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 »
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 »
The last week has been hugely busy for campaigners working to try to secure the closure of Guantánamo; and, specifically, the release of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison. February 14 was the 13th anniversary of Shaker’s arrival at Guantánamo, even though he was first told nearly eight years ago that the US no longer wanted to hold him, and, in 2009, was approved for release a second time by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in January 2009.
His continued imprisonment is an absolute disgrace — for both the British and American governments — and no more excuses are acceptable, although they continue to be furnished by both sides. Last month, Shaker’s case was raised by David Cameron when he met President Obama in the US, but that only led to the president promising to “prioritize” his case, which has led nowhere to date. In fact, the outcome of this meeting was pure evasion: if Shaker’s case was genuinely prioritized, he would be home in London with his family a month from now — after the required 30-day notice to Congress — whereas the outgoing defense secretary Chuck Hagel, who must make the certifications to Congress that it is safe to release prisoners, recently explained that he hadn’t even been given Shaker’s file.
On the eve of the 13th anniversary of Shaker’s arrival at Guantánamo, the We Stand With Shaker campaign, which I established with Joanne MacInnes in November, planned to hand in a giant Valentine’s Day card for Shaker to the Ambassador, Matthew W. Barzun, with the following message: “We urge you to ask President Obama to secure the immediate release from Guantánamo of British resident Shaker Aamer. Please tell the president we want Shaker returned to his loved ones in London now.” Supporters were also encouraged to send smaller versions of the card directly to the Ambassador. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday (February 13) began with Sky News broadcasting an interview with two of the three sons of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who is still held despite being approved for release from the prison by the US authorities in 2007 and 2009. The two boys who were interviewed are Mikhail (or Micheal), 15 and Faris, who is 13 on Saturday, and whose birth, extraordinarily, took place on the day that his father arrived at Guantánamo. Shaker’s other son is Saif, and he also has a daughter, Johaina.
In their first TV interview, Shaker’s sons spoke about their father, and below is a transcript I’ve put together.
Ian Woods: Boys, I’d like to begin by showing you an interview that we arranged to have done yesterday at Guantánamo with a US officer explaining why your father is still detained. Read the rest of this entry »
Campaigners will be at US Embassy at 4pm with a giant Valentine’s Day card for Shaker, signed by over 60 MPs, celebrities and other supporters. UPDATE 1.30pm: Music legend Roger Waters (ex-Pink Floyd) and Saeed Siddique, Shaker Aamer’s father-in-law, will be attending the protest.
Issued as a press release by the We Stand With Shaker campaign.
In a shocking development, the US Ambassador, Matthew W. Barzun, has refused to meet with British MPs, celebrities and other supporters of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, who were planning to hand in a giant Valentine’s Day card for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, on Friday February 13, the day before the 13th anniversary of Mr. Aamer’s arrival at Guantánamo.
The card reads: “We urge you to ask President Obama to secure the immediate release from Guantánamo of British resident Shaker Aamer. Please tell the president we want Shaker returned to his loved ones in London now.”
Shaker Aamer has twice been approved for release by the US authorities — under President Bush in 2007 and under President Obama in 2009. Read the rest of this entry »
On January 10, 2015, during my US tour to call for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on and around the 13th anniversary of its opening (on January 11), I joined activists with Code Pink and Witness Against Torture for a day of action in Virginia, outside Washington D.C.
I was staying with Code Pink coordinator Joan Stallard, along with Debra Sweet, the national director of the World Can’t Wait, who organized my tour (for the fifth January in succession). Debra and I had driven from New York the day before, where I had been since Tuesday evening (January 6), and where I had been staying with my old friend The Talking Dog in Brooklyn. I indulged in some socializing at a Center for Constitutional Rights event on January 7, visited a high school and spoke to some students with Debra, and spoke at another event on January 8, with two Guantánamo lawyers, Ramzi Kassem and Omar Farah of CCR. I described We Stand With Shaker, the campaign to free Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and we also watched the promotional video, featuring my “Song for Shaker Aamer,” as well as CCR’s film about Fahd Ghazy, one of their Yemeni clients. A video of my talk is available here.
I also had the opportunity to walk the streets of Manhattan — and to cross the Brooklyn Bridge on foot — in spite of the seriously cold weather, but just as I was getting used to being in New York City, Washington D.C. beckoned. On the evening of January 9, after a drive full of animated chatter about politics and the state of the world, we (anti-drone activist Nick, our driver, film-maker/photographer Kat Watters, Debra and I) stopped by at the church where Witness Against Torture activists were staying — and fasting — and I gave a short and hopefully constructive speech and played my song for Shaker on an acoustic guitar. Read the rest of this entry »
January 11, 2015 is the 13th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba for prisoners seized in the brutal and fundamentally lawless “war on terror” that the Bush administration declared after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
779 men have been held at the prison — plus at least one other, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, in the “black site” that the CIA ran briefly at Guantánamo. Over the years, that population has been reduced significantly. 532 men and boys were released by President Bush, and 110 have been released by President Obama. Nine others died at the prison, and one was transferred to the US mainland to face a trial, leaving 127 men still held.
