Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. The T-shirt, however, although adapted from the MIA-POW design, is an illustration by Shepard Fairey for Witness Against Torture, first donated to the activist group in 2007 and updated for the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo in 2012. I was given it by my friends in Witness Against Torture in January, during my visit to campaign for the closure of Guantanamo on the 11th anniversary of its opening: http://www.obeygiant.com/headlines/10-years-of-shame-in-guantanamo-bay
Shepard Fairey, ironically, played a significant role in branding President Obama as cool during the 2008 Presidential election campaign, with his “Hope” poster that was adopted by Obama’s campaign: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barack_Obama_%22Hope%22_poster
Willy Bach wrote:
Andy, I correctly spotted the logo, but what a very odd re-badging of its message. Thanks for the heads-up on this. I wonder if these friends of yours actually knew its history. A Canadian woman I know told me this logo is on flags and posters in some parts of the USA and she did a political science study of this odd cult. Call it the cult of the non-existent American prisoner.
I don’t know if my friends know about its origins, Willy. I imagine they were rather excited when Shepard Fairey gave them the image in 2007, but until you mentioned it and I Googled it, I had no idea it was a re-imagining of the MIA-POW image. I hadn’t come across it before. I like your description of “the cult of the non-existent American prisoner.” Now, sadly, these non-American prisoners very much exist, but we’re still not supposed to be thinking about them.
Willy Bach wrote:
Andy, I thought you might like to watch Adam Curtis’ video – it shows that torture was routine and integral to counterinsurgency warfare in Indochina:
HOW TO KILL A RATIONAL PEASANT
Saturday 16 June 2012
Thanks for that, Willy. I had come across the bizarre story of Jack Idema before, and his torture prison in Afghanistan. I didn’t know, however, about this article by the always fascinating Adam Curtis.
Willy Bach wrote:
Andy, when I saw the logo on your tee shirt my mind immediately went to the paradox of an anxiety about what could happen to a North American captured by the ‘barbarous’ adversaries mirrored by the real barbarism of the treatment of Guantanamo inmates meted out by Americans.
I wonder what forces are at work within these people when they are inflicting pain and humiliation on others. Perhaps there is an anxiety about what would happen to them if the tables were turned. Their cruelty could be a form of preemptive revenge.
When I was in old Sepon in Laos in 2009, standing in the midst of a town that had been flattened three times over by the USAF back in the 1960s. I wondered at the ferocious energy that those US pilots vented as they mowed down the last grandmother, the last wounded infant and stray dog. Yes, how they could do it? How could it make any sense? These people had done nothing to the US, yet Americans feared and despised them. Lord Bertrand Russell said that fear is the parent of cruelty. I think the same applies to the Australian treatment of Aboriginal peoples.
“Fear is the parent of cruelty” – that’s good, Willy, and I think it explains a lot. But there is a darker violence within us, I believe, that feeds on murder and torture. Decent people keep it locked up, but it is part of America’s psyche, and dark forces have promoted it as policy and national identity since 9/11, no doubt reviving the kind of horrors that fuelled “manifest destiny” in the 19th century. You’re correct to draw an analogy with Australia and the Aboriginal Peoples, and as for the British Establishment — look at the history of Empire, and the suppression of the poorer classes here, and then look at what the Tories are doing to the poor, the weak , the unemployed and the disabled. There’s a vile relish in their actions – which are a barely concealed substitute for extermination.
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
Email Andy Worthington
Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist: