Archive for April, 2020

Change the World! A Life in Activism: I Discuss Stonehenge, the Beanfield, Guantánamo and Environmental Protest with Alan Dearling

Andy Worthington calling for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay outside the White House, singing and playing guitar, and challenging the police and bailiffs on the day of the eviction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford.

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At the start of the year, I was delighted to be asked by an old friend and colleague, Alan Dearling, the publisher of my second book, The Battle of the Beanfield, if I’d like to be interviewed about my history of activism for two publications he’s involved with — the music and counter-culture magazine Gonzo Weekly and International Times, the online revival of the famous counter-cultural magazine of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

In February, after my time- and attention-consuming annual visit to the US to call for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on the anniversary of its opening, I found the time to give Alan’s questions the attention they deserved, and the interview was finally published on the International Times website on March 21, just two days before the coronavirus lockdown began, changing all our lives, possibly forever. Last week, it was also published in Gonzo Weekly (#387/8, pp. 73-84), and I’m pleased to now be making it available to readers here on my website.

In a wide-ranging interview, Alan asked me about my involvement with the British counter-culture in the ’80s and ‘90s, which eventually led to me writing my first two books, Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion, and, as noted above, The Battle of the Beanfield. my work on behalf of the prisoners in Guantánamo Bay, which has dominated much of my life for the last 14 years, and my more recent work as a housing activist — with a brief mention also of my photo-journalism project, ‘The State of London’, and my music with The Four Fathers.

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Nine Years Ago, Julian Assange and WikiLeaks Released the Guantánamo Files, Which Should Have Led to the Prison’s Closure

The logo for Wikileaks’ release of the previously classified Guantánamo military files in 2011, on which I worked as a media partner.

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Just over ten years ago, Pfc. Bradley Manning, stationed in Iraq as an intelligence analyst, undertook the largest leak in US history of classified government documents. These documents included 482,832 Army reports from the Afghan and Iraq wars, 251,287 US diplomatic cables from around the world, and classified military files relating to the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, as well as the “Collateral Murder” video, which showed US military personnel killing civilians from helicopters and laughing about it.

Manning leaked the files to WikiLeaks, founded by Julian Assange, which published the documents in 2010 and 2011. The last releases were of the Guantánamo Files, on which I worked as media partner, along with the Washington Post, McClatchy, the Daily Telegraph, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, El Pais, Aftonbladet, La Repubblica and L’Espresso.

WikiLeaks began publishing these files nine years ago today, on April 25, 2011, introduced by an article I had written about their significance, “WikiLeaks Reveals Secret Files on All Guantánamo Prisoners,” posted on my own website that same day as WikiLeaks Reveals Secret Guantánamo Files, Exposes Detention Policy as a Construct of Lies.

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The Four Fathers Release New Eco-Anthem, ‘This Time We Win’, Recorded with Charlie Hart

The cover for ‘This Time We Win‘, the new single by The Four Fathers. Designed by Brendan Horstead.

On Earth Day (April 22), The Four Fathers released ‘This Time We Win’, a new online single on Bandcamp, produced by Charlie Hart, who also plays Wurlitzer piano on it.

This Time We Win’ is an eco-anthem that I wrote last year in response to the unfolding, man-made, global environmental catastrophe that we all face, and the powerful efforts to highlight it that have been made by the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg and her Fridays For Future movement of striking schoolchildren, and the campaigning group Extinction Rebellion, who occupied central London a year ago.

We were planning to release it this spring, to coincide with what we anticipated would be renewed environmental activism, but what we couldn’t have foreseen was the arrival of the highly infectious novel coronavirus, COVID-19, and the complete shutdown of all significant gatherings of people, including political protests, to try and stop its spread.

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Asadullah Haroon Gul, a “No-Value Detainee,” and One of the Last Two Afghans in Guantánamo, Asks to Be Freed

A photo of Guantánamo prisoner Asadullah Haroon Gul, taken by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross at Guantánamo, and made available by his family.

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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.

