16 Years of Guantánamo: My Eighth Successive January Visit to the US to Call for the Closure of the Prison on the Anniversary of Its Opening

4.1.18

A poster prepared by Witness Against Torture showing events in Washington, D.C. on an around Jan. 11, 2018, the 16th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration, and my imminent visit to the US, discussed below.

 

On Monday, I fly into New York from London for what will be my eighth successive January visit to the US to call for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay. Despite the generally inhospitable climate and the unpleasantness of the cause, it has always been exciting to visit, as I have met and got to know the people who should be running the US — the campaigners, principled lawyers and ordinary citizens who have made a stand against the existence of the prison, recognizing it as a profound injustice, established in the heat of vengeance after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which is a source of shame to all decent Americans every day that it remains open.

A majority of Americans, unfortunately, don’t understand how important it is to rely on established and internationally accepted procedures when depriving people of their liberty. Those imprisoned should either be criminal suspects, charged as swiftly as possible and put on trial in a federal court, or prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions, and held unmolested until the end of hostilities. At Guantánamo, however, the men held were deprived of all rights, and held as “unlawful enemy combatants” — “for the express purpose of denying them the rights that combatants normally receive,” as Human Rights First has explained in a briefing.

This would be bad enough, but the very basis for holding the men has always been a disgrace — although one, sadly, that has never received the mainstream coverage it cries out for. Contrary to claims that the men and boys held at Guantánamo were “the worst of the worst,” who were all captured on the battlefield, most were captured not by the US, but by their Afghan and Pakistani allies, who didn’t find them on the battlefield, and who often sold them to the US, which was paying bounties averaging $5000 a head for anyone who could be portrayed as a member of al-Qaeda or the Taliban.

In Guantánamo, when this collection of foot soldiers and “Mickey Mouse” detainees — in the words of Maj. Gen. Michael E. Dunlavey, the commander of Guantánamo in 2002 — arrived at the prison, the authorities soon resorted to torture and abuse in an effort to extract useful information from them, and the formerly classified military files that were released by WikiLeaks in 2011 (on which I worked as a media partner) revealed the shocking truth about the so-called evidence used to justify the detention of most of the 779 prisoners held by the US military at Guantánamo since 2002. Much of it came from other prisoners, who were repeatedly shown photos of their fellow prisoners, in what was termed “the family album,” and who, whether through torture, abuse, exhaustion, or bribery, told copious lies about their fellow prisoners — another scandal that is nowhere near as well known as it should be.

My annual visits are part of an ongoing effort to secure the closure of Guantánamo, focused on a protest outside the White House on the anniversary of the prison’s opening, and also including other events — a panel discussion at New America, a US policy think-tank, other events in Washington, D.C., events in New York City, and, sometimes, in other parts of the US.

The White House protests are staged by a coalition of rights groups and lawyers, including Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Witness Against Torture and Close Guantánamo, the campaign and website I set up with the attorney Tom Wilner in 2012, and they take place outside the White House every year except when there is an inauguration, when the White House is off-limits, as it was in 2012 and last year. The Facebook page for this year’s protest, beginning at 11.30am, is here, and I’ll be speaking as usual, an enjoying the opportunity to spend three minutes spelling out to the occupant of the White House why exactly it is so disgraceful that the prison is still open.

This year the protest will be outside the White House, and it is, of course, a significant occasion, as this is the first year that the anniversary of the opening of the prison takes place under Donald Trump, who has been a poisonous president when it comes to Guantánamo, as he has been on so many fronts over the last 12 months.

The New America events first came about because Peter Bergen of New America and I were friends at college in Oxford in the 1980s, and every year I have undertaken panel discussions with Tom Wilner and other guests — Col. Morris Davis, Congressman Jim Moran, Karen Greenberg and Rosa Brooks — and this year we’re delighted to welcome back Karen, the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School. The New America page for the panel discussion, “Guantánamo Under Trump,” which begins at 2.30pm, is here.

I’m also speaking at “There is a Man Under that Hood: Closing Guantánamo and Ending Torture in the Age of Trump,” an event the evening before the anniversary, organized by Witness Against Torture and the Peace Poets, spoken word artists from the Bronx, which is primarily a launch event for a book featuring a spoken word piece by the Peace Poets’ Luke Nephew accompanied by photos from various protests over the years taken by Justin Norman, WAT’s designer.