This is still 127 men too many, because everything about Guantánamo is fundamentally unjust, and has been since the day the prison opened, and although President Obama has released 28 men in the last year, 59 of the 127 men still held have been approved for release (all but four by the Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009), and the other 68 men must either be tried or released. Read the rest of this entry »
Next Friday, May 23, is a global day of action, “Not Another Broken Promise! Not Another Day in Guantánamo!” organized by the campaigning group Witness Against Torture, with the support of numerous other groups including Close Guantánamo, Amnesty International, Blue Lantern Project, Center for Constitutional Rights, CloseGitmo.net, Code Pink, London Guantánamo Campaign, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, No More Guantánamos, September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, Torture Abolition and Survivor Support Coalition, Veterans for Peace and World Can’t Wait.
25 events in five countries have been arranged so far, and they include events in New York, Washington D.C., Boston, Chicago, London, Munich and Toronto. The full list can be found here, and Andy Worthington, the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, will be speaking at the London protest, which takes place in Trafalgar Square from 12 noon to 2pm. If your hometown isn’t represented, and you want to set up your own event, please contact Witness Against Torture, and see this page for a comprehensive toolkit for those organizing protests.
It’s a year since President Obama’s promise to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo
The reason for the global day of action next Friday is because, on May 23, it will be exactly a year since President Obama delivered a major speech on national security issues, in which he promised to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, after a period of nearly three years in which the release of prisoners had almost ground to a halt. Sadly, it took a prison-wide hunger strike — and unprecedented domestic and international interest in the plight of the prisoners — for the president to promise action. Read the rest of this entry »
On Saturday January 11, 2014, a coalition of groups involved in campaigns calling for the closure of Guantánamo — including Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Witness Against Torture, World Can’t Wait, and my own group, the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, which I co-founded and run with the attorney Tom Wilner — met outside the White House in Washington D.C., in the pouring rain, to tell President Obama to revisit his failed promise to close the prison, to continue releasing cleared prisoners as a matter of urgency, including the Yemenis who make up the majority of the 77 cleared prisoners still held, and to bring justice to the 78 other men still held, either by putting them on trial or releasing them.
These are my photos of the day, and as well as including some of the speakers outside the White House, the set also includes photos of the march from the White House along Constitution Avenue to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, where, as I explained in an article for “Close Guantánamo,” featuring a 10-minute video of the day’s events by Ellen Davidson (including clips of me and Tom), which I’m also posting below, activists with Witness Against Torture staged a creative and powerful occupation of the museum, under the clever slogan, “Make Guantánamo History.” Read the rest of this entry »
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January 11, 2014 is the 12th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, an experiment in extraordinary rendition, torture and indefinite detention without charge or trial that should never have opened. Since 2011, I have been visiting the US on the anniversary, to take part in events to raise awareness of the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo, and to call for the prison’s closure (see here, here and here), and this year is the fourth occasion on which I have braved the sometimes inhospitable weather of America in January to add my voice to those of others calling for Guantánamo to be closed, and the third year in which I have done so as the co-founder, with the attorney Tom Wilner, of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, which we established on the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison in January 2012.
This year, I will be visiting from January 8 to 21, and taking part in events in New York, Washington D.C., San Francisco and Los Angeles (my first ever visit!) from January 9 to 17, mostly with Debra Sweet, the National Director of the campaigning group the World Can’t Wait, who has organized my trip. Debra has been organizing my visits to the US since 2009, and it will be wonderful to spend time with her and with the other participants in the various events we have planned — who include the investigative journalist Jason Leopold, psychologist and anti-torture writer and activist Jeffrey Kaye, the former SERE instructor and anti-torture campaigner Michael Kearns, and Todd Pierce, a former military defense attorney, who represented men at Guantánamo who were put forward for trials by military commission. We will, at some events, be showing the excellent documentary film “Doctors of the Dark Side,” directed by Martha Davis, and the full itinerary is below (also see the Facebook page here, and see here for Debra’s post about the tour). POSTSCRIPT Jan. 10: Debra is unable to take part in the tour because of a head injury sustained just before it began. Everyone involved in the tour wishes her a speedy recovery.
For the last five years, of course, the ownership of Guantánamo has been in the hands not of George W. Bush and the Republican Party, but of Barack Obama and the Democrats, and it has, for the most part, been a dispiriting experience watching as fine words turned to inaction. After promising to close the prison by January 2010, President Obama failed to keep that promise, and although he released 64 prisoners from February 2009 to September 2010, those releases almost ground to a halt for the next three years, after Congress imposed onerous restrictions on the release of prisoners, and the president didn’t think it was worthwhile spending political capital overriding lawmakers, even though he had the power to do so. 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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