The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Truth, Lies and Distortions in the Coverage of Shaker Aamer, Soon to be Freed from Guantánamo

Shaker Aamer, photographed at Guantanamo in 2012.In the week since it was announced that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, is to be released, to be returned to his family in the UK, there has been a huge sigh of relief from the many, many people who campaigned for his release — supporters of the long-standing Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, which I have been involved with for many years, attending protests and speaking at events, of We Stand With Shaker, the campaign I established with Joanne MacInnes last November, which drew huge support for photos of celebrities and MPs standing with a giant inflatable figure of Shaker, and supporters of the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, established last November by John McDonnell MP, a persistent supporter of worthy causes and fighter against injustice, who, with Caroline Lucas (our sole Green MP), Jeremy Corbyn and Shaker’s constituency MP, Jane Ellison, has been the most consistent MP supporting Shaker’s cause.

My article celebrating the news of Shaker’s forthcoming release was liked and shared by over 1,500 people on Facebook. Posted on the Close Guantánamo page, it has reached over 21,000 people; on the We Stand With Shaker page it has reached over 11,000 people. Thank you to everyone who has supported the various campaigns to secure Shaker’s release, including the MPs who traveled to Washington D.C. in May to call for his release, meeting with Senators and Obama administration officials — David Davis and Andrew Mitchell of the Conservatives, and Jeremy Corbyn and Andy Slaughter of the Labour Party.

Now, of course, Jeremy is the leader of the Labour Party, and John McDonnell is the shadow chancellor — a wonderful development for those who care about tackling injustice. Jeremy was elected on an anti-austerity platform, and because of his honesty and decency, and all of the above was apparent in his speech as leader to the Labour Party Conference, when he specifically thanked Shaker’s supporters, and in particular the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign: Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington’s Band The Four Fathers Release ‘Love and War’ Album for Download, With Songs About Guantánamo, Torture, Austerity and Love

The Four Fathers at Guantanamo, a collage by Bren Horstead of the band fronted by human rights journalist and campaigner Andy Worthington, who wrote the campaign song for the We Stand With Shaker campaign he launched with Joanne MacInnes in November 2014.

Buy ‘Love and War’ here, as a download or CD — or buy individual tracks to download.

It’s been an action-packed week. Last Monday, I promoted the release as a download of Song for Shaker Aamer, by my band The Four Fathers, which I wrote about the last British resident still held in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. We recorded it last November, and it was used in the campaign video for We Stand With Shaker, a campaign I launched with my activist friend Joanne MacInnes, featuring MPs and celebrities standing with a giant inflatable figure of Shaker. The song is available — on Bandcamp — for just 80p ($1.25), although you can pay more if you wish. We are donating 25% of the takings from the song to Shaker’s family.

After sending out a press release about the download, I was almost immediately asked to appear on RT to promote it — and the Morning Star also featured it. And then, on Friday, came the welcome and long-awaited news that Shaker is to be released! Thanks to everyone who has worked to get him out of Guantánamo and back to his family in London. We anticipate that he will be home within a month, allowing for the statutory 30-day period that the US Congress has insisted on having before any prisoner is released.

‘Song for Shaker’ is just one of eight original songs on ‘Love and War.’ I wrote five other songs, Richard Clare wrote one, and one is an old folk song that I gave a punky roots reggae makeover in the late 1980s while living in Brixton. The Four Fathers are: myself on lead vocals and guitar, Richard on guitar and backing vocals, Bren Horstead on drums and percussion, Andrew Fifield on flute and harmonica, and — not a father — Richard’s son Louis Sills-Clare on bass. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses the Imminent Release of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo with Scott Horton

A previously unseen photo of Roger Waters (ex-Pink Floyd) with Andy Worthington and Joanne MacInnes of We Stand With Shaker, at the launch of the campaign outside the Houses of Parliament on November 24, 2014 (Photo: Dot Young).On September 25, as the news broke that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, is to be released, the radio host Scott Horton got in touch to ask for a quick interview, and I was, of course, delighted to speak to him, as we have spoken numerous times over the years since he first interviewed me in 2007. Our 15-minute interview is here, as an MP3, and I hope you have time to listen to it, and to share it if you find it useful. You can also find it on Scott’s website here.

Scott asked me to run through Shaker’s story, so I explained how he is a charismatic, eloquent man who always resisted the injustices implemented by the Bush administration in its “war on terror,” and, as a result, came to be regarded as a dangerous individual.

