Archive for February, 2018

Reviewing the Guantánamo Art Show in New York That Dared to Show Prisoners As Human Beings, and Led to a Pentagon Clampdown

Artwork by former Guantanamo prisoner Mohammed al-Ansi, shown in 'Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantanamo Bay', an exhibition in New York. This is a screenshot of the home page of the website.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.

 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the 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.

Back in November, a disturbing story emerged from Guantánamo — of how a ten-year policy of allowing prisoners to give away art they have made at the prison to their lawyers and, via them, to family members had been stopped by the authorities, in response to an exhibition of prisoners’ artwork at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, part of the City University of New York, which is known for its criminal justice, forensic science, forensic psychology, and public affairs programs.

The Pentagon had taken exception to an email address provided for people who were “interested in purchasing art” from the artists featured in the show. A Pentagon spokesman, Air Force Maj. Ben Sakrisson, said on November 15 that “all Guantánamo detainee art is ‘property of the US government’ and ‘questions remain on where the money for the sales was going.’”

One problem with this position was that some of the art was by prisoners who are no longer at the prison,which surely raises questions about the extent of the Pentagon’s claimed “ownership” of their work, but the Department of Defense wasn’t interested in having that pointed out. Instead, a spokeswoman at the prison, Navy Cmdr. Anne Leanos, said in a statement that “transfers of detainee made artwork have been suspended pending a policy review,” and Ramzi Kassem, a professor at City University of New York School of Law whose legal clinic represents Guantánamo prisoners, said that one particular prisoner had been told that, if any prisoner were to be allowed to leave Guantánamo (which, crucially, has not happened under Donald Trump), “their art would not even be allowed out with them and would be incinerated instead.” Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: My Discussion with Scott Horton About the Shameful Rehabilitation of George W. Bush, As I Recall His 2002 Memo Authorizing Torture

Radio host Scott Horton and Andy Worthington, photographed calling for the closure of Guantanamo outside the White House on January 11, 2018, the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison.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.

 

Last week I was delighted to be invited to discuss Guantánamo, George W. Bush, torture and the “war on terror” by Scott Horton, the libertarian, Texan-based radio host, and the author of Fool’s Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan, in which, as Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg notes in a review, he “masterfully explains the tragedy of America’s longest war and makes the case for immediate withdrawal.”

Scott and I have been talking several times a year — and sometime more frequently — since September 2007, when we first spoke about the case of US “enemy combatant” Jose Padilla, tortured on the US mainland. Our interviews have generally been for 20-25 minutes, but for our latest interview the brakes were off, and we spoke for a whole hour.

The show is available here, or here as an MP3, and I wholeheartedly recommend it as a tour through the darkness of the “war on terror” declared by the Bush administration after the 9/11 attacks, as manifested in CIA “black sites,” in the CIA’s “extraordinary renditions” to torture prisons in other countries, in Guantánamo, and in the wars — and the accompanying lawless prisons — in Afghanistan and Iraq. We also looked at the sad failures of the Obama years — not only his failure to close Guantánamo, but how extrajudicial assassination by drones replaced the messy detention, rendition and torture program of the Bush years, but is no more legally or morally acceptable. Read the rest of this entry »

Two New London Screenings of ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, Documentary Opposing the Destruction of Council Estates, in Hackney Wick and Walthamstow on February 20 and 24

Concrete Soldiers UK: an image by street artists the Artful Dodger, who has created the imagery and logos for the film.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

In December, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, a new documentary film about Britain’s housing crisis, was released, for which I was delighted to have been asked by the director, Nikita Woolfe, to be the narrator. As we explain on the film’s website:

“‘Concrete Soldiers UK’ is a new documentary film by Nikita Woolfe, looking at an under-reported scandal in London and across the country — the social cleansing of council estates. Starved of funds by central government, councils and housing associations are entering into deals with private developers in which, instead of renovating estates, they are being demolished and rebuilt. The developers make huge profits, but existing tenants, and leaseholders are squeezed out, socially cleansed from their homes, and often from the boroughs in which they have lived for years, for decades, or for their whole lives.”