After the anniversary, I’ll be returning to New York, where I’ll be staying until Jan. 21, and where I’m the speaker at an event, “Guantánamo, Torture, and the Trump Agenda,” at Revolution Books in Harlem on Tuesday January 16 that has just been confirmed, starting at 7pm. I hope that other events will follow.

Please do get in touch if you would like to interview me, or if you’d like me to take part in any other event — speaking about Guantánamo, of course, but also, if you wish, providing me with an opportunity to play some of the songs I’ve written for my band The Four Fathers that are particularly relevant to the struggle for justice at Guantánamo (including a celebration of habeas corpus), the struggle to hold accountable those responsible for the abuses of the “war on terror,’ including torture, and the struggle to prevent the kind of institutional racism that has led to the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement, and that is implacably opposed to Donald Trump’s racist immigration ban.

Staying until Jan. 21 will also allow me to take part in protests against Trump on the first anniversary of his inauguration on January 20. I wish I could say that there have been protests as big as the Women’s Marches that took place the day after Trump’s inauguration last year, when, for example, in New York, where I was, at least 500,000 people marched to oppose the new president, but sadly the initial promise of that day of protest was not repeated, and most of the last year has been a nerve-jangling spectator sport, as millions of decent Americans wait every day to see what new nonsense he will come up with in this undignified new age when the president makes his recklessly unmediated opinions known via Twitter.

That’s it for now. I look forward to seeing some of you over the next two weeks.

Peace.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Donald Trump No! Please Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2017), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — 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, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

5 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Announcing my 8th annual visit to the US, from Jan. 8-21, to call for the closure of Guantanamo on and around the anniversary of its opening (on Jan. 11). This year, shockingly, Guantanamo will have been open for 16 years – in other words, it will begin its 17th year of operations – and yet most Americans still don’t care that the hallmark of a dictatorship – indefinite detention without charge or trial – is taking place in their name in a prison on a US naval base in Cuba. There’ll be the usual protest outside the White House (marking Trump’s first Jan. 11 in charge of Guantanamo), a great event the evening before (with Witness Against Torture, the Peace Poets and me), and a panel discussion at New America on the afternoon of Jan. 11 (with me and Tom Wilner representing Close Guantanamo, and Karen Greenberg of Fordham Law School). I’m then in New York until I return home, and have just had a speaking event at Revolution Books in Harlem confirmed for Tuesday Jan. 16. I hope to see some of you on my travels!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Very pleased to be in such distinguished company for the White House protest on Jan. 11. I’m representing Close Guantanamo, and there will also be representatives of Amnesty International, Center for Constitutional Rights, CODEPINK: Women For Peace, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Defending Rights and Dissent, Justice for Muslims Collective, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, No More Guantanamos, Reprieve, September 11th Families for a Peaceful Tomorrows, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition, Veterans For Peace, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, Witness Against Torture and the World Can’t Wait.
    See: https://www.facebook.com/events/2437676149790193/

  3. Anna says...

    Hi Andy, have a great time (don’t forget your heavy woollies!) and say hello to common friends!
    Looking forward to your comments about the Guantanamo paintings exhibition which you will no doubt visit!
    You’re probably too busy with preparations to follow what’s happening in the UN Security Council right now, but the Iranian ambassador just wiped the floor with the US’ meddling in other countries, breaking international conventions & human rights, starting with their ousting of democratically elected PM Mossadegh in 1953, to their own police killing African American civilians. It was a true catharsis listening to him, highly recommended. Not that there isn’t a lot wrong in Iran, but who are the US with bloody smug Nikki Haley to call the kettle black?

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you, Anna! Yes, I’m looking forward to seeing the exhibition – and hopefully to meet Erin Thompson as well.
    I’ll make sure to say hello to mutual friends – and thanks also for the info from the UN. I guess Trump has made US hypocrisy even more shocking than it was before.

  5. Guantánamo, Torture and the Trump Agenda by Andy Worthington – Dandelion Salad says...

    […] and the Trump Agenda,” at Revolution Books in Harlem, which took place last week as part of my annual visit to the US to call for the closure of the prison on and around the anniversary of its opening — on January […]

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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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