I just wanted to let you know about a couple of Guantánamo events I’m taking part in, for anyone in London and the south east over the next few weeks, which are listed below. The first, on Wednesday November 13, is a screening by the Canterbury Amnesty Group of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” the documentary film that I co-directed with the filmmaker Polly Nash, and the second, on Saturday November 23, is a day of action for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison — who is also featured in the film — in Battersea, in south London, where his wife and children have been awaiting his return for 12 years.
Originally released in 2009, it remains relevant, in the first instance because it tells the story — which I first told in my book The Guantánamo Files, and have been writing about ever since — of how innocent men and boys ended up at Guantánamo with Taliban supporters and a handful of terrorists, in large part because the US was offering substantial bounty payments to its Afghan and Pakistani allies, and how a torture program was then introduced to secure evidence from these men, which, ever since, has been used by the US government to justify the men’s detention, even though most of it is worthless.
Another reason the film remains relevant is because it features the story of Shaker Aamer, who is still held, even though he was first cleared for release in the spring of 2007, two and a half years before the release of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” and was then cleared again under President Obama in January 2010, after the year-long deliberations of the inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, which the president established shortly after taking office in January 2009.
He is one of 84 cleared prisoners still held, in part because of obstacles raised by Congress, and in part because of President Obama’s unwillingness to spend political capital overriding Congress, but what is unclear in his case is why the British government has been unable to secure his release, despite ministers repeatedly promising that they have been calling for him to be freed.
I have been covering Shaker’s story assiduously — most recently during the prison-wide hunger strike that ran for many months earlier this year, as can be read here, here, here and here — and most recently, Shaker’s voice was heard in a rare news report from the prison by a major US news network, in this case, CBS’s “60 Minutes,” presented by Lesley Stahl, in which, as was recently explained by the US lawyer Tom Wilner, my colleague in the “Close Guantánamo” campaign:
During Ms. Stahl’s walk-and-talk through a cell block at Guantánamo, one of the detainees dramatically yelled out: “Please, we are tired. Either you leave us to die in peace – or tell the world the truth. Let the world hear what’s happening.” CBS didn’t identify that prisoner, and apparently didn’t try to learn why he said what he did.
The prisoner was Shaker Aamer, a Saudi citizen and, before his incarceration, a permanent resident of Britain. He was cleared for release not only by the special task force four years ago, but even earlier by the Bush Administration. He has been imprisoned at Guantánamo now for almost 12 years, more than half of that time after he had been cleared. That is the real tragedy of Guantánamo — not how we try those few who will be charged, but why we continue to hold the many others who will never be charged and have been cleared. The press should do a story on that.
Tom is exactly right, and while there’s still little willingness in the US in general to recognise how important it is to push for the release of Shaker and the other 83 men cleared for release, and also to push for the closure of the prison, the role of the UK government remains important, as Shaker’s wife explained last week. “Attended a meeting today with the Foreign Secretary William Hague in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office with my father Saeed Siddique and daughter Johina Aamer,” she wrote on Facebook, adding, “Discussed about my husband Shaker Aamer and his release from Guantánamo.” She also said that the meeting “went well,” adding, “we pray and hope that the result is well too,” although she added, ” this is not the first time we attended meetings like this.”
It is my hope that those involved in the events in the next few weeks will be able to help to put pressure on the British government by writing to William Hague to call for Shaker’s return.
Please see below for further information about the two events. both of which are free (although donations are welcome) and open to the general public:
Wednesday November 13, 7pm: Screening of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” followed by discussion with Andy Worthington, Joy Hurcombe and others
Simon Langton Girls School, Old Dover Road, Canterbury CT1 3EW.
This screening, by the Canterbury Amnesty Group, of the documentary film co-directed by filmmaker Polly Nash and journalist Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files, will be followed by a Q&A session with Andy, Joy Hurcombe, the chair of the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, Richard Norman, Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Kent, and Namir Shabibia of Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers represent 15 men still held at Guantánamo.
For further information, please contact Huw Kyffin.
Saturday November 23, 12 noon to 5pm: March and Rally for Shaker Aamer – End his twelve years of torture and abuse, with John McDonnell MP, Andy Worthington, Joy Hurcombe and others
The marchers will assemble at Northcote Baptist Church, 53 Wakehurst Road, London SW11 6DB at 12 noon, and march to the rally at Lower Town Hall, Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, London SW11 5TN, for 2.15pm.
This event is organised by the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, relentless campaigners for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, whose family awaits his return in south London. It has been called to mark the 12th anniversary of Shaker’s capture by bounty hunters in Afghanistan,
The speakers, at the rally from 2.15pm onwards, are: John McDonnell MP; Jean Lambert MEP; Andy Worthington, campaigning journalist; Joy Hurcombe, Chair of the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign; Imam Suliman Ghani of Tooting Mosque; Yvonne Ridley of Cageprisoners; the journalist Victoria Brittain; the campaigner Dr. David Nicholl; Aisha Maniar of the London Guantánamo Campaign; Hamja Ahsan, the brother of the extradited UK citizen Talha Ahsan; Daniel Blaney of CND and Steve Bell of the Stop The War Coalition.
The SSAC notes, “The events will be marking the time when Shaker was abducted in Afghanistan — we call for an end to his twelve years of torture and abuse, for a full debate to take place in the House of Commons chamber, for the UK Government to demand and secure Shaker’s return to his family in London, and for the US to immediately release Shaker back to the UK.”
For further information, please contact Ray Silk of the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign.
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, and “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.
Please sign and share the international petition calling for the release of Shaker Aamer, on the Care 2 Petition Site, if you haven’t yet done so: http://www.tinyurl.com/shakeraamer
Andy, are you sure the Battersea meeting is on December 23rd, and not November ?!
Corrected. Thanks, Anna. At least I got it right in the title and in the main listing, just not in the introductory paragraph!
Every time Shaker shows up again i want to scream. Because all his mates have been out for years, and he is if anything more innocent than anybody. the other reason for screaming is i learned in Shadow Lives how unspeakably horrible this is for his dear wife. I don’t want either of these fine humans to endure one more minute of the hell usa has made for them.
Always good to hear from you, Paul. Your response to Shaker’s plight is powerful, and it’s important also for everyone involved to remember how much those left behind suffer when their husband or father is taken fro their lives not for a crime committed, and a sentence handed down by a judge, but because of, in the first place, under Bush, a nation’s hysteria, and since then, under Obama, because it is politically inconvenient to release men, including Shaker, who the president’s own inter-agency task force said that the US had no interest in putting on trial or continuing to hold indefinitely. As I have said repeatedly, everyone involved in this – President Obama and his administration, Congress, the D.C. Circuit Court and the SUpreme Court, most of the American media and far too many US citizens – ought to be profoundly ashamed that Guantanamo is still open.
Campaigning investigative journalist and commentator, author, filmmaker, photographer, singer-songwriter and Guantánamo expert
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