The film looks in particular at three struggles currently taking place — on the Aylesbury Estate in Southwark, and Central Hill and Cressingham Gardens in Lambeth — and is particularly concerned to provide a voice for those resisting the destruction of their homes. As we put it, “The film encourages viewers to have hope, and a belief that a fairer future is out there.” And with good news of late — Haringey residents seemingly victorious over their council, which sought to put all the borough’s social housing into a development vehicle with the rapacious Australian-based international property developer Lendlease, and with both Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan backing residents’ ballots before any demolitions can take place — it is to be hoped that 2018 will be the year that the tide finally turns on the social cleansing that has threatened to become an epidemic in recent years. Read the rest of this entry »

Over 1,200 Views for The Four Fathers’ ‘Grenfell’ Video, Remembering Those Whose Lives Were Lost, and Calling for Those Responsible to be Held Accountable

The Silent Walk for Grenfell, December 14, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Last month, at a party of activists in Brooklyn, towards the end of my annual US visit to call for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on the anniversary of its opening (the 16th anniversary of its opening, on January 11), I played ‘Grenfell’, the song I wrote after an entirely preventable inferno consumed Grenfell Tower, a residential tower block in west London last June, killing 71 people.

I wasn’t sure how much the small audience of human rights activists knew about it — how much news of distant disasters spreads around the globe, despite the notion that technology has made us all inter-connected — but I realised when introducing it that it was, for me, the defining moment of 2017, and I’m sure my passionate rendition of it helped one small corner of Brooklyn to understand.

I wrote ‘Grenfell’ last summer, as my response to the disaster, and played it with my band The Four Fathers for the first time in September at a benefit gig for campaigners in Tottenham, as part of their opposition to the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV), a deeply unpleasant proposal by Haringey Council to enter into a £2bn deal with the rapacious international property developers Lendlease (the destroyers of Southwark’s Heygate Estate), which would involve the council transferring all its social housing to the HDV, with the ensuing destruction of entire estates, and their replacement with new private housing, from which most of the existing tenants would almost certainly be excluded. Read the rest of this entry »

Will Donald Trump Actually Close Guantánamo?

'Guantanamo: Closing down', an image used by Reprieve to accompany their new petition calling for the closure 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. Please also sign the new petition launched by Reprieve, from which the image accompanying this article was taken, calling for Guantánamo’s closure.

 

I wrote the following article, as “Alberto Mora, U.S. Navy’s Former Top Lawyer, Explains How Donald Trump Might Close Guantánamo,” for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the 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.

Forgive me for what must appear to be a weirdly upbeat headline, given that it’s just over a week since Donald Trump issued a practically pointless but symbolically malevolent executive order keeping the prison at Guantánamo Bay open. However, as Alberto Mora, the General Counsel of the Department of the Navy under George W. Bush, has just explained in an op-ed for the Atlantic’s Defense One website, despite Trump’s seeming obsession with keeping Guantánamo open, it may be that a review of detention policies that he included in his executive order will conclude that he should close it after all.

Alberto Mora, who nowadays is a Senior Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, played a key role in resisting some of the most dangerously lawless innovations of the Bush administration in his role as the Navy’s General Counsel. In December 2002, when he was advised by David Brant, the director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), that military interrogators, were “engaging in escalating levels of physical and psychological abuse,” as Jane Mayer described it in a groundbreaking New Yorker article in 2006, he was appalled, and when Brant revealed that the abuse wasn’t “rogue activity,” but was “rumored to have been authorized at a high level in Washington,” he confronted William J. Haynes II, the Pentagon’s General Counsel, and Donald Rumsfeld, who had approved a memo authorizing torture at Guantánamo on December 2, 2002,  unearthing the memo, and threatening to go public about its contents unless it was withdrawn. Rumsfeld complied, but secretly convened a working group to reinstate the policies Mora objected to, which had the approval of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, as written by John Yoo, the author of the infamous CIA “torture memos,” which cynically sought to redefine torture so that the CIA could use it.

