31 years ago, I made a discovery that had some serious resonance for me — the existence of St. Patrick’s Day. It was March 17, 1986. I’d moved into a flat in London three months earlier, in December 1985, opposite the George Canning pub, where I had ventured on my first night, meeting up with squatters, from the roads behind the junction of Tulse Hill and Brixton Water Lane, who soon became my friends.
After three years in Oxford, I wanted as big a change as possible — somewhere in the real world, as far removed as possible from Oxford’s dreaming spires and the endless reminders (to someone from a northern, working class, Methodist background) that it was basically a finishing school for the public schoolboys who would soon go on to run everything.
Seduced by my love for roots reggae music and the Clash, I decided there was no better place than Brixton to sign on and to learn to play the guitar and write songs, inspired by two of my other musical heroes, Bob Dylan and, recently discovered, Shane MacGowan of the Pogues, whose rattling bender of an album, Rum, Sodomy and the Lash, had recently been released. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday marked the end of Donald Trump’s first month in office — surely, the most disastrous first month of a presidency in living memory, with a ban on immigrants and visitors from seven mainly-Muslim countries that has been blocked in the courts, a Russian-linked scandal involving Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who has resigned, and a widespread understanding that Trump isn’t fit for the job, and that his administration is severely dysfunctional.
In amongst his machine-gun fire of dreadful policies have come unnerving hints about his proposals for Guantánamo — keeping the prison open and sending new prisoners there, including Islamic State prisoners, and, initially touted but since abandoned, a plan to revive Bush-era torture policies with new CIA-run “black sites.”
While we await further news about Trump’s plans, I’ve been marking his first month in office with a new campaign video for the Close Guantánamo campaign that I founded five years ago with the attorney Tom Wilner, who represented the Guantánamo prisoners in their Supreme Court cases in 2004 and 2008. The video is also available on Facebook. Read the rest of this entry »
I wrote the following article (as “New Close Guantánamo Video Reminds President Obama He Has Just 70 Days Left to Close the Prison Before He Leaves Office”) 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.
Video features photos of some of the 500+ celebrities and concerned citizens who have sent in photos this year for the Countdown to Close Guantánamo, and a new song, “Close Guantánamo,” by The Four Fathers.
Following the news that Donald Trump has won the Presidential Election, the Close Guantánamo campaign has launched a new promotional video, urging President Obama to do all he can to fulfill the promise to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay that he made on his second day in office back in January 2009.
We believe that the need to close the prison is more urgent than ever, given that, on the campaign trail, Donald Trump promised to keep Guantánamo open, to send new prisoners there, and to reintroduce torture.
Next Saturday, February 13, my band The Four Fathers are playing a gig at Vinyl, a wonderful record shop with an old school rock and roll basement located at the bottom of Tanners Hill in Deptford, in south east London. The full address is 4 Tanners Hill, London SE8 4PJ, phone number 07930 421113. There’ll be a bar, plus tea and coffee and some special pre-Valentine’s Day snacks, so if you’re anywhere near, come and check out our rocking, roots reggae sounds first-hand! If you’re coming, please let us know on the Facebook page (just click “Going”).
The gig is free, and we’ll be playing our first set — of topical songs about love and loss — at 8pm. At 8.30 there’ll be a beatboxing set from my son Tyler (aka the Wiz-RD), and at 9pm we’ll be playing a political set of original songs including live favourite Fighting Injustice, Tory Bullshit Blues, Song for Shaker Aamer (featured in the video for the We Stand With Shaker campaign), 81 Million Dollars (about the US torture program) and several brand-new songs, including Riot and London, which we played live for the first time at our recent gigs at Deptford Cinema and at the Bird’s Nest, also in Deptford, and guitarist Richard Clare’s song She’s Back, about Pussy Riot.
Below, I’m re-posting a video I made available yesterday of me singing “Song for Shaker Aamer” at an event in Washington, D.C., after I had also spoken about the campaign to free Shaker Aamer, during my recent US tour to call for the closure of Guantánamo on and around the 14th anniversary of its opening. The version I played has lyrics I amended to reflect Shaker’s release in October, and I hope we’ll be able to record the new version in the not too distant future. Read the rest of this entry »
On January 10, while I was in Washington, D.C. as part of a short tour to call for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on and around the 14th anniversary of its opening, I was delighted to be asked to speak at “Visions of Homecoming: Close Guantanamo!” an event put together by Witness Against Torture and Code Pink, and also featuring Bronx-based spoken word performers The Peace Poets.
The event — at a place called Impact Hub DC, around the corner from the church where the Witness Against Torture activists were staying — was mainly to recall the visit the groups made to Cuba, in November, to call for the closure of Guantánamo, and also to prepare us all for the protest outside the White House the day after, and I was honored that I was asked to also talk about the success of the campaign to free Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, and in particular my work with the We Stand With Shaker campaign, which I set up in November 2014 with the activist Joanne MacInnes.
After a short discussion of the campaign, I also played an acoustic version of “Song for Shaker Aamer,” the song I wrote and recorded with my band The Four Fathers, which was featured in the campaign video for We Stand With Shaker. Since Shaker’s release, I have amended the words to reflect his freedom, and this was the version I played. Read the rest of this entry »
Last Friday, during my brief US tour to campaign for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on and around the 14th anniversary of the opening of the prison (on Jan. 11), I was invited onto Democracy Now! with my friend and supporter, the music legend Roger Waters, the chief songwriter with Pink Floyd.
We were asked on the show to discuss, with Amy Goodman, the Countdown to Close Guantánamo, the new campaign I’ve just launched to get Guantánamo closed for good before President Obama leaves office next January, and the successful campaign to free Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo.
