Archive for November, 2020

Covid, Ghost Cities and the Collapse of Property Prices in the West End and the City of London

An almost entirely deserted Oxford Circus on November 10, 2020, during the latest Covid lockdown in England. A previously unpublished photo from Andy Worthington’s photo-journalism project ‘The State of London.’

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Is this how the world as we know it ends, then — not with a bang, or even a whimper, but with the slow, silent death of shops, pubs, restaurants and live culture?

England’s second Covid lockdown, introduced on November 5 in response to rising infection rates, has, in a crucial pre-Christmas month for business, shut down all shops regarded as “non-essential” — in other words, to name just a few examples, all clothes shops, gift shops and bookshops — as well as pubs and restaurants, with a sense of timing that could lead one to conclude that it was dictated by Amazon and other online retailers for whom Covid has seen their businesses reap unprecedented profits.

The cost of this, in terms of businesses shutting down, and employees laid off, is not yet known, but it seems likely that, as 2021 unfolds, the centres of our cities and towns will be wastelands, reminiscent of the early ‘80s under Margaret Thatcher.

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As You Read This, Guantánamo Prisoner Ahmed Rabbani Has Been On A Hunger Strike for 2,846 Days

An image from the website, “Gitmo Hunger Strikes,” set up by Reprieve to highlight the plight of their client, Ahmed Rabbani.

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With the media spotlight hopefully being shone anew on the prison at Guantánamo Bay, now that Joe Biden has been elected as the US president, it is to be hoped that, as I explained in my recent article, President Elect Biden, It’s Time to Close Guantánamo, arrangements will be made to release the five men still held who were unanimously approved for release by high-level government review processes under President Obama, and that there will be an acceptance within the Biden administration that holding 26 other men indefinitely without charge or trial is unacceptable.

These 26 men — accurately described as “forever prisoners” by the media — were recommended either or for prosecution, or for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial, on the basis that they were “too dangerous to release,” even though it was acknowledged that insufficient evidence — or insufficient untainted evidence — existed for them to be charged, by the first of Obama’s two review processes, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, in 2009.

Four years later, the 26 — along with 38 others — were deemed eligible for a second review process, the Periodic Review Boards. Unlike the first process, which involved officials assessing whether prisoners should be freed, charged or held on an ongoing basis without charge or trial, the PRBs were a parole-type process, in which the men were encouraged to express contrition for the activities in which they were alleged to have been involved (whether those allegations were accurate or not), and to present credible proposals for a peaceful and constructive life if released.

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President Elect Biden, It’s Time to Close Guantánamo

Eight of the 40 remaining Guantánamo prisoners, who, along with other men still held, should be released by Joe Biden as soon as possible after he becomes president in January 2021. Top row, from L to R: Abdul Latif Nasser, Sufyian Barhoumi and Tawfiq al-Bihani, all approved for release by high-level government review processes under President Obama, and Saifullah Paracha, Guantánamo’s oldest prisoner. Bottom row, from L to R: Khaled Qassim, Asadullah Haroon Gul, Ahmed Rabbani and Omar al-Rammah. Paracha and the four others in the bottom row haven’t been approved for release, but they should be, as none of them pose a threat to the US.

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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.

Congratulations to President Elect Joe Biden and Vice President Elect Kamala Harris for persuading enough people to vote Democrat to end the dangerous presidency of Donald Trump.

Trump was a nightmare on so many fronts, and had been particularly dangerous on race, with his vile Muslim travel ban at the start of his presidency, nearly four long years ago, his prisons for children on the Mexican border, and, this last year, in his efforts to inflame a race war, after the murder of George Floyd by a policeman sparked huge protests across the country.

At Guantánamo, Trump’s racism manifested itself via indifference to the fate of the 40 Muslim men, mostly imprisoned without charge or trial and held for up to 15 years when he took office. To him they were terrorists, and he had no interest in knowing that very few of the men held at Guantánamo have ever been accused of involvement with terrorism, and that, of the 40 men still held, only nine of them have been charged with crimes, and five of them were unanimously approved for release by high-level government review processes under President Obama.

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Radio: I Discuss “Will Joe Biden Close Guantánamo?” on South Africa’s Radio Islam International

A screenshot from the podcast of Andy Worthington discussing “Will Joe Biden Close Guantánamo?” with Ebrahim Moosa on South Africa’s Radio Islam International on Nov. 8, 2020.

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Yesterday evening, I was delighted to speak for half an hour to Ebraham Moosa on South Africa’s Radio Islam International about US President Elect Joe Biden — and, specifically, what to expect from the new president regarding a long-standing travesty of justice: the continued existence of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay.

In a thorough and wide-ranging discussion of the issues, I talked about what a disgrace Donald Trump has been when it comes to Guantánamo, entombing the 40 men still held, and how we can be hopeful that there will be change under Joe Biden, even if it also reasonable to expect that it will have to be fought for.

Unlike eleven years ago, when Barack Obama first took office promising to close Guantánamo within a year (but left eight years later having failed to do so), Guantánamo is, nowadays, America’s largely forgotten shame, and raising it as an issue — as Obama found — only tends to play into the hands of Republicans and the right-wing media.

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Keeping Live Music and Performance Alive in a Covid Lockdown Culture

The Four Fathers’ gig on October 31, 2020, successfully completed before the second Covid lockdown starts on November 5.

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I was preparing to play a gig — yes, an actual gig! — on Saturday evening, with my band The Four Fathers, when news of a second lockdown in England was finally confirmed by the government. It wasn’t surprising, because infection rates had been steadily rising, but the government — as indecisive as ever — had missed the opportunity to impose a two-week “circuit breaker” lockdown to coincide with half-term, as recommended by medical experts, and was now, belatedly, announcing a four-week lockdown instead, starting on Thursday, November 5, and lasting until December 2.

Unlike the first time around, though, the government announced that schools and universities were to stay open, even though what are regarded as “non-essential” shops and businesses will be required to shut, imperilling the future of countless small businesses, who had just begun to find their feet, and who must now be facing, in numerous cases, a fatal loss of business in the run-up to Christmas. Even if they are allowed to reopen on December 3, it seems pretty certain that Amazon and a host of other online retailers — many in the “fast fashion” business, and many with dodgy employment practices — will be making a fortune while nailing shut the coffins of high streets across the land.

To impose this kind of sweeping lockdown for an entire month while leaving schools and universities open is exactly the kind of muddled thinking on the government’s part that — even putting aside for a moment their cronyism, corruption, and obsession with incompetent, overpaid corporate service providers to do jobs that should be provided by health professionals — will enrage and alienate people, whilst also failing to actually tackle the problems of rising infection rates.

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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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