Video: Mohamedou Ould Salahi and I Discuss the Closure of Guantánamo with Lewes Amnesty Group on Jan. 11, 2021

24.1.21

A screenshot of former Guantánamo prisoner Mohamedou Ould Salahi speaking to Lewes Amnesty Group on January 11, 2021, the 19th anniversary of the prison’s opening.

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On January 11, the 19th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, I was pleased to take part in a couple of events, to make up for my inability, because of Covid, to visit the US to campaign for the prison’s closure, as I have been doing every year since 2011.

To mark the occasion, I was interviewed by Kevin Gosztola of Shadowproof, for a video that is available here, and earlier I had taken part in an online meeting organized by the Lewes Amnesty Group, a very active group, dating back to the days when campaigners across south east England, and beyond, including campaigners in Lewes, fought to secure the release from Guantánamo of Brighton resident Omar Deghayes (who was released in 2007), and Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who was finally released in 2015 after a huge campaign that involved MPs, the media, celebrities and two particular groups, the long-running Save Shaker Aamer campaign, and We Stand With Shaker, which I set up with campaigner Joanne MacInnes in 2014, and which involved getting MPs and celebrities to stand with a giant inflatable figure of Shaker, to demand his release.

The featured guest of the Lewes Amnesty Group’s meeting was former prisoner Mohamedou Ould Salahi, the author of the best-selling Guantánamo Diary (UK edition here), and a survivor of US torture in Jordan, Afghanistan and Guantánamo, whose story has been adapted by Hollywood for a new feature film, ‘The Mauritanian,’ which will be released next month.

Mohamedou had unexpectedly joined us for an online meeting in summer, and it was an honour that he accepted the Lewes Amnesty Group’s invitation to take part in this anniversary event. As anyone who has had any kind of engagement with Mohamedou since his release in 2016 can confirm, his gentleness, positivity and lack of rancour are extraordinary, and genuinely inspiring. As one of the participants said, “thank you for your brilliance, radiance and giving us hope.”

The video of the meeting, via YouTube, is available below, and I hope that you’ll watch it, and that you’ll share it if you find it useful.

There was much more in the meeting than I have mentioned, including, towards the end, discussions about how Amnesty members and others can engage in meaningful action in the UK; initially, I hope, via the establishment of an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Guantánamo, because, with Donald Trump now gone, the Biden administration will, as was the case with previous administrations until the aberration of Trump’s presidency, be susceptible to criticism from its allies. Do get in touch if you’re in the UK, and this is something that is of interest to you.

My thanks also to Hugh Sandeman for so admirably chairing the meeting, and to Sara Birch and David Burke of the Lewes Amnesty Group for organizing it.

And finally, if you have the time, check out Amnesty International’s new report, ‘Right the Wrong: Decision Time on Guantánamo,’ issued to mark the 19th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, which was introduced at the meeting by Lise Rossi, AIUK’s North America Country Coordinator.

* * * * *

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 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 eight 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.

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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 latest article, linking to and discussing the video of an online Guantanamo meeting that took place on January 11, 2021, the 19th anniversary of the opening of the prison, featuring guest speakers Mohamedou Ould Salahi​ and myself. Mohamedou, of course, is a former Guantanamo prisoner, torture victim and best-selling author, who was freed from the prison in 2016.

    The meeting was hosted by the Lewes Amnesty Group, who have a long history of activism on Guantanamo, dating back to the campaigns to secure the release of Omar Deghayes and Shaker Aamer.

    It was wonderful to appear with Mohamedou, who exudes gentleness, positivity and a lack of rancour. As one of the participants said, “thank you for your brilliance, radiance and giving us hope.”

  2. anna says...

    Hi Andy, I’m awfully behind with links but did watch the meeting with Mohamedou, pity its sound quality was so intermittent (unless that was due to my tired computer?). As you and Maria Hartwig (possibly a compatriot of mine?) already mentioned, what strikes one is the incredible gentleness and complete lack of rancour of so many of the GWOT torture victims. Lack also of any wish of revenge, which we all too often attribute to Muslims, while in fact it often is a projection of our own revengefulness.
    I initially was a bit worried about Hollywood making a film about Mohamedou’s story (after ‘Half Past Midnight’ or whatever that CIA propaganda was titled), but I suppose that Mohamedou was consulted and I felt reassured by the fact that he was not played by some all-American box-office hit actor and by Jodie Foster’s participation.
    While concerned about all Guantanamo victims as you know, I admit I have a particularly soft spot for Mohamedou because I lived & worked in his country almost 25 years ago and while the climate was murderous, especially in the remote desert town of Tidjikja where I spent most of my time, I remember it very fondly.
    You and Moazzam were here exactly 10 years ago (time flies) and I do hope that we will live to see the day when all the ex-prisoners will finally have the right to travel and we will be able to meet so many of the men whose fate we’ve been following all these years. And thank them for, as a matter of fact, having helped us to become better human beings.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, Anna, and how shocking to realise that it is ten years since Moazzam and I were with you in Poland.

    I’m glad you were able to watch the video. The sound was patchy, as is often the case with Zoom, but Zoom has been rather wonderful over the last year – and particularly for Americans – because it allows former prisoners to be guests, and we remember, of course, that that is so significant in the US because lawmakers in the US have done all they can to prevent any former prisoner from setting foot on US soil.

    I didn’t know – or had forgotten – that you spent time in Mauritania. I hope you get to meet Mohamedou one of these days. I’m sure he’d be interested to hear your stories!

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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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