With the prisoners at Guantánamo currently cut off more than ever from the outside world, as the coronavirus threat has brought visits from their attorneys to an end for the foreseeable future, the only way we can hear anything from any of the 40 men still held is if they have written to their attorneys, or if their attorneys have notes from previous meetings with their clients that have been unclassified after being reviewed by the Pentagon’s censorship team.

If any attorneys have any words of their clients that they’d like to share with the world, we’ll be happy to publish them, but in the meantime we’re delighted to cross-post below an article by Asadullah Haroon Gul, one of the last two Afghan prisoners in Guantánamo, and one of the last prisoners to arrive at the prison, in 2007, whose previous missive about Guantánamo — about the threat the coronavirus poses to the men still held — was the subject of our last article, just a few weeks ago.

In this second article, published in Afghanistan Times, Gul specifically focuses on his status as one of the last two Afghan prisoners in Guantánamo (mistakenly describing himself as the last Afghan in the prison, and overlooking Muhammad Rahim, who was the last prisoner to arrive at the prison, in March 2008), and also ties this in with descriptions of some of the other Afghan prisoners held and freed. He also makes a useful distinction, regarding the 40 men still held, between those regarded as “high-value detainees” (HVDs) held in the secretive Camp 7, and the rest — himself included — who he describes as “no value detainees” (NVDs).

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In the Midst of the Coronavirus Lockdown, Environmental Lessons from Extinction Rebellion, One Year On

Extinction Rebellion’s ‘Tell the Truth’ boat in Oxford Circus on April 18, 2019, during a week-long occupation of sites in central London to raise awareness of the environmental catastrophe that is already underway, and the need for urgent change to combat it (Photo: Andy Worthington)..

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As we all continue to try to make sense of — and live with — the extraordinarily changed world in which we find ourselves, I’m reminded of what a different place we were in a year ago, and also how some of our insights from that time so desperately need to be remembered today.

One year ago, we were five days into Extinction Rebellion’s occupation of four sites in central London (Parliament Square, Waterloo Bridge, Oxford Circus and Marble Arch), which largely brought the traffic to a halt for a week, and enabled anyone paying attention to directly appreciate what a city not dominated by the choking fumes and noise of relentless traffic felt like, and what that, in turn, said about so many of capitalism’s priorities in a major capital city.

It was, to be blunt, something of revelation, as I explained in an article at the time, Extinction Rebellion’s Urgent Environmental Protest Breaks New Ground While Drawing on the Occupy, Anti-Globalisation and Road Protest Movements, in which I also related XR’s efforts to those of earlier protest movements, and noted how we had, it seemed, all become so accustomed to how loud and dirty London was, with its relentless traffic, the incessant din of its numerous building sites, and the lorries servicing those sites, which were the most unpleasant of all the vehicles incessantly filing our streets — other huge lorries, buses, taxis, white vans, and an inexplicable number of cars — that the sudden silence and clean air was astonishing.

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The Coronavirus Lockdown, Hidden Suffering, and Delusions of a Rosy Future

London under the coronavirus lockdown, March 30, 2020 (Photo by Andy Worthington from his photo-journalism project The State of London).

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Nearly a month since the coronavirus lockdown began in the UK, it seems clear that the intentions behind shutting most retail outlets and workplaces, and encouraging everyone to stay at home as much as possible — to keep the death toll to manageable levels, preventing the NHS and the burial industry from being overwhelmed — are working, although no one should be under any illusions that Boris Johnson’s government has managed the crisis well. Nearly 13,000 people have died so far in hospitals in the UK, a figure that seriously underestimates the true death toll, because it cynically ignores those dying in care homes.

However, frontline NHS staff are also dying, and this is because they are still deprived of necessary personal protective equipment (PPE), which is an absolute and unmitigated disgrace, showing how far our current elected officials are from the wartime spirit of the plucky British that they are so intent on selling to the public to cover up their failings.

