Archive for December, 2015

President Obama on Closing Guantánamo

Code Pink activists use a photo of President Obama, and his own words, to make a powerful point about the need to close Guantanamo outside the White House on May 10, 2013 (Photo: Pat Benic/UPI).I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

A week before Christmas, at a press conference, President Obama spoke about Guantánamo, and we wanted to make sure that our supporters know exactly what he said, as it is significant for the coming year — Obama’s last in office — to know what he has planned, and what he thinks of the opposition to his plans in Congress, where Republicans have been imposing restrictions on his ability to release prisoners and to close the prison for most of his presidency, including a ban on bringing prisoners to the US mainland for any reason.

Below are President Obama’s comments, interspersed with our commentary. We hope you find it useful. The president’s comments came in response to a question by the journalist David Jackson.

David Jackson: Thank you, Mr. President. A Gitmo question. Congress has made it pretty clear that they’re just not going to let you transfer prisoners to the United States for trial. But some people think you already have the executive authority to transfer those prisoners and close Gitmo itself next year. My question is, do you believe you have that authority and are you willing to exercise it to close that place? Read the rest of this entry »

Videos: Andy Worthington’s Band The Four Fathers Play “Fighting Injustice” and “She’s Back”

Shaker Aamer after his release from Guantanamo at a meeting in the Houses of Parliament on November 17 with, from L to R, Andy Worthington, Patricia Sheerin-Richman and Joy Hurcombe of the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, and the broadcaster and teacher Suliman Gani.

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On December 18, I gave a talk about Guantánamo, my research into the men held there, the lawlessness and cruelty of the prison, and my writing and campaigning for nearly ten years to educate people about the prison and, ultimately, to get it closed, at an event held at the Deptford Cinema, a community cinema in south east London that I wholeheartedly recommend. I spoke not just about my research and my writing, but also the Close Guantánamo campaign I launched nearly four years ago with the US attorney Tom Wilner (who represented the Guantánamo prisoners in their habeas corpus cases before the US Supreme Court), and We Stand With Shaker, the campaign I launched last November with the activist Joanne MacInnes to secure the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who was finally freed on October 30 after nearly 14 years in US custody.

With what I hope is an innovative approach to combining politics, education and entertainment, my talk was followed by a set of political songs by my band The Four Fathers, and I’m delighted that a friend, Andrew — who became involved in We Stand With Shaker via his involvement in CAAB (the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases), for whom I was a speaker at their annual July 4 protest at the NSA’s Menwith Hill spy base in Yorkshire in 2013 — recorded my talk and most of our set, which he has made available via YouTube.

The video of my talk is here, which I posted before Christmas, and on Christmas Day I posted the video of The Four Fathers playing “Song for Shaker Aamer,” the song I wrote that was featured in the campaign video for We Stand With Shaker, updated to reflect Shaker’s release. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Andy Worthington’s Band The Four Fathers Play “Song For Shaker Aamer” at Deptford Cinema, Dec. 18, 2015

Andy Worthington, Joanne MacInnes, Shaker Aamer and doctor and journalist Saleyha Ahsan on November 17, 2015, after Shaker had met supporters and MPs in the Houses of Parliament.

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One week ago, on December 18, I gave a talk about my writing about Guantánamo and my campaigning to get the prison closed, including the We Stand With Shaker campaign, at Deptford Cinema in south east London, followed by a set by my band The Four Fathers, playing our repertoire of political songs.

In a previous article, I made available a video of my talk, filmed by a friend and campaigner, Andrew, who, I’m delighted to say, also filmed us playing an updated “Song for Shaker Aamer,” used in the campaign video for We Stand With Shaker, which was launched last November by myself and activist Joanne MacInnes to push for the release of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, particularly by encouraging celebrities and MPs to stand with a giant inflatable figure of Shaker — a campaign that, I’m glad to note, met with considerable support.

