Former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Deghayes (seized in Pakistan in May 2002 and released to the UK in December 2007) is a friend and colleague of mine, who featured in the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” which I co-directed with filmmaker Polly Nash, and he traveled around the country with me two years ago, showing the film and taking part in Q&A sessions in numerous locations. Omar’s story is central to the impact of “Outside the Law,” and video clips of him speaking about his experiences in Pakistani custody, and in US custody in Bagram and Guantánamo, from the long interview that Polly and I drew on for “Outside the Law” are here.
Omar also conducted a detailed interview with the Guardian in January 2010, which I cross-posted here, and a wealth of information about him is available in my archive of articles about him (or by following the links in my entry about him in my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, which I updated last week (Omar’s prisoner number at Guantánamo was 727). On Sunday, an article based on an interview with him was published in the Express Tribune in Pakistan, and I’m cross-posting it below, for those who didn’t see it, both to provide a reminder of the violence to which prisoners in Guantánamo have been subjected over the last ten years, and — hopefully — to allow new readers to become acquainted with Omar’s story, and his particular approach to the injustices to which he was subjected.
Like all of the former prisoners I have met, Omar is not consumed with hatred towards those who imprisoned him and brutalized him for so many years, and continues to accentuate the positive, stating that, amongst his fellow prisoners, there were teachers, linguists and journalists, and “there was a lot to learn from them.” However, he does warn the US government that “[t]he only thing these kind of prisons achieve is more hatred, turning more youngsters toward extremism,” which, I believe, is sadly true. Read the rest of this entry »
On Tuesday April 24, from 6:30 to 8:30pm, I will be beamed into Room 407a of the New School, at 66 West 12th Street, in New York City, for a panel discussion, “The Human Face of Indefinite Detention: Shaker Aamer, Guantánamo and the NDAA,” with some good friends of mine — Col. Morris Davis, the former Chief Prosecutor at Guantánamo, and Ramzi Kassem, one of the lawyers for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo. The moderator is Thenjiwe McHarris of Amnesty International USA, and the event will be introduced by another friend, Jeremy Varon, Associate Professor of History at the New School for Social Research and Eugene Lang College, and a member of Witness Against Torture, and by Steve Latimer — also of Amnesty International USA.
Morris Davis and I meet every January in Washington D.C. for panel discussions at the New America Foundation on the anniversary of Guantánamo’s opening, and Ramzi recently made available to me the unclassified exchanges between himself and Shaker, and a statement that Shaker had written, which I used as the basis for two world exclusive articles, “They Want Me to be Harmed”: Shaker Aamer, the Last British Resident in Guantánamo, Describes His Isolation and “I Affirm Our Right to Life”: Shaker Aamer, the Last British Resident in Guantánamo, Explains His Peaceful Protest and Hunger Strike.
The provisional running order has the event starting, after introductions, with a short clip from “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” the documentary film I co-directed with Polly Nash, which deals with Shaker Aamer’s story, followed by Ramzi discussing Shaker’s case for 15 minutes, me discussing the history of Guantánamo and what’s happening there now for 15 minutes, and Col. Davis speaking about why Guantánamo and the abuses it symbolizes are human rights violations and must end — also for 15 minutes. Thenjiwe will then urge people to sign Amnesty’s Shaker Aamer petition — and also see the petition on the Care 2 Petition Site, and the UK e-petition to the British government — and this will be followed by a discussion. Read the rest of this entry »
Following up on my visit to Kuwait last week, to assist the lawyers and activists and family members pushing for the release from Guantánamo of the last two Kuwaiti prisoners, Fayiz al-Kandari and Fawzi al-Odah, I’m pleased to make available below a series of videos of the 70-minute program that was broadcast on Friday evening on Al-Rai TV. In the show, alongside subtitled excerpts from the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” which I co-directed with Polly Nash, the attorney Tom Wilner and I had, as I explained in an article yesterday, “a chance to explain why, shamefully, Guantánamo is still open, despite President Obama’s promise to close it, why Fayiz and Fawzi are still held, how they are surviving their long ordeal, and, most crucially, why the Kuwaiti people need to keep exerting pressure on their government to do more to secure their return.”
As I also noted:
We were able to explain how it is insulting for such a close ally of the US as Kuwait to be treated so badly when it comes to securing the return of Fayiz and Fawzi, how, sadly, Guantánamo has become normalized under President Obama, and the remaining 171 prisoners are now, effectively, subjected to arbitrary and indefinite detention, and how no one will be released without great effort on the part of those who, like the Kuwaiti people, have prisoners still held.
