Radio: I Discuss the Possible Closure of Guantánamo under Joe Biden on the Peace and Justice Report on WSLR in Florida

27.2.21

Andy Worthington calling for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay outside the White House on January 11, 2020.

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On Wednesday (February 24), I was delighted to talk for half-an-hour about Guantánamo with Bob Connors and Tom Walker on their show, the Peace and Justice Report, on WSLR 96.5, a community radio station in Florida. I’ve appeared on the show previously, in 2018 and 2019, after Bob and Tom came across my work, but both of those occasions were during the heavy miasma of despair of the Trump years, and so it was refreshing to talk in a post-Trump world in which there is, at least, some hope of progress on Guantánamo.

The interview is available on the WSLR archive here. Scroll down to “Wednesday, February 24, 2021 9:00 am,” where it’s available for the next two months.

We began by discussing Trump’s four dismal years as president, in which, even before he took office, he tweeted, “There must be no more releases from Gitmo,” and was true to his word, with the one exception of a Saudi prisoner who had previously agreed a plea deal that involved his repatriation to continued imprisonment in his home country.

I then moved on to what we might expect from the Biden administration, describing it as a return to where we were under Barack Obama, when, although Obama failed to close the prison as promised, he did release nearly 200 men before he left office. Discussing President Biden’s planned review, I pointed out that, as we approach the 20th anniversary of the opening of the prison next January, it’s time for the 40 men still held to either be charged or released, and not, as has so sadly and lawlessly been the case since the prison opened, of, for the most part, them being held indefinitely without charge or trial, which is not how liberal democracies that claim to respect the law behave; instead, as I pointed out, indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial is how dictatorships behave.

I discussed the six men already approved for release, who Biden should release as swiftly as possible, most probably via reinstating the role of the Envoy for Guantánamo Closure, established under President Obama, but shut down by Donald Trump. Three of these men were approved for release in 2009, two in 2016, and one in the dying days of Trump’s presidency, the only man approved for release, under Trump, by a Periodic Review Board, the parole-type process established under Obama, which led to the release of 36 men before he left office.

I was also asked to discuss the new film, “The Mauritanian,” which I reviewed here. I was happy to do so, as the story of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who turned his horrendous ordeal in US custody, involving a specific torture program authorized by Donald Rumsfeld, into a best-selling memoir, “Guantánamo Diary,” has been adapted for the screen in an compelling manner, with Tahar Rahim brilliant as Mohamedou, Jodie Foster as his attorney, Nancy Hollander, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Lt. Col. Stuart Couch, appointed as Mohamedou’s prosecutor, who resigned after he discovered the truth about the false statements that Mohamedou made under torture. The film is streaming in the US from March 2, and in the UK in April. For anyone listening at this point, there were a few brief glitches as the signal broke up, although it didn’t last long.

We then turned to the other men still held — the 12 facing or having faced trials, who, as I pointed out, deserve a functional trial system rather than the broken military commissions, and, in particular, the 22 others who have been most accurately described as the “forever prisoners” — men the US apparently doesn’t ever intend to charge, but who are regarded as being “too dangerous to release,” often in an extremely nebulous manner that really is no substitute for justice.

These are men who, as I briefly explained, may be cases of mistaken identity, or of disproportionately overplayed significance, or who continue to be held not because of anything they are specifically alleged to have done prior to their imprisonment, but because they are perceived to have been troublemakers at Guantánamo, by resisting the cruel and unjust basis of their imprisonment through hunger strikes, for example, or though being block leaders, advocating for the rights of their fellow prisoners. 

I also specifically mentioned the case of Saifullah Paracha, Guantánamo’s oldest prisoner, contrasting it with the case of his son, Uzair, who was tried and sentenced in the US for his alleged involvement with al-Qaeda, but had his sentence quashed by a federal court judge, and is now back with his family in Pakistan. His father, meanwhile, supposedly implicated in the same plot, is still at Guantánamo, with no sign that there is any willingness on the part of the authorities to recognize that there has been a miscarriage of justice, and to set him free, because at Guantánamo, shamefully, the normal rules regarding evidence and guilt simply don’t apply.

There was more in the show that I haven’t mentioned above, and I hope you have time to listen to it, and will share it if you find it useful.  

Here’s how Tom described the show on the WSLR website:

On Wednesday, February 24 at 9am, our first guest on the Peace & Justice Report was Andy Worthington, an investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Missed it? You can listen to it in the WSLR archives! Andy is recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.”  He’s the co-founder of the websites Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. See his response to statements about the Biden administration’s proposed closure of Guantánamo made on February 12 by White House press secretary Jen Psaki, who, asked whether President Biden would shut the prison before the end of his presidency, told reporters, “That certainly is our goal and our intention.”

As of Wednesday, the prison at Guantanamo Bay had been open 6,985 days. Read Andy’s Review of The Mauritanian, the film based on the best-selling memoir “Guantánamo Diary” by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who, based on nothing more than suspicion, was subjected to a horrendous torture program at Guantánamo in 2003, and, despite the case against him collapsing, wasn’t released until 2016. We discussed the 40 men still held there, the inadequacy of the status of all of them (six approved for release but still held, 12 charged or tried in a broken trial system, and 22 consigned to oblivion as “forever prisoners”).

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer (of an ongoing photo-journalism project, ‘The State of London’), 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).

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.

One Response

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, linking to, and discussing my recent half-hour interview about Guantanamo with Bob Connors and Tom Walker on their show, “The Peace and Justice Report,” on WSLR 96.5, a community radio station in Florida, in which I discussed what we might expect from the Biden administration, the importance of the new film, “The Mauritanian,” based on the best-selling memoir of former prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi, and much more.

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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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