Video: Attorney Shelby Sullivan-Bennis and I Bring the Sorrow, Injustice and Cruelty of Guantánamo to Life at Revolution Books in New York

21.1.20

Andy Worthington and Guantánamo attorney Shelby Sullivan-Bennis discussing Guantánamo at Revolution Books in New York on January 16, 2020, five days after the 18th anniversary of the prison’s opening.

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I’m just back in the UK after a ten-day trip to the US to call for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay that has, I think, been as constructive as anyone could have expected. I took part in a prominent rally in Washington, D.C., two speaking events with lawyers representing prisoners, one TV interview and six radio interviews.

The rally (video here) was outside the White House on January 11, the 18th anniversary of the opening of the prison, where I spoke as a representative of the Close Guantánamo campaign, which I established with the attorney Tom Wilner eight years ago, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison. The rally also involved representatives of numerous other groups that remain concerned about the existence of Guantánamo, including Amnesty International USA, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Witness Against Torture, whose members fast and stage actions in the run-up to the anniversary, and who, in their orange jumpsuits and hoods, provide a suitably grim theatrical backdrop to the occasion.

On Monday January 13, Tom Wilner and I spoke at the New America think-tank, a well-attended event for which, I hope, a video will be available soon. I then returned to New York, where I was interviewed by RT in a seven-minute feature that, shockingly, constituted the sole focus on the Guantánamo anniversary in the whole of the US broadcast media, and I then took part in my second speaking event, at Revolution Books in Harlem, which I’m posting below.

“Close Guantanamo” with Andy Worthington from Revolution Books on Vimeo.

This was an extraordinarily powerful event, largely because I was joined by Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, who represents a number of the men still held at Guantánamo, and who vividly brought to life the full horrors of being held in the prison three years after Donald Trump took charge of it, and essentially sealed it shut, having promised — by tweet — even before he took office that “there must be no more releases from Gitmo,” and having fundamentally been true to his words, only releasing one man who had agreed to being repatriated to further imprisonment in Saudi Arabia in exchange for a plea deal in his military commission proceedings in 2014.

As I explained when I posted the video on Facebook, Shelby “brought us the most chilling and poignant account of the circumstances in which her clients remain imprisoned — getting older and more ill in a prison from which there is no escape, because of the disgraceful position taken by Donald Trump, who simply doesn’t care that there is no practical reason for their ongoing imprisonment,” while “I delivered a passionate and indignant account of the prison past, present and future.”

In particular, I summarized the various, shifting and largely lawless permutations of the prison’s history over the last 18 years, and the blame for its continued existence that rests with all three presidents who have had control of it — and expressed, as I have throughout my visit, my anger that, despite the injustice of Trump shutting the door on Guantánamo, and depriving the “low-level detainees” still held (who make up over half of the 40 men still held) of any hope of release, almost no one in the US — in Congress, in the mainstream media, or amongst the American people — seems to care. or, in many cases, even to know that the prison still exists.

What made the event all the more poignant — and that contributed to the indignation of my message — was that I had spent the afternoon with Shelby at CUNY School of Law in Long Island City in Queens, whose Sorensen Center is currently hosting an immensely powerful exhibition of artwork by Khaled Qasim (aka Qassim), one of the men still held for whom no good reason exists for his ongoing imprisonment.

I’ll be publishing an article about that exhibition very soon — and I note in passing that the law school is planning a rotating exhibition throughout the year, featuring work by many other Guantánamo prisoners past and present — but for now I wanted to specifically mention how the emotionally charged atmosphere of the Revolution Books event came about because, that afternoon, I had visited the exhibition, and both Shelby and I had been talking in detail about Guantánamo, dwelling on Khaled’s creativity, and the despair he and other prisoners feel at being entombed in the prison under Donald Trump, with no prospect of release — all of which fed powerfully into the event that followed.

I very much hope that you have time to watch the video, and that you’ll share it with anyone that you think might be interested — or that you think should know about the continuing, and profound shame of Guantánamo.