If they really were who they claim to be, they would have pulled out all the stops to get factories manufacturing PPE in as short a time as possible, but they’re not who they claim to be: they’re incompetent disciples of a neo-liberal project that is interested only in elected officials handing out contracts — and all profit-making ability — to private companies, and that is determined to destroy the state provision of services, something that the Tories have been gleefully doing, not least to the NHS, since they first returned to power almost ten long and dreadful years ago.

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Health Not Wealth: The World-Changing Lessons of the Coronavirus

A composite image of a doctor and the City of London, photographed by Andy Worthington during the coronavirus lockdown, on April 2, 2020.

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Yesterday marked 100 days since the coronavirus (COVID-19, or SARS-CoV-2) was first reported by the Chinese authorities, and, as now seems to be becoming clear, this highly infectious disease, which, in just three months, has reached almost every country on earth, and has so far killed nearly 100,000 people, is changing our lives — and our world — forever.

To put it simply, we have discovered that health is more important than wealth, and in a world dominated by the profit motive of capitalism, this is a profound lesson to learn, and one with consequences that will affect every aspect of our lives from now on.

Just a few weeks ago, we still raised up, and were obsessed by, the pin-ups of the celebrity world, one of capitalism’s many fronts for its almost complete domination of our lives, with its vacuous models, pop stars, footballers and film stars — all obscenely overpaid, and all dutifully obeying the requirement that, for fame and money, they had to allow themselves to be put on pedestals, to dazzle us into subservience.

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A Coronavirus Lament by Guantánamo Prisoner Asadullah Haroon Gul

Guantánamo prisoner Asadullah Haroon Gul, known to the US authorities as Haroon al-Afghani, who has been held at the prison without charge or trial since 2007.

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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




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.

Last week, on my own website, I published an article looking at the threat posed to the prisoners at Guantánamo by the coronavirus, following up on the alarming news that a US sailor had been diagnosed with the virus, and was in isolation. My article also included a cross-post of a related article written for Just Security by Scott Roehm, the Washington Director of the Center for Victims of Torture.

Roehm pointed out that a number of the prisoners have serious underlying health problems, including Guantánamo’s oldest prisoner, Saifullah Paracha, and Sharqawi Al-Hajj, who tried to commit suicide last year, both of whom we have written about (see here and here).

Roehm also called for a number of appropriate responses from the Trump administration, beginning with letting the prisoners and their lawyers know what policies are in place to deal with the virus, and also including a call for Congress to allow prisoners to be transferred to the US mainland if they need urgent medical care.

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The Coronavirus and Guantánamo’s Extraordinarily Vulnerable Prison Population

A collage of Guantánamo and the coronavirus.

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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.





 

Ever since the coronavirus began its alarming global spread, those who work with, and on behalf of prisoners have been aware of the threat that it poses to those who are incarcerated. This applies, as commentators have noted, whilst urging urgent action, to the many million of prisoners worldwide who are imprisoned after being tried and convicted of crimes, as well as, in some countries, political prisoners.

In the UK, lawyers urged the government, to no avail, to release Julian Assange, who is held in Belmarsh maximum security prison in London, fighting efforts by the British government to extradite him to the US to face entirely inappropriate espionage charges relating to his work with WikiLeaks, and in the US, as well as highlighting the dangers faced by the country’s 2.2 million domestic prisoners — the largest prison population per capita in the world — some activists have also been highlighting the dangers the virus poses to the 40 men still held in the prison at Guantánamo Bay, all held for between 12 and 18 years, and almost all held indefinitely without charge or trial.

The plight of the Guantánamo prisoners was particularly highlighted eight days ago, on March 24, when the US Navy announced in a press release that a sailor stationed at the base had “tested positive for COVID-19” and was “currently undergoing evaluation and treatment.” The Navy’s press release added that the Department of Defense had “notified public health authorities of the positive test” and had “taken prudent precautions” to ensure that the service member was “receiving the appropriate care.” It was also noted that the sailor was “currently isolated at their home and restricted in movement in accordance with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Guidelines,” and that efforts were underway to trace recent contacts made by the sailor.

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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