14 years ago, in July 2002, just after my wedding, I visited — and took part in — for the first time the WOMAD festival (World of Music, Arts and Dance), a world music festival that was established by Peter Gabriel and a number of colleagues in 1982, and which, at the time, was at a site by the River Thames in Reading. I went with my wife Dot, and our two-year old son, to take part in children’s workshops run by an Australian friend, who then returned to Australia, handing on the workshops to Dot, who has run them ever since, with myself and a number of our friends and their families.
From those first days, when we drank merrily while our kids slept in their buggies, we have seen our children grow at WOMAD, and we now tend to go to sleep while they are still out clubbing. Our group of workers also shares a special camaraderie, and, of course, we have also watched a wealth of world music talent over the years. We have also worked every year with children to prepare headdresses and other creations to accompany a giant figure, designed by Dot, that, with others made by the many other groups involved in the workshops, is, every year, carried through the whole site on the last day of the festival, as part of the children’s procession that reminds all of us of the central importance of children in all our lives.
In 2007, WOMAD moved to Charlton Park, a stately home in Wiltshire, near Malmesbury, and we went with it, of course. I’ve taken photos of it every year, and have made them available on Flickr since 2012 — see the photos from 2012 here and here, from 2014 here, and from 2015 here. Read the rest of this entry »
On Saturday July 2, I attended a March for Europe, and took the photos in my latest album on Flickr. The march took place in central London, attracting around 50,000 people, calling for Britain to remain in the EU, supporting the pan-European community that it has allowed to come into existence, opposing racism and xenophobia, and calling for MPs to refuse to pass the legislation that is needed for our departure to actually take place, rather than, as at present, being the preferred course of action of a slim majority of the 72.2% of the electorate who actually bothered to vote.
The march took place just eight days after a shocked Britain woke up to discover that, after the most ill-advised referendum in UK history, those voting to leave the EU had secured more votes than those who wanted to stay in. Those attending were just a fraction of the 16,141,241 people who voted to remain in the EU, but the march was an important sign of hugely important dissent that, I fervently hope, will not go away.
We need to maintain pressure on our MPs not to accept the result — not out of any anti-democratic sentiment, but because: 1) leaving the EU would be disastrous for our economy and our standing in the world; 2) isolationism has already led to a rise in racism and xenophobia, apparently normalised by the result; 3) the referendum should never have been called, and was only called because of the narrow party political concerns of David Cameron, and not because of any need for it; 4) the Leave campaign’s efforts to secure victory, with the collusion of large parts of the media, involved telling voters disgraceful lies, and Boris Johnson, who did so much to ensure its success, didn’t even believe in it, and only supported it in the hope of furthering his own political aims; 5) most importantly, Parliament has to endorse it before it can happen, and MPs’ obligation is to vote in the best interests of the country, not to rubber-stamp the result of a unjustifiable referendum; and 6) as some lawyers are arguing, the process of triggering our departure from the EU, if enacted, would be unlawful. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s been a busy week at Guantánamo, with two Periodic Review Boards taking place, two prisoners being approved for release after reviews in April, and two others having their ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial upheld.
The Periodic Review Boards — which involve representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — were established in 2013 to review the cases of all the men still held who are not facing trials (and just ten men are in this category), or who had not already been approved for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, which, in 2009, reviewed the cases of all the men held when President Obama took office.
71 men were originally eligible for PRBs, a number reduced to 64 when five men were freed, and two were charged in the military commissions. 41 of the men were described as “too dangerous to release” by the task force, which acknowledged, however, that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial — meaning, of course, that it was not evidence at all, but, in large part, consisted of unreliable statements made by the prisoners themselves, or their fellow prisoners, when the use of torture and other forms of abuse were widespread. 23 others had been recommended for prosecution by the task force, until the basis for prosecution largely collapsed after a number of highly critical appeals court rulings, in which judges dismissed some of the few convictions secured in the troubled military commission system, on the basis that the war crimes in question had been invented by Congress. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday, February 27, 2016, I cycled into central London to show my support for what turned out to be the largest anti-nuclear protest for a generation, organised by CND (the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament). Tens of thousands of people from across the UK marched from Marble Arch to Trafalgar Square to call for the British government not to renew the Trident nuclear submarine and missile programme, which, it is estimated, will cost £100 billion over 25 years.
