It’s been a while since I found the time to write about the depressing realities of life in the UK under the particularly cruel and inept government of David Cameron and George Osborne, as I’ve been so busy lately with my work trying to get the prison at Guantánamo Bay closed. However, not a day goes by that I’m not enraged by their persistent efforts to destroy the state provision of almost all services in the UK, to punish the poor for being poor, and to enrich the rich for being rich.
So I’m pleased to note that there was a small victory yesterday, regarding the bedroom tax, when the appeals court ruled that it was discriminatory in two particular cases. The bedroom tax — technically, the “under-occupancy penalty” — is an abomination, and when I last wrote about it, I described it as a policy “whereby a cabinet of millionaires, with more rooms than they can count, passed legislation forcing people on benefits living in social housing who are deemed to have a ‘spare room’ to downsize, even though there are few smaller properties to move to, and many people, treated as worthless ‘units’ by the government and kicked out of their homes, have had to be rehoused in the private sector, thereby increasing the overall housing benefit bill.”
Of course, the only people who really have “spare rooms” are those like the Tories who live in mansions. Most of those subjected to the bedroom tax may have a room that, technically, is not a bedroom or a living room, but I find it unthinkable that a decent human being would begrudge another the luxury of a spare room. Read the rest of this entry »
Monday January 11 is the 14th anniversary of the opening of the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, and, as over a dozen rights groups hold a protest outside the White House, calling for President Obama to close Guantánamo in his last year in office, seven former Guantánamo prisoners from the UK will gather outside the US Embassy to also demand the closure of the prison.
The seven former prisoners are Shaker Aamer, Moazzam Begg, Ruhal Ahmad, Asif Iqbal, Shafiq Rasul, Bisher al-Rawi and Tarek Dergoul.
Ruhal Ahmad, Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rasul (the Tipton Three) and Tarek Dergoul were released in 2004, Moazzam Begg was released in 2005, Bisher al-Rawi in 2007, and, after extraordinary campaigning from activists, MPs and the media, Shaker Aamer was released on October 30, 2015, eight years after he was first told that the US no longer wanted to hold him.
As the co-founder and co-director of the We Stand With Shaker campaign (with Joanne Macinnes), I will be taking part in the protest outside the White House, as part of a short tour to coincide with the 14th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, and I have brought with from the UK the giant inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer that was the centerpiece of the campaign. The photo above is of Shaker outside the US Embassy on January 7, when Joanne MacInnes and I met up with him to take the photo with campaign photographer Stefano Massimo. Read the rest of this entry »
If you’re in London — or nearby — and interested in hearing me talk about Guantánamo and the campaign to free Shaker Aamer, and/or to see my band The Four Fathers play our mix of politically-infused rock and roots reggae, then I’d be delighted to see you at any of the events taking place in the coming weeks in south east London.
First up, on Saturday December 12, is a free 20-minute set at Brockley Christmas Market, on Coulgate Street, next to Brockley station, in London SE4. This is a free gig, as part of an afternoon of music to accompany the market’s plentiful stalls selling great food and drink, and arts and crafts for Christmas. We’re playing at 2pm, and amongst the other acts playing is my son Tyler, who will be beatboxing at 3.30pm.
Two events are taking place on the following Friday, December 18. First up, at 5.30pm, is a free half-hour set at the Honor Oak Christmas Experience, a Christmas event on the Honor Oak Estate, at 50 Turnham Road, London SE4 2JD.
We then rush down the road to Deptford to set up for an event at the Deptford Cinema, a great community cinema at 39 Deptford Broadway, London SE8 4PQ. There’s a bar, and the doors open at 7pm, when there will be some mingling followed, at 8pm, by me delivering a talk, “Shaker Aamer, Guantánamo, Torture and the Struggle for Human Rights,” followed by a Q&A session. The Facebook page for the event is here, and if you can come, please sign up. It costs £5/£3.50 concs. 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 »
Two weeks ago, the journalist Kevin Gosztola made my “Song for Shaker Aamer,” by my band The Four Fathers, his “Protest Song of the Week” on his website Shadowproof, which he established in August when FireDogLake, for which he had been writing for several years, came to an end.