We were also able to explain how the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, just last month, provides a spur for renewed calls for the prison’s closure — and for calling for an end to the continued detention of men like Fayiz and Fawzi, against whom nothing in the way of evidence has actually been presented. We also had the opportunity to explain how another new possibility for bringing this dark chapter of US-Kuwaiti relations to an end has been presented in recent legislation passed in the US (the National Defense Authorization Act), in which the President and his administration now have the opportunity to bypass restrictions on the release of prisoners that were imposed by Congress and have prevented the release of any prisoner from Guantánamo since January 2011. Read the rest of this entry »
Now that my first ever visit to Kuwait has come to an end — in which I was involved in events and discussions designed to raise the profile in Kuwait, and internationally, of the two remaining Kuwaitis in Guantánamo, Fayiz al-Kandari and Fawzi al-Odah — I feel as though I have been away from my home in London for weeks, and not just for five days, as the time was so busy.
I recorded an interview for the Al-Rai TV station along with the attorney Tom Wilner, which was aired along with a subtitled version of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” the documentary film that I co-directed with Polly Nash, and I also traveled out to Kuwait’s main prison, to visit the rehabilitation center which was established for the four remaining prisoners in 2009, but which, after two of these four were freed that year, has been lying empty ever since, its staff and facilities awaiting the return of Fayiz and Fawzi, who, like the majority of the 171 prisoners stili in Guantánamo, 89 of whom have been cleared for release, remain trapped because of the cynical twists and turns of American politics — in the Obama administration, in Congress and in the courts.
I was also driven through the desert, on the highway to Iraq, to visit the grand and spacious farm of a prominent sheikh, in order to discuss the cases of Fayiz and Fawzi, and I also attended two dewaniyas (social events described by Wikipedia as being “the core of Kuwait’s social, business and political life, the places where topics of interest are discussed, associates introduced, alliances formed, and similar networking activities undertaken”), with lawyers and with the family of Fayiz. In addition, I met up with the former prisoner Fouad al-Rabiah and with Khalid al-Odah, Fawzi’s father, and briefly met another former prisoner, Adel al-Zamel. Read the rest of this entry »
Please note that the screening has been postponed until Friday evening (February 24) at 10:30 pm.
Greetings from Kuwait, where the weather is fresh and warm, and the people are very friendly. Although I have been studying Guantánamo and the “war on terror” for the last six years, this is my first visit to the Middle East, and I’m here to play whatever part I can to secure the return from Guantánamo of Fayiz al-Kandari and Fawzi al-Odah, the last two Kuwaitis in the prison.
I’m here with Lt. Col. Barry Wingard, the Pentagon-appointed military defense attorney for Fayiz al-Kandari, and his colleagues Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Bogucki and Sgt. Chad Darby, and also with the civilian attorney Tom Wilner, my colleague in the new “Close Guantánamo” campaign. I am also grateful for the support of Adel Abdulhadi of the Al-Oula law firm, and am delighted to have finally met the journalist Jenifer Fenton, who has recently been focusing on the stories of the Kuwaiti prisoners. The centerpiece of my visit is the screening, at 9.30 pm on Thursday (February 23), on Alrai TV, of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” which I co-directed with Polly Nash, followed by a studio discussion with Tom Wilner and myself. Both Tom and I feature in the film, and we had a very productive question and answer session today, when we pre-recorded the studio talk to accompany the broadcast of the film tomorrow evening.
This is a great occasion, as it is not only the biggest audience by far for the film, but also its first screening in Arabic, following a heroic mission by Polly and a number of Arabic speakers in the UK and Canada to complete the sub-titling of the film in the days before my flight to Kuwait on Monday. I hope — and anticipate — that the film’s comprehensive analysis of the many crimes and failures of the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” and the compelling human stories of the men affected by America’s journey to the “dark side,” will be as informative for the Kuwaiti audience as they have been for the Western audiences who have seen the film in screenings in the US, the UK and Europe over the last two years. Read the rest of this entry »
“[T]his is a strong movie examining the imprisonment and subsequent torture of those falsely accused of anti-American conspiracy.”
Joe Burnham, Time Out
With the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay now in its 11th year of existence, and with no sign of when, if ever the prison will be closed, the need to campaign for its closure is greater than ever, even though the will to do so is largely drowned out by the voices of US lawmakers and pundits who would like it to stay open, and by a colossal indifference on the part of far too many citizens of the US, and others around the world.
This is deeply disturbing, as a prison in which people are subjected to arbitrary detention (as Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, explained three weeks ago) cannot simply be brushed aside or forgotten about by those who claim to care about legal and humane detention practices. As long ago as October 2003, a representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross complained about the damaging effects of open-ended arbitrary detention on the mental health of the prisoners held at Guantánamo, and that remains true eight years and four months later, even if most of the prisoners are now allowed time to socialize. Back in 2003, Girod said, “The open-endedness of the situation and its impact on the mental health of the population has become a major problem.” Read the rest of this entry »
February 14 marks the 10th anniversary of the arrival at Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, who is now the last British resident in the prison, but was once one of 15 British citizens and residents held at Guantánamo. Shaker’s story is one that I have told and retold over the years, including in the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” which I co-directed with Polly Nash, and it is distressing, for his British wife, and his four British children (the youngest of whom has never seen his father, because he was born after his capture) to have to endure another anniversary without Shaker, an eloquent man of great compassion, who has spent ten years demanding that he and his fellow prisoners be treated as human beings, and not as “enemy combatants” without rights, which is what they essentially remain, despite some general improvement in their living conditions under President Obama.
