Telling Donald Trump to Close Guantánamo: My Report on an Inspiring 24 Hours of Protest and Resistance in Washington, D.C. on the 16th Anniversary of the Prison’s Opening

14.1.18

Some of the supporters of the new Close Guantanamo initiative, counting how many days Guantanamo has been open. Clockwise from top L: Alli McCracken of Amnesty International USA, Natalia Scott in Mexico, Susan McLucas in Massachusetts, Martin Gugino, representatives of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Kathy Kelly, Brian Terrell and Beth Adams in Washington, D.C. 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, including my current visit to the US.

 

Thursday, Jan. 11 was the 16th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, and to mark the occasion, via the Close Guantánamo campaign I co-founded with the attorney Tom Wilner in 2012, we launched a new initiative: the Gitmo Clock, which counts how long Guantánamo has been open — 5,845 days on the anniversary. We’re encouraging people, throughout the year, to print the clock, take a photo with it, and send it to us, to put up on the website and to share via social media.

I arrived in New York from London on January 8, on my eighth annual visit in January to call for the closure of Guantánamo on and around the anniversary of its opening, and on Wednesday, January 10, I took the bus to Washington, D.C., to attend an event that evening, and to take part in a protest and a panel discussion the day after.

All were wonderful, inspiring occasions, providing an uplifting antidote to the anxiety and misery of life under Donald Trump as the repulsive, dysfunctional head of a disturbingly heartless Republican government.

The event on the evening of January 10, “There is a Man Under that Hood: Closing Guantánamo and Ending Torture in the Age of Trump,” at the Impact Hub in Washington, D.C., was the launch for a wonderful book featuring photos by Justin Norman, the media director for the campaigning group Witness Against Torture, illustrating a spoken word piece by Luke Nephew of the Bronx-based Peace Poets. I was delighted to have been asked to speak at the event, along with Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, and Aliya Hussain of the Center for Constitutional Rights, before Luke, Frank Lopez and Enmanuel Candelario of the Peace Poets took to the stage to deliver some of their powerful spoken word pieces, including, of course, “There is a Man Under that Hood,” which you can watch here, recorded at the White House protest three years ago.

After the event, I briefly went back to the church where Witness Against Torture activists stay during their week-long campaign, in which, while fasting and focusing their energies on the plight of those still held at Guantánamo, they also undertake creative actions every day, targeting institutions in the capital that have associations with Guantánamo, or with related issues involving, for example, racism, Islamophobia, and the prison system. Over the years, I’ve come to regard many of the Witness Against Torture activists as friends, and that evening I had a great conversation with some of them, including Ken Jones, Brian Terrell and Martin Gugino, before walking across town to where I was staying, with John and Debby Hanrahan, great supporters of visiting activists with whom I have stayed several times before.

Thursday morning, I was delighted to note, was both sunny and warm, and after a detour back to the church, I made my way to the annual protest outside the White House with Kathy Kelly. Trump’s White House was something of a shock, with an extra barrier erected all round the White House, an increase in the numbers of police present, and also the appearance, for the first time, of numerous individuals emblazoned with the words, in large letters, “Secret Service,” which, to my mind, rather defeated the point.

The impression this gave me was of paranoia on the part of Trump, and a tacit acknowledgement of his unpopularity, but in reality, of course, it was also slightly unnerving, and I was told that the organizers had come into a certain amount of conflict with the authorities as they first arrived to set up the protest.

Nevertheless, when it began, it was a powerful occasion, with many more people in attendance than in previous years, and with, I thought, a concentration of our energies, and a kind of righteous anger because of our collective focus, for the first time, on the repulsive legacy of Donald Trump’s first year in office, in which he has shut the door on Guantánamo, and has also, of course, been appallingly racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic on a persistent basis, from the Muslim travel ban that he launched straight after his inauguration through to the absolutely disgraceful “shithole” comment he made about Africa, Haiti and El Salvador on the same day that we were calling for the closure of Guantánamo.

I was delighted to have been invited to address the crowd first, and when I did so, I was surprised to discover that the disappointment that was the hallmark of the Obama years and been replaced by genuine anger — fury even — at the racist obstruction of Trump, and his disgraceful unsuitability as president. My rousing speech was videoed by Justin, and I hope it will be made available soon, along with videos of some of the many other great speakers who focused our energies so powerfully on the White House and on the need to close Guantánamo once and for all.