As a lifelong opponent of nuclear weapons, I find it mind-boggling that the Tories — and large parts of the Labour Party — want to renew this ruinously expensive programme when we are supposed to be committed to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which calls for disarmament as well as non-proliferation, and when we can clearly ill-afford it, as the Tories’ “age of austerity” continues to wither and destroy the very notion of the state as something that should provide a safety net for everyone, without which we seem to be committed only to an ever-increasing gulf between the rich and the poor.
MPs are expected to vote on the renewal of Trident at some point this year, and unfortunately the Parliamentary Labour Party is not entirely united behind Jeremy Corbyn, who spoke at the rally, and who has been a lifelong member of CND. See my article from last summer — and my photos — of Jeremy at CND’s Hiroshima Day 70th Anniversary Ceremony in Tavistock Square for a further show of his commitment to peace. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve recently posted two sets of photos from my US visit last month to call for the closure of the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, which, shamefully, is still open, despite President Obama’s promise to close it within a year on his second day on office in January 2009. The visit, as with my January visits every year since 2011, was timed to coincide with the anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, where 91 men are still held, almost all without charge or trial, in defiance of the values the US claims to uphold.
The two photo sets I have previously posted were of my first ever visit to Florida — a lightning visit to attend a protest outside the gates of the headquarters of US Southern Command — and the annual protest outside the White House on January 11, the 14th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, involving groups including Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Witness Against Torture and the World Can’t Wait. My thanks to Debra Sweet of the World Can’t Wait for organizing my trip, as she has every January since 2011.
I was representing two other groups I co-founded, Close Guantánamo, the campaign and website I set up four years ago with the US attorney Tom Wilner, and We Stand With Shaker, the campaign to free Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, which played a part in securing Shaker’s release in October. To celebrate, I brought the giant inflatable figure of Shaker that was at the heart of the campaign to the US for the very first time. Read the rest of this entry »
On January 11, 2016, I was outside the White House, as I have been on January 11 every year since 2011, calling for the closure of the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. I was representing Close Guantánamo, the campaign and website I set up four years ago with the US attorney Tom Wilner, as part of an annual protest organized by numerous rights groups, including Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Witness Against Torture and the World Can’t Wait.
My thanks to Debra Sweet of the World Can’t Wait for organizing my trip, which began with a brief visit — for the first time — to Florida (see my article here, and photos here), and then an early morning flight to Washington, D.C. to meet up with old friends from Witness Against Torture, who were staying, as usual, in a church where they were fasting and protesting on a daily basis, and to take part in a number of events — one on the evening of January 10, at which I spoke about We Stand With Shaker, the campaign to free Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo, and sang my “Song for Shaker Aamer” (see the video here); the main protest on January 11, the 14th anniversary of the opening of the prison, outside the White House; and a couple of protests on January 12 that I’ll make photos available of soon. In the meantime, I hope you have time to check out my January 11 photo set, and to share the photos if you like them.
You can also check out the video of the speech I made outside the White House, and see Witness Against Torture’s collection of videos here. Read the rest of this entry »
On January 9, 2016, at the start of my latest short US tour, I was in Florida, on behalf of two groups I co-founded, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker, for a protest outside the headquarters of Southcom — US Southern Command — which oversees the prison at Guantánamo Bay. This was my sixth US visit on and around January 11, the anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo — and my thanks again to Debra Sweet of the World Can’t Wait for organizing it.
The event on January 9 was put together by an enthusiastic group of young people campaigning as POWIR (People’s Opposition to War, Imperialism, and Racism), and I met the main organizers on the night of my arrival from London, January 8, at the apartment of two of them, Cassia and Conor, where the group were preparing banners and placards.
The headquarters of US Southern Command (Southcom), which oversees Guantánamo, is in Doral, just outside Miami, and we met at a busy intersection at 2pm, and then walked to the gates of Southcom’s HQ. Outside the gates, I was one of the speakers calling for the closure of Guantánamo, along with Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK, who had come down from Washington, D.C. with fellow activist Tighe Barry, and afterwards a few dozen of us went for Tex-Mex food, which not only gave me a great opportunity to socialize, but also enabled me to soak up some of the lovely Florida heat that would be lost to me, very early the morning after, as I flew to Washington, D.C. Read the rest of this entry »
Today (November 24) is the 1st anniversary of the launch of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, created by myself and the activist Joanne MacInnes to call for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who was finally freed — after unprecedented pressure on the US government by MPs, the media and campaigners — on October 30.