It was wonderful to be featured on Shadowproof, as part of a “Protest Music Project” that Kevin set up when the website launched, which to date, has featured a dozen songs from around the world, and the “Top 25 Protest Albums of the 2010s (So Far),” and just as wonderful when Kevin asked if I’d be prepared to be interviewed about “what influenced [me] to become a writer and performer of protest music,” and to discuss the protest songs on The Four Fathers’ self-released debut album, “Love and War,” available to listen to, to download or to buy as a CD on Bandcamp.
Our 45-minute interview, with Kevin playing excerpts from “Song for Shaker Aamer,” “Fighting Injustice,” “81 Million Dollars” (about the US torture program) and “Tory Bullshit Blues,” is on the Shadowproof website, and is also available here as an MP3. Also included is an excerpt from one of my favourite protest songs, Bob Dylan’s “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” (as performed on the 1975 Rolling Thunder tour). Read the rest of this entry »
Many thanks to RT for their excellent coverage of Thursday’s press launch, opposite Parliament, of the Fast For Shaker campaign set up by myself and Joanne MacInnes, the founders of the We Stand With Shaker Campaign that we launched 11 months ago, with a giant inflatable figure of the last British resident in Guantánamo that grabbed people’s attention, with celebrities and MPs happy to Stand With Shaker and to call for his release, as the years roll on since he was first approved for release — in 2007 under George W. Bush, and in 2009 under Barack Obama.
I was fasting on Thursday, with 75 other people around the world — a few of whom were also in London for the launch, including Jo — and it was quite demanding, as a result, running around trying to make sure it all ran smoothly, although I’m glad to say it did. See my photos here, and my report here.
RT interviewed me, John McDonnell, the comedian Sara Pascoe, and Shaker’s father-in-law Saeed Siddique, and I recommend all those interviews as well as the interview with the actor and director Mark Rylance, who took place a few days before. Read the rest of this entry »
Since getting the news last weekend that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, has embarked on a hunger strike and fears that he won’t make it out of Guantánamo alive, despite being told on September 25 that he will be freed soon, Joanne MacInnes and I, the co-founders and co-directors of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, have been working like crazy to get a new campaign going.
And with the wonderful support of web designer Tuqire Hussain, we are now delighted to launch Fast For Shaker, a new website and campaign in which we’re asking celebrities, MPs, campaigners and concerned citizens to embark on a hunger strike of their own, for a day — or more, if you wish — in solidarity with Shaker, starting on Thursday October 15, when the campaign is officially launched.
Please Pledge a Fast (and share on Facebook and Twitter after doing so), send in a photo of yourself on the day of your fast, with a poster downloadable here, to join our Supporters Photos, check out the Calendar here, and check out the celebrity list here. Please also read the Fasting Guidelines. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
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 »
It’s eight months since the Labour MP John McDonnell MP, an indefatigable campaigner for justice, established the Shaker Aamer All-Party Parliamentary Group, to call for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who is still held, despite being approved for release by the US authorities twice — in 2007, under George W. Bush, and in 2009, under Barack Obama.
With support from the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, which spent many years working to get the Parliamentary Group established, and also from We Stand With Shaker, the campaign group established by Andy Worthington and Joanne MacInnes, which was also launched eight months ago, the Parliamentary Group sent a delegation to Washington D.C. after the General Election in May. The four MPs involved — the Conservative MPs David Davis and Andrew Mitchell, and the Labour MPs Jeremy Corbyn and Andy Slaughter — met with Senators, including John McCain and Dianne Feinstein, and Obama administration officials, in the hope of securing a timeline for Shaker’s release, although no date has been given, despite repeated rumors that it would be this summer, and despite a hard-hitting op-ed in the New York Times by the MPs, who wrote, “There is simply no reason, domestic or international, for the United States to keep Mr. Aamer in custody,” and also stated, “It is difficult for us to shake off the depressing notion that the Obama administration is indifferent to the repeated requests of the British government,” adding that this is “a slap in the face for America’s staunchest friend.”
Prior to this, in March, the Parliamentary Group also secured a hugely important debate in the House of Commons, which led to the government supporting the motion “call[ing] 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 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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