On Saturday January 11, 2014, a coalition of groups involved in campaigns calling for the closure of Guantánamo — including Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Witness Against Torture, World Can’t Wait, and my own group, the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, which I co-founded and run with the attorney Tom Wilner — met outside the White House in Washington D.C., in the pouring rain, to tell President Obama to revisit his failed promise to close the prison, to continue releasing cleared prisoners as a matter of urgency, including the Yemenis who make up the majority of the 77 cleared prisoners still held, and to bring justice to the 78 other men still held, either by putting them on trial or releasing them.
These are my photos of the day, and as well as including some of the speakers outside the White House, the set also includes photos of the march from the White House along Constitution Avenue to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, where, as I explained in an article for “Close Guantánamo,” featuring a 10-minute video of the day’s events by Ellen Davidson (including clips of me and Tom), which I’m also posting below, activists with Witness Against Torture staged a creative and powerful occupation of the museum, under the clever slogan, “Make Guantánamo History.” Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, during the West Coast leg of my 12-day “Close Guantánamo Now” tour (supported by the World Can’t Wait), I was first in San Francisco, a visit that involved being reunited with a number of old friends, including Stephanie Tang and Curt Wechsler of World Can’t Wait, Joey Johnson, who does community work in San Francisco neighbourhoods, the academic and anti-torture activist Rita Maran, lawyer Sharon Adams (with whom I spoke on Rose Aguilar’s “Your Call” show on KALW Public Radio) and Michael Kearns, the former instructor in the SERE program, which trains US personnel to resist interrogations if captured by an enemy that uses torture, who was appalled to discover, several years ago, that his former colleagues Bruce Jessen, James Mitchell and Roger Aldrich had played a key role in reverse-engineering these techniques for the torture of supposed “high-value detainees” seized in the “war on terror.”
I had met many of these good people for the first time in October 2010, when World Can’t Wait brought me over to Berkeley for “Berkeley Says No to Torture” Week, and was reunited with many of them two years ago, as part of a short US tour on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, in which I also visited New York, Washington D.C. and Chicago.
On this occasion, I first met up with some of my old friends in Oakland, at the house of other old friends, Ruth and Zeese, who had put me up on previous visits, where we had an inspiring anti-torture salon experience, of a kind that would be difficult to achieve outside of those involved in “Berkeley Says No to Torture” Week. This was on the evening of my arrival, after a few hours in the afternoon spent exploring and photographing Mission Street in San Francisco, and the next morning I recorded the “Your Call” show with Rose and Sharon (and CUNY law professor and Guantánamo attorney Ramzi Kassem in New York), and then walked along Ocean beach, saw the Bay Area from Twin Peaks and ate delicious lamb shwarma with Joey Johnson, soaking up the radiant sunshine everywhere we went. Read the rest of this entry »
On Thursday evening, as part of my 12-day “Close Guantánamo Now” tour (supported by the World Can’t Wait), which came to an end at Cal Poly in Pomona yesterday, I was at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Anaheim, California with my friend and colleague Jason Leopold, speaking about Guantánamo, funnily enough. Jason and I have known each other for many years, and it’s always a pleasure to take part in events with him, and to hang out with him.
The full video of the event — at which I delivered a 20-minute speech, Jason spoke for half an hour, and there was then a lively Q&A session for 35 minutes — is posted below, and I thank the filmmaker, Ted Shapin, for recording it and making it available. For earlier events, see the videos of New York here, and of Washington D.C. here.
After two days in New York, two days in Washington D.C., and three days in San Francisco, I arrived in Los Angeles on an absurdly early flight on Wednesday morning, to be met at the airport by Jason and taken to his favourite coffee shop, Urth Caffe in Beverly Hills, followed by a bagel across the road at The Original Brooklyn Water Bagel Co., another Los Angeles institution. Read the rest of this entry »
I’m currently in southern California — on the campus of Cal Poly (aka California Polytechnic State University) in San Luis Obispo, about 40 miles north of Los Angeles. As I wait for the last public event of my 12-day “Close Guantánamo Now” tour, with the support of the World Can’t Wait, I have some time, while hiding from the sun — which alarmingly, is currently hotter than the hottest day in summer in the UK — to catch up on some of the events in which I’ve taken part.
I recently posted videos from my first event — a panel discussion in New York — and a video of the creative protests in Washington D.C. last Saturday, January 11, on the 12th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo.
The morning after, I flew out to San Francisco, where I stayed for three days, and after a gathering of like-minded individuals at the house of friends in Oakland on the Sunday evening, Monday began with a visit to KALW Public Radio, high up on San Francisco’s hills, for an interview with Rose Aguilar, as part of her “Your Call” show from 10-11am.