However, although he has persistently caused trouble — righteous, indignant trouble — in US custody, his captors never had a case against him for any activities prior to his capture at the end of 2001 in Afghanistan, where, he has always maintained, he had traveled to provide humanitarian aid to the Afghan people. As a result, in 2007, under the Bush administration, he was told that the US no longer wanted to hold him, and in 2009 he was approved for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force established by President Obama shortly after taking office. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Andy Worthington’s Band The Four Fathers Launch YouTube Channel, Play ‘Song for Shaker Aamer’ Unplugged

A screenshot of a video featuring Andy Worthington and Richard Clare, two of The Four Fathers, playing an acoustic version of 'Song for Shaker Aamer.'I’ve just launched a YouTube channel for my band The Four Fathers. We’re based in Lewisham, in south east London, and we’re four fathers, as the name suggests — myself on lead vocals and guitar, Richard Clare on guitar and backing vocals, Bren Horstead on drums and percussion and Andrew Fifield on flute and harmonica — plus, last but by no means least, Louis Sills-Clare, Richard’s son, on bass.

The first video I’ve uploaded (see below) features myself and Richard Clare playing an acoustic version of ‘Song for Shaker Aamer’, the song I wrote last year that was used in the campaign video for We Stand With Shaker, the campaign I launched last November with my activist friend Joanne MacInnes, which has just met with considerable success, as it was announced on Friday that Shaker will soon be released, after nearly 14 years in US custody without charge or trial, and over eight years since he was first told that he would be freed.

The version played by the full band is the opening track on The Four Fathers’ debut album, ‘Love and War,’ which we released on CD in July. It’s available here as a download, for 80p ($1.25), although you can pay more if you want, and 25% of the money received will be donated to Shaker’s family. The other songs on the album are also available to download for 60p ($0.93) each, or you can buy the whole eight-track album as a download for £4.50 ($7) or on CD, with two extra tracks, for £7 ($10.85). As with ‘Song for Shaker Aamer’, you can pay more if you wish for any of the songs or for the album, and if you do so that will be very greatly appreciated. Read the rest of this entry »

Wonderful News! Shaker Aamer to be Released from Guantánamo – Finally!

Shaker Aamer, photographed at Guantanamo in 2012.I’m delighted to receive the news that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba is to be released, although I must admit I’m slightly numb too. I’ve been hoping for this day — and working towards making it happen — for so long that it’s difficult to believe that it’s true.

But it is true. This afternoon, a British government spokesperson announced that the US government has notified them of the intention to release Mr. Aamer back to his family in the UK, and stated that the US government “has notified Congress of this decision and once that notice period has been concluded, Mr. Aamer will be returned to the UK.”

Under US law, the defence secretary, Ashton Carter, must sign off on any prisoner releases, certifying that all steps have been taken to ensure that it is safe to do so, and Congress then receives 30 days’ notice. As a result, Shaker may not be home until late October, but the announcement of his impending release is a clear cause for celebration. Read the rest of this entry »

Abdul Rahman Shalabi, Long-Term Hunger Striker, Repatriated from Guantánamo to Saudi Arabia

Abdul Rahman Shalabi, in a photo from the classified military files from Guantanamo that were made available by WikiLeaks in April 2011.Yesterday (September 22), the US authorities reduced the population of the prison at Guantánamo Bay to 114 by releasing Abdul Rahman Shalabi, the prison’s most enduring hunger striker, who had been on a hunger strike for over ten years.

As I explained in an article in October 2010, he “weighed 124 pounds when he arrived at Guantánamo in January 2002,” but “rarely weighed more than 110 pounds [after] he began his hunger strike in August 2005, as part of the largest hunger strike in the prison’s history. At one point, in November 2005, he weighed just 100 pounds (PDF) … In September 2009, after four years of being force-fed daily, Shalabi weighed just 108 pounds, and wrote a distressing letter to his lawyers, in which he stated, ‘I am a human who is being treated like an animal.’ In November 2009, when his letter was included in a court submission, one of his lawyers, Julia Tarver Mason, stated, ‘He’s two pounds away from organ failure and death.'”

Shalabi, who is 39 years old, spent a third of his life at Guantánamo, and was one of 48 prisoners designated for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial in January 2010, by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009, whose remit was to recommend prisoners for release or for trial. In the end, the task force decided that 48 men were too dangerous to release, but that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. This was deeply problematical, because it meant that the evidence was no such thing — and was, for example, a collection of unreliable statements made by the prisoners themselves, or their fellow prisoners, as a result of torture or other forms of abuse, bribery (the promise of “comfort items” and better living conditions) or exhaustion as the result of never-ending interrogations. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: On RT, Andy Worthington Discusses Release of ‘Song for Shaker Aamer’ and the Failure to Free Him from Guantánamo

RT's coverage of Shaker Aamer's story and the release of Andy Worthington's band The Four Fathers' 'Song for Shaker Aamer' on September 21, 2015.Yesterday, after I had released ‘Song for Shaker Aamer’ by my band The Four Fathers on Bandcamp, I sent out a press release that was picked up on by RT, who invited me to discuss the release of the song, and Shaker’s ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial in Guantánamo, on the evening news.

