Last week, I was delighted to take part in an hour-long Guantánamo special on RT America, presented by Simone del Rosario, who had recently visited the prison. Simone began by noting that it was the tenth anniversary of three deaths at Guantánamo — 22-year old Yasser Talal al-Zahrani, a Saudi, who was just 17 years old when he was seized in Afghanistan at the end of 2001, 37-year old Salah Ahmed al-Salami (aka Ali al-Salami), a Yemeni, and 30-year old Mani Shaman al-Utaybi, another Saudi.
The deaths were described by the authorities as a triple suicide, but there have always been doubts about that being feasible — doubts that were particularly highlighted in 2010, when the law professor and journalist Scott Horton wrote an alternative account for Harper’s Magazine, “The Guantánamo Suicides,” that drew in particular on a compelling counter-narrative presented by Staff Sgt. Joseph Hickman, who had been in the prison at the time of the men’s deaths, monitoring activities from the guard towers. Hickman’s book Murder in Camp Delta was published in January 2015, and he was also a contributor to RT America’s show.
After this opening, the show dealt in detail with the case of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, Mauritanian national, torture victim and best-selling author (of Guantánamo Diary). Slahi is one of the prisoners still held who were designated for prosecution by the Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in January 2009, until the basis for prosecutions largely collapsed after a number of critical appeals court rulings and he was, instead, put forward for a Periodic Review Board, the latest review process, which began at the end of 2013. Slahi’s PRB took place on June 2, and, in discussing his case, Simone del Rosario also spoke to one of his attorneys, Nancy Hollander. Read the rest of this entry »
Next Saturday, February 13, my band The Four Fathers are playing a gig at Vinyl, a wonderful record shop with an old school rock and roll basement located at the bottom of Tanners Hill in Deptford, in south east London. The full address is 4 Tanners Hill, London SE8 4PJ, phone number 07930 421113. There’ll be a bar, plus tea and coffee and some special pre-Valentine’s Day snacks, so if you’re anywhere near, come and check out our rocking, roots reggae sounds first-hand! If you’re coming, please let us know on the Facebook page (just click “Going”).
The gig is free, and we’ll be playing our first set — of topical songs about love and loss — at 8pm. At 8.30 there’ll be a beatboxing set from my son Tyler (aka the Wiz-RD), and at 9pm we’ll be playing a political set of original songs including live favourite Fighting Injustice, Tory Bullshit Blues, Song for Shaker Aamer (featured in the video for the We Stand With Shaker campaign), 81 Million Dollars (about the US torture program) and several brand-new songs, including Riot and London, which we played live for the first time at our recent gigs at Deptford Cinema and at the Bird’s Nest, also in Deptford, and guitarist Richard Clare’s song She’s Back, about Pussy Riot.
Below, I’m re-posting a video I made available yesterday of me singing “Song for Shaker Aamer” at an event in Washington, D.C., after I had also spoken about the campaign to free Shaker Aamer, during my recent US tour to call for the closure of Guantánamo on and around the 14th anniversary of its opening. The version I played has lyrics I amended to reflect Shaker’s release in October, and I hope we’ll be able to record the new version in the not too distant future. Read the rest of this entry »
On January 10, while I was in Washington, D.C. as part of a short tour to call for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on and around the 14th anniversary of its opening, I was delighted to be asked to speak at “Visions of Homecoming: Close Guantanamo!” an event put together by Witness Against Torture and Code Pink, and also featuring Bronx-based spoken word performers The Peace Poets.
The event — at a place called Impact Hub DC, around the corner from the church where the Witness Against Torture activists were staying — was mainly to recall the visit the groups made to Cuba, in November, to call for the closure of Guantánamo, and also to prepare us all for the protest outside the White House the day after, and I was honored that I was asked to also talk about the success of the campaign to free Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, and in particular my work with the We Stand With Shaker campaign, which I set up in November 2014 with the activist Joanne MacInnes.