Throughout this period in which I have been studying Shaker’s story (for the last six years), it has been clear that there was no good reason for Shaker Aamer to be held. He was told in spring 2007 that he had been cleared for release by the Bush administration, and in August 2007 Gordon Brown, taking over from Tony Blair as Prime Minister, requested his return along with the other British residents.
Nevertheless, he was not freed, and with a new President in the US and a new government in the UK it was not initially known what his status was as the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo approached. However, two recent discoveries have ensured that, on the 10th anniversary of Shaker’s arrival at Guantánamo, there are no obstacles to his immediate release, however much representatives of the US or UK governments may pretend otherwise. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday, I posted a short video of a speech I gave on January 10, while I was visiting the US for events marking the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, prior to a screening of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (which I co-directed with Polly Nash) at a branch of Busboys and Poets in Washington D.C.
That screening, the day before protests marking the 10th anniversary (which I covered here, here and here), was organized by the World Can’t Wait, the campaigners responsible for my visit, and was followed by a panel discussion in which I was delighted to be speaking alongside the attorney Tom Wilner — my colleague in the newly established “Close Guantánamo” campaign and website, with whom I had just taken part in a lunchtime event at the New America Foundation (also with Congressman Jim Moran and Col. Morris Davis) — and Darold Killmer and Mari Newman, attorneys from Denver whom I had asked to come along and speak about their clients, five Yemenis who are still held at Guantánamo.
Introducing the Q&A session, I spoke briefly about the “Close Guantánamo” campaign and the now-closed petition on the White House’s “We the People” website, asking President Obama to fulfil his promise to close Guantánamo, and also reminded those attending that, while criticizing Congress for inserting provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) demanding the mandatory military custody, without charge or trial, of anyone who can be accused of being associated with al-Qaeda, they should not forget that, for ten years, the prisoners in Guantánamo have been detained on essentially the same basis. Read the rest of this entry »
On January 10, while I was visiting the US for events marking the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, the World Can’t Wait, the campaigning organization responsible for my visit, hosted a screening of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (which I co-directed with Polly Nash) at a branch of Busboys and Poets in Washington D.C.
This was the day before the rally and march to close Guantánamo, which I covered here, here and here, and it was an extremely well attended event, with over a hundred people in the audience — mostly campaigners from the various organizations involved in the January 11 protest, including Amnesty International, Witness Against Torture, the World Can’t Wait, Code Pink and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.
Also present were: the attorney Tom Wilner — my colleague in the newly established “Close Guantánamo” campaign and website, with whom I had just taken part in a lunchtime event at the New America Foundation (also with Congressman Jim Moran and Col. Morris Davis) — and Darold Killmer and Mari Newman, attorneys from Denver whom I had asked to come along and speak about their clients, five Yemenis who are still held at Guantánamo. Read the rest of this entry »
Since March 2006, I have been researching and writing about Guantánamo and the 779 men (and boys) held there, first through my book The Guantánamo Files, and, since May 2007, as a full-time independent investigative journalist. For three years, I focused on the crimes of the Bush administration and, since January 2009, I have analyzed the failures of the Obama administration to thoroughly repudiate those crimes and to hold anyone accountable for them, and, increasingly, on President Obama’s failure to charge or release prisoners, and to show any sign that Guantánamo will eventually be closed.
As recent events marking the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo have shown, this remains an intolerable situation, as Guantánamo is as much of an aberration, and a stain on America’s belief in itself as a nation ruled by laws, as it was when it was opened by George W. Bush on January 11, 2002. Closing the prison remains as important now as it did when I began this work nearly six years ago.
Throughout my work, my intention has been to puncture the Bush administration’s propaganda about Guantánamo holding “the worst of the worst” by telling the prisoners’ stories and bringing them to life as human beings, rather than allowing them to remain as dehumanized scapegoats or bogeymen.
This has involved demonstrating that the majority of the prisoners were either innocent men, seized by the US military’s allies at a time when bounty payments were widespread, or recruits for the Taliban, who had been encouraged by supporters in their homelands to help the Taliban in a long-running inter-Muslim civil war (with the Northern Alliance), which began long before the 9/11 attacks and, for the most part, had nothing to do with al-Qaeda or international terrorism. Read the rest of this entry »
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