As campaigners in orange jumpsuits laid out cups for each of the 41 men still held, and we sang our songs of liberation — particularly “A beautiful sound” by the Peace Poets — it was clear that, unlike last year, when were adrift between Obama and Trump, this year our focus was unerring — on Trump, who now owns Guantánamo — as was our contempt for this dismal president and despicable human being.

See below for an Associated Press video, via YouTube, featuring myself, Pardiss Kebriaei of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and former NCIS agent Mark Fallon, the author of Unjustifiable Means: The Inside Story of How the CIA, Pentagon, and US Government Conspired to Torture.

Afterwards, I made my way just around the corner from the White House to the New America think-tank, where, every year, Tom Wilner, the other co-founder of Close Guantánamo, and I, hold a panel discussion with one or two other guests. This year, for “Guantánamo under Trump,” we were joined by Karen Greenberg, the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School in New York, who has been with us before.

I was delighted to note that the audience was much bigger than it has been for many years, and that a lively Q&A session followed our presentations. The video of the event is below, via YouTube — please note that it starts at about 11 minutes in — and to my mind the most poignant section was Tom describing his first visit to the prison in five years to meet with Khalid Qassim, whom he is representing, with Reprieve, in an effort to overturn the disgraceful appeals court decisions in 2010 and 2011 that essentially gutted habeas corpus of all meaning for the prisoners.

Tom powerfully described the zombie bureaucracy of the military, which continues to behave as though a prisoner like Qassim — who had been nothing more than a Taliban foot soldier, and who continues to be held because, historically, he resisted his unlawful imprisonment at Guantánamo by behaving badly — are a mortal threat, when he is no such thing. At Guantánamo, when he has been allowed to express himself, he has shown a talent for art, but for me the most telling moment was when Tom explained how thin he is — only half the weight of a normal man, after years of hunger striking to protest his endless imprisonment without charge or trial. As always when skeletal hunger strikers at Guantánamo are mentioned, I cannot but reflect on how shocking it would be to the public if a photo of a prisoner — resembling those held in the Nazis’ concentration camps — were to be leaked.

On Friday, I came back to New York wth Matt Daloisio and Jeremy Varon of Witness Against Torture, and I’m here for a week, returning to the UK after the anniversary of Trump’s inauguration and the — hopefully —widespread protests on the day, revisiting last year’s Women’s Marches.

If you’re in New York, I’d love to see you on Tuesday evening, January 16, at Revolution Books in Harlem, where, in “Guantánamo, Torture, and the Trump Agenda,” I’ll be talking about Guantánamo, reflecting on my 12 years researching and writing about the prison and the men held there, and working to get it closed, and also looking at what we can do this year to try and make the dream of its closure a reality.

I hope to see you there, and, in closing, don’t hesitate to get in touch if you want to interview me, or if you would like to arrange any other kind of event with me — whether it’s a speaking event, or even an opportunity for me to play some of my music relating to Guantánamo, the US torture program, and other issues involving human rights and social justice.

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.

3 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my report on the inspiring protest and events in Washington, D.C., marking the 16th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo on Thursday, including the annual protest outside the White House, and the launch of the new Close Guantanamo initiative shown in the photo: a photo campaign with posters showing how long Guantanamo has open – disturbingly, a grim total of 5,845 days on Thursday, during which most of Guantanamo’s prisoners have been held without charge or trial. My thanks to everyone who organized the events (including an activist event on Wednesday, and a New America panel discussion on Thursday), to all those who came along, and to all those who continue to take an interest in this malignant injustice. It was powerful, after the chaos of last year, to focus unerringly on Donald Trump, and his responsibility for this ongoing disgrace, so let’s now make 2018 the year we get Guantanamo closed once and for all.

  2. Tom says...

    There’s a high chance that the US govt. will shut down this Friday. If it does, Guantanamo is considered “essential funding”.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for that info, Tom. Good to hear from you.
    A report is here: http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2018/01/how-trumps-sh-thole-remark-could-provoke-a-shutdown.html

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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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