After Shaker’s release on October 30, I amended the lyrics to reflect that he is now a free man. This was the version we played at Deptford Cinema, and, for Christmas — when, I believe, everyone, whatever their religion or belief system, should be encouraged to think about those less fortunate than ourselves, and to help those suffering injustice — I’m pleased to be making it available below via YouTube. The song is about Shaker Aamer, but it also deals with the fundamentally unjust nature of the system of imprisonment without charge or trial at Guantánamo, where 107 men remain. If you find this unacceptable, and want to do something about it, please feel free to join the Close Guantánamo campaign that I set up nearly four years ago with the US attorney Tom Wilner, who has represented Guantánamo prisoners, and advocated on their behalf in their Supreme Court cases in 2004 and 2008. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer and We Stand With Shaker at Deptford Cinema, Dec. 18, 2015

Shaker Aamer with Andy Worthington and Joy Hurcombe, the chair of the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, at a meeting in the Houses of Parliament on November 17, 2015.On Friday, I was delighted to present, for the first time, a multi-media evening of my work, in which I spoke about my writing about Guantánamo and my campaigning to get the prison closed, including the We Stand With Shaker campaign, followed by a set by my band The Four Fathers, playing our repertoire of political songs. If anyone in London wants to follow up with a similar evening of a talk followed by music, then please get in touch.

The event was at Deptford Cinema, a great little independent community cinema in south east London — the only independent cinema in the Borough of Lewisham, in fact — which is well worth anyone’s support, and I’m delighted that a friend, Andrew, filmed my talk and has made a significant part of it available on YouTube.

Andrew became involved in We Stand With Shaker via his involvement in CAAB (the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases), for whom I was a speaker at their annual July 4 protest at the NSA’s Menwith Hill spy base in Yorkshire in 2013, and I’m grateful to him for recording it and making it available to a wider audience. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Andy Worthington and Joanne MacInnes Discuss the Success of We Stand With Shaker on George Galloway’s Sputnik Show on RT

Andy Worthington and Joanne MacInnes of the We Stand With Shaker campaign on George Galloway's Sputnik show on RT on December 19, 2015. On Saturday, Joanne MacInnes and I, the co-founders and co-directors of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, which successfully campaigned — with other campaigners, with MPs and with the support of media including the Daily Mail — to secure the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, appeared on George Galloway’s Sputnik Show on RT (filmed on Thursday) to discuss the success of the campaign, how Shaker is doing since his release, what the future holds, and the unreliable nature of the so-called evidence against him (something I had particularly wanted to emphasize).

George — and Gayatri, his wife, who co-hosts the show with him — spoke to Jo and I last November, just after we launched the campaign, and it was great to be invited back to celebrate, as, of course, struggles against colossal injustices undertaken by major world powers do not always end so well — and for the 107 men still held at Guantánamo, of course, the injustice is far from over.

This was how George introduced the show: Read the rest of this entry »

Video: After Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer’s 90-Minute BBC Interview with Victoria Derbyshire

Shaker Aamer, in a screenshot from his interview with the BBC, broadcast on December 14, 2015.On Monday, after an exclusive interview with the Mail on Sunday, published the day before (which I wrote about here and here), both the BBC and ITV News ran interviews with Shaker Aamer, who, until October 30, when he was freed, was the last British resident in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

I am delighted to have played a part in securing Shaker’s release through ten years of writing about Guantánamo, and campaigning to get the prison closed, and, for the last eleven months of Shaker’s imprisonment, through the We Stand With Shaker campaign that I launched with the activist Joanne MacInnes last November.

I have also had the pleasure of meeting Shaker since his release, and was delighted to find that everything I had worked out about him from the reports that have emerged from Guantánamo and from those who know him — his eloquence, his intelligence and his implacable devotion to tackling injustice — was accurate, and this was also evident in his interview with Victoria Derbyshire for her morning show on BBC2, which I’m posting below via YouTube where it has already received over 55,000 views.

Note: Please be aware there are a few glitches in the video, where the sound and images are lost for a few seconds and there is only disturbing white noise. Read the rest of this entry »

Zahir Hamdoun, the 21st Guantánamo Prisoner Seeking Release Via A Periodic Review Board

Zahir Hamdoun, in a recent photo made available by his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights.I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Last Tuesday, the 21st prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo — Zahir Hamdoun, a 36-year old Yemeni — asked the board, made up of representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to approve his release from the prison. The board members communicate with Guantánamo by video feed, and hear directly from the prisoners and their representatives, although very little of what takes place is open to the media, and, by extension, the public.

The PRBs, which began in November 2013, were established to review the cases of 46 men deemed “too dangerous to release” in 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009, plus 25 others originally recommended for prosecution — until the basis for prosecution largely collapsed under judicial scrutiny.