I can genuinely think of few aspects of US policy that are more disappointing than the cruelty of holding men forever without charge or trial, up to 18 years after they were first seized, when — as with many of the men still held — they genuinely don’t constitute a threat to the US, a situation that, in many cases, has also been confirmed by high-level US government review processes.

For those wanting to check out specific aspects of the event, Raymond Lotta of Revolution Books started the proceedings, then I spoke from six minutes in until 31:40, then Raymond spoke some more, and then Shelby spoke from 43:45 to 1:13:30, followed by a Q&A session.

* * * * *

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 see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in 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, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.55), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from seven years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of the documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the resistance continues.

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, The Complete Guantánamo Files, 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.

13 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, a report about – and link to the video of – my speaking event about Guantanamo at Revolution Books in New York on January 16, where I ran through the history of the prison past, present and future and was honored to be joined by Shelby Sullivan-Bennis​, who represents a number of the men still held at Guantanamo, and who delivered harrowing frontline tales of what it is like inside the prison as its existence is cruelly and pointlessly maintained by Donald Trump.

    I do urge you to watch the video if you have the time, and to share it with anyone who might be interested – or who needs to know the horrors of what is still being done in their name 18 years after this intolerable facility first opened.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    A very clear exposition Andy. The moment where you explain the two ways someone can be legally detained and how the GTMO detainees fit neither category is particularly clear and helpful. You only have to watch five minutes of Trump addressing his base at one of his mass rallies to know this human rights breach will never have any purchase for as long as Mr Trump remains in the White House.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, David. Good to hear from you – and thanks for highlighting that explanation!

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Muriel Strand wrote:

    Congressional opposition was the reason Obama could not close Guantanamo, and i suppose Congress is still opposed.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    He could’ve overcome that opposition if he’d wanted to spend the political capital, Muriel, but he didn’t, sadly – and yes, Congress is still obstructive, but now with an obstructive president as well.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Alan Dearling wrote:

    Well done for keeping the campaign alive, Andy.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    And thanks for noticing, Alan!

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Alan Dearling wrote:

    More than ever … we need to support young people to make radical change happen … elders and braves!

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Absolutely, Alan. Old white men are a menace to our very future in so many places around the world (Trump, Johnson, Bolsonaro etc.), and old white people (yes, women as well as men) are behind the backwards-looking, repressive urge to ‘Get Brexit Done’ and to ‘Make America Great Again’, while young people – many not even of voting age, like Greta Thunberg – are evidently much more able, in significant numbers, to see the reality more clearly, and need the support of as many older people as possible.

  10. Anna says...

    Hi Andy and all the friends who probably are reading your stories, wish I were there.

    In the meantime you may have missed that Mitchell is testifying in person in Guantanamo and apparently insists that he would do the same now, ‘for the victims of 9/11’ … would you believe it ?

    https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/01/psychologists-designed-cia-torture-testify-guantanamo-200121104637591.html

    https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/01/guantanamo-tribunal-creator-cia-torture-techniques-testifies-200122110433187.html

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Anna,
    Great to hear from you, and sorry you weren’t able to be with us. You arose in discussions at various times!
    The news of Mitchell and Jessen’s testimony had already been flagged up well in advance, although I had mistakenly thought it was going to be in February, so I felt slightly ambushed by the sudden rush of journalists to Guantanamo, and rather saddened by what I anticipate will be the outcome: a flurry of media activity, forgotten almost immediately afterwards, and no one reporting on the men abandoned just a short distance away from the courtroom – the “low-value detainees” in Camp 6, and the “high-value detainees” in Camp 7 who, like the “low-value detainees”, have never even been put forward for trials, however broken and unjust the trial system may be. Entombed by Donald Trump in a kind of living death, these men too deserve to have their stories told, but will any of the journalists on the base even think of them?

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Geraldine Grunow wrote:

    Thank you for this informative and moving presentation.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re most welcome, Geraldine. Thank you for caring!

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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 (The State of London).
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