The inflatable figure proved to be one of those campaigning tools that captured people’s imagination, and our launch a year ago — attended by Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, Clive Stafford Smith of Reprieve, comedian Jeremy Hardy, activist Peter Tatchell and the MPs John McDonnell (Labour, Hayes and Harlington, and now the Shadow Chancellor) and Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion) — was swiftly followed by high-level support from the Daily Mail, which ran a front-page story condemning Shaker’s ongoing imprisonment, seven years after he was first approved for release by the US authorities, and then followed up with support for the campaign, publishing our open letter to David Cameron, which MPs and our celebrity supporters signed in significant numbers.
The campaign — and the ongoing campaigning of the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, as well as the political pressure that began to be exerted when, at the same time that We Stand With Shaker was launched, John McDonnell set up the All-Party Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group — led to David Cameron raising the issue of Shaker’s ongoing imprisonment with Barack Obama at a meeting in January (when the president promised to “prioritise” his case), and, in March, led to a Parliamentary debate at which the British government supported the motion, “That this House calls on the US Government to release Shaker Aamer from his imprisonment in Guantánamo Bay and to allow him to return to his family in the UK.” Read the transcript here and here. Read the rest of this entry »
On Saturday (October 24), campaigners for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, held a vigil on Whitehall, opposite 10 Downing Street, to mark Shaker’s 5000th day in Guantánamo, and the last day before his anticipated return from Guantánamo. The vigil was organised by the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, with support from other groups including We Stand With Shaker and the London Guantánamo Campaign.
President Obama announced Shaker’s release on September 25, and Congress was then given a 30-day notification period, as required in US law in recent years. During the 30 days, Shaker told his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith of Reprieve, that he had embarked on a hunger strike because of ill-treatment, and that he feared not making it out of Guantánamo alive, and as a result, myself and Joanne MacInnes, the founders and directors of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, set up Fast For Shaker, to encourage supporters to fast for 24 hours, on a day of their choice, in solidarity with Shaker, to encourage him to give up his hunger strike (which he did), and to keep up the pressure on the US and UK governments to make sure his release is not further delayed. We are encouraging people to sign up to fast until Shaker is released, joining the 406 people who have already done so.
After hearing that Shaker’s release has been delayed because of a visit to the prison by three Republican Senators over the weekend, we now hear that he may not be released until Friday, because of the presence of journalists for pre-hearings in the proposed trial of those accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Read the rest of this entry »
For anyone not in thrall to a cruel and self-serving neo-liberal worldview, in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer until we return to some sort of feudal nightmare, yesterday was a truly inspirational day. In the morning, Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership campaign, with an astonishing 251,000 votes — 59.5% of the total, and 49% of the votes cast by full-time party members, rather than those like me who paid £3 to vote for him (and who didn’t get “purged”). Jeremy’s nearest rival, Andy Burnham, got just 19% of the vote, Yvette Cooper got 17% and Liz Kendall got just 4.5%. Read about Jeremy’s vision for the future of the Labour Party and of the UK in an exclusive article in the Observer today.
As I mentioned on Facebook just after the result was announced, “The people have spoken. It’s time for a renewed Labour Party — of the people for the people. This is the most hopeful moment for politics in the UK since before Thatcher’s baleful victory in May 1979. I’m honoured to have got to know Jeremy through his support of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, and look forward to doing whatever I can to support him and to take on and defeat this wretched Tory government.”
In May, before he entered the leadership race, Jeremy visited Washington D.C. as part of a delegation of MPs from the cross-party Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, set up by his close friend and campaign manager John McDonnell MP last November, but working to close Guantánamo and to get Shaker Aamer released is just one of Jeremy’s — and John’s — many interests that have long coincided with my own views.
Jeremy entered the leadership race as an anti-austerity candidate, and a rank outsider, as he himself would have acknowledged, but it soon turned out that there was a huge appetite for an antidote not only to the Tory government, but also to its echo in the Labour Party, the right-wingers, or the centre-right that, to far too many people, is largely indistinguishable from the Tories. 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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