After a short discussion of the campaign, I also played an acoustic version of “Song for Shaker Aamer,” the song I wrote and recorded with my band The Four Fathers, which was featured in the campaign video for We Stand With Shaker. Since Shaker’s release, I have amended the words to reflect his freedom, and this was the version I played. Read the rest of this entry »
Last Friday, during my brief US tour to campaign for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on and around the 14th anniversary of the opening of the prison (on Jan. 11), I was invited onto Democracy Now! with my friend and supporter, the music legend Roger Waters, the chief songwriter with Pink Floyd.
We were asked on the show to discuss, with Amy Goodman, the Countdown to Close Guantánamo, the new campaign I’ve just launched to get Guantánamo closed for good before President Obama leaves office next January, and the successful campaign to free Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo.
The video of our discussion — plus Roger playing his version of “We Shall Overcome” with 16-year old cellist Alexander Rohatyn — was the lead item on today’s show, and is now online and posted below (the song is here). Please share it widely! It’s also on YouTube here.
My short US tour to call for the closure of the lawless prison at Guantánamo Bay is almost over, but it has been a worthwhile visit, with events in Florida, Washington D.C. and New York City. On Thursday, I spoke for the first time at Revolution Books‘ new home in Harlem, about the successful campaign to free Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo, an immensely enjoyable evening in which a special guest in the audience was music legend Roger Waters, a supporter of my work and of the campaign to free Shaker for many years. The day after, Roger and I recorded a show for Democracy Now! which will be aired this week.
For my talk at Revolution Books, I was introduced by Debra Sweet, the national director of the World Can’t Wait, who has been organizing my annual visits on and around the anniversary of the opening of the prison (on January 11) every year since January 2011 — and who first organized visits for me (but not in January), in 2009 and 2010.
The video of the event, via Vimeo, is below. My talk begins at 10:09, and over the next 40 minutes I spoke about the campaign to free Shaker, through the work of the We Stand With Shaker campaign I launched in November 2014 with the activist Joanne MacInnes, the long-running Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, and the crucial support of the media and of MPs, led, initially, by John McDonnell, now the Shadow Chancellor, and then with great cross-party support from MPs including the Conservatives David Davis and Andrew Mitchell, and Jeremy Corbyn, now the leader of the Labour Party. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday was the 14th anniversary of the opening of the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, and I was honored to attend a powerful protest outside the White House, featuring representatives of over a dozen rights groups, and with prominent roles played by the activists of Witness Against Torture. I had spent much of the previous day at the church where many dozens of them are staying, engaged in a 10-day fast and daily actions across the capital aimed at raising awareness of the injustice of Guantánamo and the plight of the men held there, and, in the evening, had joined them and representatives of Code Pink, the Center for Constitutional Rights and other organizations at “Visions of Homecoming: Close Guantánamo!”
This was an event celebrating the groups’ visit to Cuba in November, where I also spoke about We Stand With Shaker (the campaign I co-founded in November 2014, with the activist Joanne MacInnes, to call for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison) and played “Song for Shaker Aamer,” the song I wrote that, with my band The Four Fathers, featured in the We Stand With Shaker campaign video (and on our album “Love and War“). Other performances on the night came from The Peace Poets, spoken word artists from the Bronx who I always find wonderfully uplifting, combining sharp rhymes and tough themes with an extraordinary humanity. I hope to post videos of performances from the evening in the near future — including my own!
At yesterday’s rally, I spoke about the success of the campaign to release Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, from the prison, but stressed how hard it had been to get just one man freed to America’s closest ally, involving the concerted efforts of many dozens of MPs and a range newspapers from across the political spectrum, campaigners and members of the general public, and even a request for action from David Cameron to Barack Obama. Read the rest of this entry »
On Saturday, Joanne MacInnes and I, the co-founders and co-directors of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, which successfully campaigned — with other campaigners, with MPs and with the support of media including the Daily Mail — to secure the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, appeared on George Galloway’s Sputnik Show on RT (filmed on Thursday) to discuss the success of the campaign, how Shaker is doing since his release, what the future holds, and the unreliable nature of the so-called evidence against him (something I had particularly wanted to emphasize).