The 53-minute show, entitled, “What’s the state of Guantánamo today?” is available here, and I do hope you have time to listen to it, and to share it if you find it useful. I’ve spoken to Rose on my visits before, and it’s always good to spend some time with her, and with her indefatigable producer, Malihe Razazan. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve now been in the US for a week, on the “Close Guantánamo Now” tour organized with the campaigning group the World Can’t Wait, and I’m writing this on after only a few hours’ sleep, an early morning flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles, a reunion with my old friend and colleague Jason Leopold, an inspiring lunchtime inter-faith event in L.A., and a few moments of relaxation with my L.A. hosts in the Hollywood Hills.
I’ll be reporting more details soon about events in Washington D.C. on the 12th anniversary of the opening of the prison (on Saturday January 11), and about my subsequent stay in San Francisco and the events there, as well as today’s lunchtime event, but to start my coverage of the tour I’m posting below videos of the first event I took part in, at All Souls Church on Lexington Avenue in New York City, where I took part in presentations and a Q&A session following a screening of the documentary film, “Doctors of the Dark Side,” about medical complicity in the torture of prisoners seized in the “war on terror,” which was directed by Martha Davis, a clinical psychologist who also attended the screening.
This powerful film addresses the torture programs introduced by the CIA, at their “black sites,” and by the military at Guantánamo, looking at important events like the reverse-engineering of the SERE program (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape), which is used to train US personnel to resist interrogation if captured, for the actual torture of US prisoners. Throughout, the film retains an unerring focus on the medical personnel needed to monitor torture, to ascertain how to break prisoners, and to advise how far the torturers could go not to kill the men. Read the rest of this entry »
Late last year, as the coalition of groups calling for the closure of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba began deliberations for this year’s protest on the anniversary of the prison’s opening (on January 11), I reached out — as part of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign — to Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity, founded and led by Clive Stafford Smith, whose lawyers represent 15 prisoners still held at Guantánamo.
As we discussed ways to publicize the plight of the prisoners on the 12th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, Reprieve suggested asking Sami al-Haj, a Sudanese prisoner released in 2008, to record a video statement that could be used, and I’m delighted to note that Sami agreed, and his video message to President Obama is posted below.
Sami is the only journalist to have been held at Guantánamo, and he was working as a cameraman for Al-Jazeera when he was seized on assignment crossing from Pakistan to Afghanistan in December 2001. I subsequently covered his story, in particular in the months before his release, when he had embarked on a hunger strike and was providing information to the world about it via Clive. In this period, he also made a number of drawings about the hunger strike. When these were seized by the Pentagon’s censors, Reprieve described them to a British cartoonist, Lewis Peake, who recreated them based on the descriptions, and I told Sami’s story, and reproduced the drawings, in an article entitled, “Sami al-Haj: the banned torture pictures of a journalist in Guantánamo.” Read the rest of this entry »
On Monday evening in Canada (early on Tuesday morning in London), I was delighted to speak to Chris Cook for his well-respected and long running Gorilla Radio show in British Columbia, in Canada. The MP3 of the hour-long show is here, and Chris and I spoke for the first half-hour.
In reviewing my activities, I see that Chris and I spoke for the first time three years ago, in January 2011, when we spoke about Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks, and, of course, Guantánamo, and this week we were revisiting Guantánamo, on the eve of the 12th anniversary of its opening (On Saturday January 11), as I prepared to fly out to the US for a two-week tour to call for the prison’s closure, and, hopefully, to help people understand why it is so important that the prison is finally closed, five years after President Obama first took office, promising to close it within a year. My itinerary, for my visit from January 8-21, is here.
Even putting aside the torture that was official policy at Guantánamo from 2002 to 2004, the Indefinite detention without charge or trial that is at the very heart of Guantánamo’s operations is an affront to the values that America claims to believe in, and this is true every second that the prison remains open.
Chris and I talked about the progress made recently — the action promised by President Obama last year after a prison-wide hunger strike awakened the world to the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo, and the release, in the last few months, of eleven prisoners. Read the rest of this entry »
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January 11, 2014 is the 12th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, an experiment in extraordinary rendition, torture and indefinite detention without charge or trial that should never have opened. Since 2011, I have been visiting the US on the anniversary, to take part in events to raise awareness of the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo, and to call for the prison’s closure (see here, here and here), and this year is the fourth occasion on which I have braved the sometimes inhospitable weather of America in January to add my voice to those of others calling for Guantánamo to be closed, and the third year in which I have done so as the co-founder, with the attorney Tom Wilner, of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, which we established on the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison in January 2012.
