On Friday (May 23), activists around the world held a global day of action — in 39 towns and cities in the US, and six other cities worldwide — calling for the release of prisoners from Guantánamo, and the closure of the prison. The day was set up by my friends in the US-based campaigning group Witness Against Torture, and I was at the London protest, in Trafalgar Square. This was a silent protest organised by the London Guantánamo Campaign, and I’m pleased to make my photos available. The protest, in front of the National Gallery, was seen by many people, and enthusiastic volunteers handed out leaflets explaining why it was so important.
The London protest was also noteworthy for the presence of a giant inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer, the last British prisoner in Guantánamo, which was an idea of mine, taken up by a supporter who financed the making of it. Shaker continues to be held, despite being cleared for release in 2007, under President Bush, and also under President Obama, and there will be further events calling for his release in the near future, which I’ll be publicising in due course. In the meantime, please sign and share the international petition calling for his release, and read some of my most recent articles about him; specifically, From Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer Says, “Tell the World the Truth,” as CBS Distorts the Reality of “Life at Gitmo”, Gravely Ill, Shaker Aamer Asks US Judge to Order His Release from Guantánamo and Shaker Aamer’s Statements Regarding His Torture and Abuse in Afghanistan and at Guantánamo.
The date for the global day of action was chosen because it was exactly a year since President Obama promised, in a major speech on national security issues, to resume releasing prisoners, after nearly three years in which the release of prisoners had almost ground to a halt.
The president had been prompted into action by a prison-wide hunger strike, which had reminded the world of the plight of the men at Guantánamo, largely abandoned as a result of cynical Congressional opposition to the release of prisoners, and President Obama’s refusal to overcome that opposition, even though he had the means to do so.
Since his promise to act last year, President Obama has released 12 prisoners (which is progress when compared to the five men released between October 2010 and the day of his speech), but much more work needs to be done. Of the 154 men still held, exactly half — 77 men — have been told that the US no longer wants to hold them, or to put them on trial.
75 of these men were approved for release from the prison in January 2010, when a high-level, inter-agency task force appointed by President Obama, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, delivered its final report on the prisoners, recommending who should be freed, who should be prosecuted, and — alarmingly — who should continue to be held without charge or trial. Two others were approved for release in recent months by Periodic Review Boards, established to review the cases of 71 prisoners who were initially designated for prosecution or for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial.
57 of these men are Yemenis, and officials in the Obama administration have tried to justify their ongoing imprisonment because they have fears about the security situation in Yemen. That, however, is not an acceptable reason for continuing to hold men for years after they were told the US no longer wanted to hold them.
Below is a video about the Yemenis made by the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents a number of Guantánamo prisoners:
Please also note the story of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian who is cleared for release, but who has been on a hunger strike, in despair at ever being released, and is being force-fed. Mr. Dhiab has been challenging the government’s decision to force-feed him, and recently won the right to have his lawyers see videotapes of his force-feeding and his “forcible cell extractions,” as well as his medical records, all of which will hopefully lead to his release, especially as President Mujica of Uruguay has offered new homes to him and five other men who cannot be safely repatriated.
For the day of action, I asked supporters to phone the White House on 202-456-1111 or 202-456-1414 or submit a comment online, and to tell President Obama that he must release all the prisoners cleared for release without further delay, and it’s a message that I continue to endorse and promote. You can, if you wish, specifically mention the Yemenis and/or Abu Wa’el Dhiab and Uruguay’s offer of a new home for him and five other men.
We need to make President Obama aware that continuing to hold men whose release was approved by high-level governmental review boards is unacceptable, and that these 77 men must be freed.
Thank you for your interest.
Note: For photos from a number of the protests in the US and elsewhere, please see Witness Against Torture’s Facebook page.
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 six-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.
On Facebook, Martin A Gugino wrote:
I notice the inflatable Shaker Aamer. How did that happen?
I like it. Maybe a helium version?
Good to hear from you, Martin. It was an idea I’d been mentioning for years, and then, at a Parliamentary meeting in December, where I was speaking, one of the people attending picked up on the idea and sourced it and financed it. We’re meeting up soon to make more plans for it.
Jehan Hakim posted this photo: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=401444976661265&set=p.401444976661265&type=1&theater
My son in SF 3/24
I hope by the time he can read at least, that these events will be injustices of the past..
Yes, I hope so too, Jehan. Good to hear from you. My son was 2 years and three weeks old when Guantanamo opened. In a few weeks’ time he’ll be 14 and a half. Essentially, he and his friends have never known a time when we’re not at war, or when America hasn’t been holding men without charge or trial at Guantanamo.
Abu Omar Abdulrazak Jama wrote:
Thanks for being the voice of the voiceless.
Thank you, Abu Omar. That’s very much appreciated.
Ted Cartselos wrote:
This story got ZERO coverage in the US.
Sadly, protests rarely get coverage, either in the US or the UK, Ted, unless there’s trouble, of course, or occasionally if it’s a momentous anniversary. The only time a reporter from the Washington Post made it to the annual protest outside the White House on January 11, the anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo, for example, was on the 10th anniversary in 2012. I don’t expect there’ll be another visit until the 20th anniversary, in 2022 – unless the prison is closed by then, of course, and I very much hope it will be.
Ajo Muhammad wrote:
Thanks to all that have hearts!
Yes, agreed, Ajo. Good to hear from you – and more hearts required!
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