The video of our discussion — plus Roger playing his version of “We Shall Overcome” with 16-year old cellist Alexander Rohatyn — was the lead item on today’s show, and is now online and posted below (the song is here). Please share it widely! It’s also on YouTube here.
My short US tour to call for the closure of the lawless prison at Guantánamo Bay is almost over, but it has been a worthwhile visit, with events in Florida, Washington D.C. and New York City. On Thursday, I spoke for the first time at Revolution Books‘ new home in Harlem, about the successful campaign to free Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo, an immensely enjoyable evening in which a special guest in the audience was music legend Roger Waters, a supporter of my work and of the campaign to free Shaker for many years. The day after, Roger and I recorded a show for Democracy Now! which will be aired this week.
For my talk at Revolution Books, I was introduced by Debra Sweet, the national director of the World Can’t Wait, who has been organizing my annual visits on and around the anniversary of the opening of the prison (on January 11) every year since January 2011 — and who first organized visits for me (but not in January), in 2009 and 2010.
The video of the event, via Vimeo, is below. My talk begins at 10:09, and over the next 40 minutes I spoke about the campaign to free Shaker, through the work of the We Stand With Shaker campaign I launched in November 2014 with the activist Joanne MacInnes, the long-running Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, and the crucial support of the media and of MPs, led, initially, by John McDonnell, now the Shadow Chancellor, and then with great cross-party support from MPs including the Conservatives David Davis and Andrew Mitchell, and Jeremy Corbyn, now the leader of the Labour Party. Read the rest of this entry »
Below are the last two videos from an event before Christmas at Deptford Cinema, a community cinema in south east London, when I talked about Guantánamo, and my band The Four Fathers played a set of political songs. I spoke about my ten years of research, writing and campaigning about Guantánamo, including the We Stand With Shaker campaign that I launched in November 2014 with the activist Joanne MacInnes to secure the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who was finally freed on October 30 after nearly 14 years in US custody.
Following my talk, The Four Fathers played eight songs — “Song for Shaker Aamer,” the song I wrote that was featured in the campaign video for We Stand With Shaker, updated to reflect Shaker’s release, my roots reggae anthem “Fighting Injustice,” band member Richard Clare’s song “She’s Back” (about Pussy Riot), a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War,” and four other songs of mine, “Tory Bullshit Blues” and “81 Million Dollars,” about the US torture program ($81m being the amount that was paid, by the Bush administration, to two contractors, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who set up and ran the program), and the new songs “Riot” and “London.”
You can buy our album “Love and War” here, as an eight-track download, or on CD with two extra tracks (including “Masters of War”) — or you can buy tracks individually from just 60p ($0.93) each, although you’re welcome to pay more to support us. Read the rest of this entry »
On December 18, I gave a talk about Guantánamo, my research into the men held there, the lawlessness and cruelty of the prison, and my writing and campaigning for nearly ten years to educate people about the prison and, ultimately, to get it closed, at an event held at the Deptford Cinema, a community cinema in south east London that I wholeheartedly recommend. I spoke not just about my research and my writing, but also the Close Guantánamo campaign I launched nearly four years ago with the US attorney Tom Wilner (who represented the Guantánamo prisoners in their habeas corpus cases before the US Supreme Court), and We Stand With Shaker, the campaign I launched last November with the activist Joanne MacInnes to secure the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who was finally freed on October 30 after nearly 14 years in US custody.
With what I hope is an innovative approach to combining politics, education and entertainment, my talk was followed by a set of political songs by my band The Four Fathers, and I’m delighted that a friend, Andrew — who became involved in We Stand With Shaker via his involvement in CAAB (the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases), for whom I was a speaker at their annual July 4 protest at the NSA’s Menwith Hill spy base in Yorkshire in 2013 — recorded my talk and most of our set, which he has made available via YouTube.
The video of my talk is here, which I posted before Christmas, and on Christmas Day I posted the video of The Four Fathers playing “Song for Shaker Aamer,” the song I wrote that was featured in the campaign video for We Stand With Shaker, updated to reflect Shaker’s release. Read the rest of this entry »
One week ago, on December 18, I gave a talk about my writing about Guantánamo and my campaigning to get the prison closed, including the We Stand With Shaker campaign, at Deptford Cinema in south east London, followed by a set by my band The Four Fathers, playing our repertoire of political songs.
In a previous article, I made available a video of my talk, filmed by a friend and campaigner, Andrew, who, I’m delighted to say, also filmed us playing an updated “Song for Shaker Aamer,” used in the campaign video for We Stand With Shaker, which was launched last November by myself and activist Joanne MacInnes to push for the release of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, particularly by encouraging celebrities and MPs to stand with a giant inflatable figure of Shaker — a campaign that, I’m glad to note, met with considerable support.
After Shaker’s release on October 30, I amended the lyrics to reflect that he is now a free man. This was the version we played at Deptford Cinema, and, for Christmas — when, I believe, everyone, whatever their religion or belief system, should be encouraged to think about those less fortunate than ourselves, and to help those suffering injustice — I’m pleased to be making it available below via YouTube. The song is about Shaker Aamer, but it also deals with the fundamentally unjust nature of the system of imprisonment without charge or trial at Guantánamo, where 107 men remain. If you find this unacceptable, and want to do something about it, please feel free to join the Close Guantánamo campaign that I set up nearly four years ago with the US attorney Tom Wilner, who has represented Guantánamo prisoners, and advocated on their behalf in their Supreme Court cases in 2004 and 2008. Read the rest of this entry »
Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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