As a result, Mora is well-placed to comment on Guantánamo 15 years on from his struggle to prevent the use of torture at the prison, and his suggestion that Donald Trump might close it is based on Trump’s “command to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to ‘reexamine our military detention policy’ and report back to him within 90 days and his request to Congress to ensure that ‘we continue to have all necessary power to detain terrorists.’” I’m not sure that I agree with Mora that this shows “unexpected open-mindedness” on Trump’s part, and I cannot agree with his assessment that, in “asking Mattis to take charge,” and also including Congress in an assessment of detention policy, Trump “acted prudently and, dare I say it, wisely.” Read the rest of this entry »

Exactly 16 Years Ago, George W. Bush Opened the Floodgates to Torture at Guantánamo

George W. Bush and one of the iconic images of prisoner abuse from Abu Ghraib in Iraq.

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.

 

Since the terrible elevation of the grotesquely inadequate figure of Donald Trump to the position of President of the United States, there has been a bizarre propensity, on the part of those in the center and on the left of US political life, to seek to rehabilitate the previous Republican president, George W. Bush.

So let’s nip this in the bud, shall we? Because unless you’ve been away from the planet for the last 20 years, you must be aware that it was George W. Bush who initiated the US’s brutal and thoroughly counter-productive “war on terror” in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which involved authorizing the CIA to set up a secret detention and torture program, establishing a prison outside the law at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, establishing deportation and surveillance programs within the US, invading one country (Afghanistan) in response to the attacks, where US troops remain to this day, despite having long ago ”snatched defeat from the jaws of victory,” as the author Anand Gopal once explained to me, and invading another country (Iraq) that had nothing to do with 9/11 or al-Qaeda, but which was nevertheless destroyed, along the way serving as the crucible for the creation of a newer threat, Daesh, or Islamic State, as it is more colloquial known in the West, a kind of turbo-charged reincarnation of al-Qaeda.

Today, February 7, is the 16th anniversary of one particularly sinister and misguided development in Bush’s “war on terror” — a memorandum, entitled, “Humane Treatment of Taliban and al Qaeda Detainees,” which was sent to just a handful of recipients including Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Attorney General John Ashcroft, CIA director George Tenet, and General Richard B. Myers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Read the rest of this entry »

Comic Book Star: My Role in a Comic Explaining Why Guantánamo is Such a Bad Idea, and Why It Must Be Closed

A panel from the comic 'Guantanamo Bay is Still Open. Still. STILL!' by Jess Parker and Sarah Mirk, featuring Andy Worthington.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.

 

Three weeks ago, while I was in the US on my annual tour calling for the prison at Guantánamo Bay to be closed, to coincide with the 16th anniversary of its opening, on January 11, I received some great news from a writer friend, Sarah Mirk, that a comic about Guantánamo, in which I featured, had just been published on the website of The Nib, “a daily comics publication that is part of First Look Media,” the organization set up in 2013 by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, which also includes The Intercept.

A panel from the comic 'Guantanamo Bay is Still Open. Still. STILL!' by Jess Parker and Sarah Mirk, featuring Andy Worthington.The comic is entitled, Guantánamo Bay is Still Open. Still. STILL!, and Sarah had interviewed me for it in October, although I didn’t know at the time that I would actually be immortalized in comic form!