The description of 46 men as “too dangerous to release” sounds dramatic, but in fact the task force conceded that insufficient evidence existed to put these men on trial, so instead of “too dangerous to release” a better description would have been “subjected to unreliable information, in many cases obtained through torture, or other forms of abuse, or bribery, or regarded as a threat because of their attitude while unjustly imprisoned for years without charge or trial.” Read the rest of this entry »

For Christmas, Buy My Books on the UK Counter-Culture and Guantánamo and My Music with The Four Fathers

Andy Worthington's band The Four Fathers play Brockley Christmas Market on December 12, 2015 (Photo: Ruth Gilburt).If anyone out there hasn’t yet completed their Christmas shopping and would like to buy any of my work, I’m delighted to let you know that all three of my books — about Guantánamo and the UK counter-culture — are still available, as is the album “Love and War,” recorded with my band The Four Fathers and released just a few months ago.

From me you can buy my first two books, Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield.

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion is a social history of Stonehenge, interweaving the stories of the outsiders drawn to Stonehenge, primarily over the last hundred years — Druids, other pagans, revellers, festival-goers, anarchists, new travellers and environmental activists — with the monument’s archeological history, and also featuring nearly 150 photos. If you’re buying this from me from anywhere other than the UK, please see this page.  You can also buy it from Amazon in the US. Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer Discusses His 13 Years in Guantánamo, Built to “Destroy Human Beings,” and Adjusting to Freedom Since His Release

Shaker Aamer photographed by Craig Hibbert for the Mail on Sunday, December 8, 2015.The Mail on Sunday yesterday featured the first interview conducted by Shaker Aamer since his release from Guantánamo six weeks ago, and below, following my first article yesterday, are excerpts dealing with his 13 years and eight months in Guantánamo — over 5,000 days — and his adjustment to life since his release: the changes in the world, and, in particular, getting to know his family again after so long separated from them. Also included are great anecdotes about Shaker helping someone in a wheelchair — a rather typical act, I believe, for someone renowned for wanting to help others — and what happened when he tried to open a bank account. As the co-founder of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, established just over a year ago to call for his release, it is reassuring to me that he has now undertaken major media interviews — including with ITV News and with The Victoria Derbyshire Show on BBC2, broadcast today — and that he will, hopefully, soon be free to devote more of his time to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo. If viewers outside the UK have difficulty accessing the broadcasts, there are clips from the BBC interview on Twitter here, here and here.

Please also feel free to listen to me on BBC Radio London this morning. The section on Shaker began at At 01:06:27, and my interview started at 01:08:26 and finished at 01:15:10. A good interview, I thought. Please have a listen, and share it if you agree. And please also free to check out my interview with Wandsworth Radio, recorded in the evening.

Shaker Aamer speaks about Guantánamo

Remembering brutality in Guantánamo, and recalling, in particular, the approach of the Forcible Cell Extraction team, six armored soldiers, empowered to suppress, with violence, any perceived infringement of the rules, Shaker told David Rose, “You feel scared.” In Shaker’s case, FCE visits to his cell were shockingly regular, and as he said, “You know you can get hurt, because there are some huge guys there, 18, 20 stone guys, muscular. You could be paralyzed. Anything can happen. Anything.” Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer Speaks: First Newspaper Interview Since Release from Guantánamo, in the Mail on Sunday

A photo that Shaker Aamer made available to the We Stand With Shaker campaign to thanks all his supporters who worked so hard to secure his release from Guantanamo.The Mail on Sunday today featured the first interview conducted by Shaker Aamer since his release from Guantánamo six weeks ago, and below are excerpts dealing with his life from 1989 to February 2002, when he arrived at Guantánamo, providing information not previously discussed — in particular, about the circumstances of his visit to Afghanistan and his capture. As someone who campaigned for many years for his release — including in the last year with the We Stand With Shaker campaign I co-founded last November — it is wonderful to hear from him.

Speaking to David Rose, Shaker spoke about his experiences in the US after he left Saudi Arabia, where he was born in 1966, in Medina. From 1989 to 1995, he explained, as Rose noted, that he “lived mostly in Atlanta, in the US state of Georgia, working as a chef in restaurants. In those days he lived a Westernised life: a lover of rock music, he often attended concerts by his favourite bands — including AC/DC and Ozzy Osbourne. In this period, in 1990, he responded to a US army recruitment drive for Arabic/English translators during the first Gulf War — which is how he came to find himself working for the US infantry in Saudi.”

“First I was in the south, then at a base in Tabuk, near the Jordanian border,” Shaker said, explaining that he needed security clearance for the job. “Of course I had to be checked. I was right inside the US base. I got to know those guys very well, especially the colonel — his name was Johansen. Later, I used to tell my interrogators: call Colonel Johansen, he will tell you I’m not a terrorist, that I’m a good guy, and that I’m telling you the truth. I’m sure they never did.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

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Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo

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