This year, I will be visiting from January 8 to 21, and taking part in events in New York, Washington D.C., San Francisco and Los Angeles (my first ever visit!) from January 9 to 17, mostly with Debra Sweet, the National Director of the campaigning group the World Can’t Wait, who has organized my trip. Debra has been organizing my visits to the US since 2009, and it will be wonderful to spend time with her and with the other participants in the various events we have planned — who include the investigative journalist Jason Leopold, psychologist and anti-torture writer and activist Jeffrey Kaye, the former SERE instructor and anti-torture campaigner Michael Kearns, and Todd Pierce, a former military defense attorney, who represented men at Guantánamo who were put forward for trials by military commission. We will, at some events, be showing the excellent documentary film “Doctors of the Dark Side,” directed by Martha Davis, and the full itinerary is below (also see the Facebook page here, and see here for Debra’s post about the tour). POSTSCRIPT Jan. 10: Debra is unable to take part in the tour because of a head injury sustained just before it began. Everyone involved in the tour wishes her a speedy recovery.
For the last five years, of course, the ownership of Guantánamo has been in the hands not of George W. Bush and the Republican Party, but of Barack Obama and the Democrats, and it has, for the most part, been a dispiriting experience watching as fine words turned to inaction. After promising to close the prison by January 2010, President Obama failed to keep that promise, and although he released 64 prisoners from February 2009 to September 2010, those releases almost ground to a halt for the next three years, after Congress imposed onerous restrictions on the release of prisoners, and the president didn’t think it was worthwhile spending political capital overriding lawmakers, even though he had the power to do so. Read the rest of this entry »
I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with 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.
Following three years of presidential inertia on Guantánamo — after Congress imposed onerous restrictions on the release of prisoners, and President Obama refused to spend political capital bypassing or challenging lawmakers — legislative amendments proposed by the Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by Sen. Carl Levin, have been accepted by Congress. The National Defense Authorization Act for 2014, which contains the amendments, was approved by the House of Representatives last week and passed the Senate by 84 votes to 15 on Thursday night.
The changes, which I wrote about last month in an article entitled, “Senate Passes Bill to Help Close Guantánamo; Now President Obama Must Act,” emerged from the committee in June. They were accepted by the Senate last month, after what the Associated Press described as “a quiet yet effective lobbying push” by senior administration officials, including President Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser Lisa Monaco and Cliff Sloan, the veteran diplomat appointed this year, along with Paul Lewis at the Pentagon, to be an envoy for the closure of Guantánamo. However, the House of Representatives, where Republicans have a majority, had voted to keep all the restrictions in place.
After the Senate vote last month, a compromise had to be thrashed out between the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, in which proposals to remove the onerous restrictions on the release of prisoners survived, but other proposals — allowing prisoners to be brought to the US for detention, for trials or for medical treatment — did not. Without these particular changes, it is still not possible for Guantánamo to be closed, but for now, at least, these amendments make it easier for the president to release prisoners who were cleared for release four years ago by his own high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force — and, perhaps even more importantly, reassure him that he has support for releasing prisoners in Congress. Read the rest of this entry »
As the 12th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay approaches (on January 11, 2014), the run of good news regarding the situation at the prison continues, with the news that two prisoners — Ibrahim Idris, 52, and Noor Uthman Muhammed, 51, have been released to Sudan, and the Senate has voted to ease restrictions imposed by Congress over the last three years. The release of the two men brings the number of prisoners released this year to eight, and the total number of prisoners still held to 158.
Until recently, there had been three years of inaction regarding Guantánamo, when just five prisoners were released by President Obama. This inaction had been caused because of opposition in Congress and the president’s refusal to spend political capital overcoming that opposition. Of the five men released, two — Ibrahim al-Qosi and Omar Khadr — were amongst the handful of prisoners regarded as so significant that they had been put forward for military commission trials, and had agreed to plea deals that stipulated how much longer they should be held, and three — an Algerian and two Uighurs, Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province — had their release ordered by a US judge, after they had their habeas corpus petitions granted (before the appeals court in Washington D.C. rewrote the habeas rules, so that no prisoner could be released through a legal challenge).
The three years of inaction came to an end in August, when two Algerian men — Nabil Hadjarab and Mutia Sayyab — were released, who, like over half the men still held, had been cleared for release by a high-level, inter-agency task force that President Obama appointed shortly after taking office in 2009. Their release followed a promise to resume releasing prisoners that President Obama made in a major speech on national security issues in May. Read the rest of this entry »
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