As I explained when I posted the link on Facebook, “OK, this is very, very cool. I am now a comic book star! What else is left to achieve? Sarah Mirk, who I met in 2009 when she came to the UK with former Guantánamo guard Chris Arendt for Cageprisoners’ powerful ‘Two Sides, One Story‘ tour of the UK, with Moazzam Begg and other ex-prisoners, interviewed me recently, and used that interview as the basis for a comic about Guantánamo, illustrated by the talented Australian artist Jess Parker.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Shouts Interview: Andy Worthington of The Four Fathers Discusses the Importance of Protest Music with Halldór Bjarnason

The Four Fathers at Lewisham People's Day, July 2017 (Collaged photo by Dot Young).Check out The Four Fathers’ new album, ‘How Much Is A Life Worth?’ here.

Last month, I was delighted to be approached by Halldór Bjarnason, an Icelandic journalist and musician, asking if he could interview me for his website, Shouts: Music from the Rooftops!, which features interviews with musicians who make political music, including Andy White, from Belfast, Yuca Brava, “a political rapcore band from Puerto Rico”, War On Women, a feminist punk band from Baltimore, and Keyz, a 20-year old rapper from Sudan. The interview is here, and is cross-posted below.

As I noted when I posted the link to the interview on Facebook last night, the “questions, about my band The Four Fathers, and my songwriting, were very interesting — about how we got together, why we perform protest music, and whether I think there’s an audience for protest music these days.”

Introducing the interview, Halldór, noting that I am both a journalist and am musician, wrote that journalists have a responsibility to be voices for the voiceless, to hold power to account, and to be “courageous in seeking the truth.” He also noted that “[m]usicians do not bear the same responsibility exactly, although it can be argued they have a powerful voice” that often has an international reach. He also noted that, although some musicians do not manifest a “socially conscious message,” because they believe in creating music based on their emotions, “Others are more explicit in their lyrics or performance and send a strong message of protest out into the ethos in every single song,” adding, “The Four Fathers are of the latter type.”

My thanks to Halldór for taking the time to interview me, and I hope you have time to read the interview, and will check out our music if you haven’t already heard it. Read the rest of this entry »

Haringey Leader Claire Kober’s Resignation Ought to Signal an End to Labour’s Frenzy of Council Estate Destruction, But 70 Labour Leaders Disagree

On the left: Claire Kober, the leader of Haringey Council, who announced her resignation on January 30, 2018 after profound grass-roots opposition to her plans to transfer all the council's social housing to a 50:50 development vehicle between the council and rapacious international property developers Lendlease. On the right: a poster by the Stop HDV campaign, which led a brilliant grass-roots campaign against the proposal.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

There was great news on Tuesday, as Claire Kober, the Labour leader of Haringey Council, announced her resignation, explaining that she will not be standing in May’s elections. Kober — and her close associates, like Alan Strickland, Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Housing — had imperiously decided to hand over all of Haringey’s social housing to the predatory international developer Lendlease, in what was laughingly described as a 50:50 partnership. Lendlease, however, has all the money, and what was intended to happen, via the £2bn deal for Haringey, was a large-scale version of what Southwark Council arranged for Lendlease at the Heygate Estate in Walworth: the destruction of council estates and their replacement with private developments for sale, or for rent at unaffordable prices.

At the Heygate, as I explained in an article last September, 1,034 homes, housing around 3,000 people, were demolished, most of which were socially rented, costing around 30% of market rents. 2,704 new homes are being built on the Heygate’s replacement, Elephant Park, but only 82 of those will be for social rent, with the rest laughably described as “affordable” in the biggest scam in the developers’ current lexicon. “Affordable” rents were set at 80% of market rents by Boris Johnson, in his miserable tenure as London’s Mayor, but that is actually unaffordable for the majority of hard-working Londoners.

As Aditya Chakrabortty of the Guardian explained when describing the Haringey proposal, known as the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV), in July, “Haringey plans to stuff family homes, school buildings, its biggest library and much more into a giant private fund worth £2bn. It’s the largest scheme of its kind — ‘unprecedented’, in the words of backbench councillors. Together with a property developer, it will tear down whole streets of publicly owned buildings and replace them with a shiny town centre and 6,400 homes.” 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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