George — and Gayatri, his wife, who co-hosts the show with him — spoke to Jo and I last November, just after we launched the campaign, and it was great to be invited back to celebrate, as, of course, struggles against colossal injustices undertaken by major world powers do not always end so well — and for the 107 men still held at Guantánamo, of course, the injustice is far from over.
This was how George introduced the show: Read the rest of this entry »
On Monday, after an exclusive interview with the Mail on Sunday, published the day before (which I wrote about here and here), both the BBC and ITV News ran interviews with Shaker Aamer, who, until October 30, when he was freed, was the last British resident in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
I am delighted to have played a part in securing Shaker’s release through ten years of writing about Guantánamo, and campaigning to get the prison closed, and, for the last eleven months of Shaker’s imprisonment, through the We Stand With Shaker campaign that I launched with the activist Joanne MacInnes last November.
I have also had the pleasure of meeting Shaker since his release, and was delighted to find that everything I had worked out about him from the reports that have emerged from Guantánamo and from those who know him — his eloquence, his intelligence and his implacable devotion to tackling injustice — was accurate, and this was also evident in his interview with Victoria Derbyshire for her morning show on BBC2, which I’m posting below via YouTube where it has already received over 55,000 views.
Note: Please be aware there are a few glitches in the video, where the sound and images are lost for a few seconds and there is only disturbing white noise. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s rare that Guantánamo, and the plight of the men still held there — mostly for nearly 14 years, and nearly all without charge or trial — gets significant media coverage. The last time was in 2013, after the prisoners themselves grabbed the world’s attention by embarking on a prison-wide hunger strike. Two petitions launched at the time (on Avaaz and Change.org) secured, between them, nearly a million signatures, and contributed to the exertion of such pressure on President Obama, both domestically and internationally, that he promised to resume releasing prisoners, after nearly three years of inaction prompted by cynical obstructions raised by Congress and an unwillingness on the president’s part to spend political capital overcoming those obstructions, even though he had the means to do so.
Since then, President Obama has released 59 men, which is progress, but 107 remain, and 48 of those men have also been approved for release, most since 2009, when the high-level inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, appointed by President Obama shortly after taking office, reviewed the cases of all the men still held, and recommended releasing them (156 men), putting them on trial (36 men, later reduced to 10), or continuing to hold them without charge or trial (48, later raised to 71), on the extremely flimsy basis that they were “too dangerous to release,” but that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial.
Last week, activists from Witness Against Torture, a campaigning group that announced itself to the world in December 2005 by visiting Cuba and protesting outside Guantánamo, revisited its origins on its 10th anniversary, repeating its protest after 14 members of the group attended a peace conference in Havana. The Guardian covered the story, which was soon picked up on by other media outlets. Read the rest of this entry »
I’m honoured that the investigative journalist Kevin Gosztola has promoted “Song for Shaker Aamer,” played by my band The Four Fathers, as his “Protest Song of the Week” on Shadowproof, the website he set up three months ago, after FireDogLake, where he’d been working for several years, ceased operations.
It is wonderful to have a serious political website actively promoting protest music, as the gutting of politics from music is one of the more baleful developments in the dumbing-down of culture over the last two decades. Growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, politics permeated music. A common reference point was the social and political upheaval of the 1960s, and my adolescence also coincided with the politics of the punk and post-punk period, with particularly significant songs being the Clash’s “London Calling” and the Specials’ “Ghost Town.”
I’m delighted that “Song for Shaker Aamer” is being celebrated by Shadowproof. Check out the other “Protest Songs of the Week” here, including, recently, “Omar” by “riot folk” singer-songwriter Ryan Harvey, about the refugee crisis, and “Innocent Criminals” by the Palestinian hip-hop group DAM. 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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