I was delighted to cycle down to Millbank Tower for the interview, which was not shown last night, but, I hear, was shown in rotation on the news earlier today, although I didn’t see it until I was sent a link to the video that RT made available on YouTube, which I’m posting below.

My thanks to RT for making the interview available, and for their coverage of the story — the We Stand With Shaker banner projected on a huge screen in the studio, the clips from the song, and my interview, in which I was able to express my profound frustration with the fact that he is still held, despite being approved for release under George W. Bush in 2007 and Barack Obama in 2009, despite the UK government calling for his return since 2007, despite the UK government backing a Parliamentary motion calling for his return in March, despite David Cameron raising his case with President Obama this year, and despite the president promising to “prioritize” his case. Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington’s Band The Four Fathers Release ‘Song for Shaker Aamer’ as Download: 25% of Takings to Go to Shaker’s Family

The launch of the We Stand With Shaker campaign outside the Houses of Parliament on November 24, 2014, featuring, from L to R: Roger Waters, Clive Stafford Smith, Andy Worthington, Joanne MacInnes and Caroline Lucas.Buy ‘Song for Shaker Aamer’ here!

Today, on Bandcamp, I launched ‘Song for Shaker Aamer’, about the last British resident in Guantánamo, as a download, available for just 80p ($1.25) — although you can pay as much as you want for it — with 25% of the money received going to Shaker Aamer’s family.

I wrote ‘Song for Shaker Aamer’ last year, and it was used as the song in the campaign video for We Stand With Shaker, the campaign to free Shaker from Guantánamo, which I launched last November with the activist Joanne MacInnes, and which has secured substantial support, with nearly 100 celebrities and MPs standing with the giant inflatable figure that is at the heart of the campaign.

I recorded ‘Song for Shaker Aamer’ with my band The Four Fathers, and it is the opening song on our debut album ‘Love and War.’ The eight-track album is available in its entirety on Bandcamp for £4.50 ($7), or you can buy individual tracks for 60p ($0.93) each, and a CD is also available for £7 ($10.85), which contains two bonus tracks. You can also buy the CD via my website. Read the rest of this entry »

“The More We Get Close to What We Want, The Farther It Goes”: Shaker Aamer’s Endlessly Thwarted Hope of Being Released from Guantánamo

Jeremy Corbyn MP supporting We Stand With Shaker in October 2014 (Photo: Andy Worthington).On Saturday, Jeremy Corbyn, a prominent supporter in Parliament of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, was elected, by a landslide, as the leader of the Labour Party, something that was unimaginable just three months ago. Jeremy is a member of the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, and in May he visited Washington D.C. with three of his Parliamentary colleagues, to meet with Senators and representatives of the Obama administration, to try and secure Shaker’s release.

The Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group was established last November by John McDonnell MP, Jeremy’s close friend and colleague on the left of the Party, who, yesterday, was appointed by Jeremy as Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Shaker now has two prominent supporters in previously unexpected high-profile positions, and I hope this fact is not lost on the Obama administration, which continues to hold Shaker needlessly. Cleared for release in 2007 (under George W. Bush) and again in 2009 under President Obama, he could be released in a month’s time if the will existed to free him, 30 days being the amount of time that lawmakers in Congress have required the defense secretary to give them before freeing any prisoner.

Other supporters of Shaker in the shadow cabinet are Diane Abbott, the shadow secretary of state for international development, and Ian Murray, the shadow secretary of state for Scotland, and while we wait to see how the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn will raise Shaker’s case (which I’m sure will happen soon), I’m cross-posting below an article about Shaker that was published in the Mail on Sunday, written by Ramzi Kassem, a professor at the City University of New York School of Law, who I have known for many years — and have also spoken with on occasion. Read the rest of this entry »

Report and Photos: The Massive March for Refugees in London – and Jeremy Corbyn’s Victory

A placard on the huge march in support of refugees in London on September 12, 2015, the same day that Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader of the Labour Party (Photo: Andy Worthington).See my photos on Flickr of the huge march in London calling for more refugees to be welcomed in the UK.

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 »

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Andy Worthington

Campaigning investigative journalist and commentator, author, filmmaker, photographer, singer-songwriter and Guantánamo expert
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