On Friday January 17, 2014, as the last public event of my two-week US tour calling for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, I spoke at a wonderfully well-attended event at California State Polytechnic (Cal Poly) in Pomona, California, attended by several hundred students and arranged by Dennis Loo, a professor of sociology at the university, and a member of the steering committee of the World Can’t Wait, the campaigning group whose national director is Debra Sweet, and who I am enormously grateful to for organizing the tour.
The event, I’m glad to note, was filmed, and the video is posted below, via YouTube. My talk begins around 10 minutes into the video, after Dennis introduced the event by reading out World Can’t Wait’s full-page advertisement that ran in the New York Times last year, and it ended at around 31 minutes.
In my talk, I ran through the history of the prison — explaining the horrible innovation of holding men neither as criminal suspects nor as prisoners of war protected by the Geneva Conventions, how torture was authorized at the prison (through George W. Bush’s Presidential memo of February 7, 2002, which I recently wrote about here), and what types of torture techniques were used on the prisoners. Read the rest of this entry »
Regular readers will know that I returned on Tuesday from an intense and rewarding two-week tour of the US, in which I visited New York, Washington D.C., San Francisco and Los Angeles calling for the closure of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The tour was supported by the campaigning group World Can’t Wait (see the report here), and was timed to coincide with the 12th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, marked by a protest in Washington D.C. outside the White House and in the National Museum of American History. Please see here for videos from New York, see here for videos and photos from Washington D.C., see here and here for the radio shows I took part in, and see here for a video of Jason Leopold and I speaking in Anaheim, California on January 16.
As the next step in providing a permanent record of the tour, I’m delighted to make available below the 57-minute video of the panel discussion that took place at Stanford University on Monday January 13, in which I was joined by my friend and colleague Jeff Kaye, a psychologist who has done some groundbreaking and genuinely pioneering work on the Bush administration’s torture program, former Stanford student and journalist Adam Hudson, who recently visited Guantánamo, and Stephanie Tang standing in for World Can’t Wait’s national director Debra Sweet, who missed all the action unfortunately because of an injury she had received in New York just before my arrival in the US.
This was a powerful event, and I’m very glad that it was recorded, as it provided a detailed analysis of Guantánamo past, present and future, as well as providing an overview of the torture program initiated by the Bush administration, which, of course, is inextricably tied in with the existence of Guantánamo, as well as having had its own malevolent life in the CIA’s global network of “black sites,” and living on, albeit in a reduced manner, in the torture techniques still available to US forces, under President Obama, in Appendix M of the Army Field Manual (as Jeff explained in his presentation). 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 »
On Thursday evening, as part of my 12-day “Close Guantánamo Now” tour (supported by the World Can’t Wait), which came to an end at Cal Poly in Pomona yesterday, I was at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Anaheim, California with my friend and colleague Jason Leopold, speaking about Guantánamo, funnily enough. Jason and I have known each other for many years, and it’s always a pleasure to take part in events with him, and to hang out with him.
The full video of the event — at which I delivered a 20-minute speech, Jason spoke for half an hour, and there was then a lively Q&A session for 35 minutes — is posted below, and I thank the filmmaker, Ted Shapin, for recording it and making it available. For earlier events, see the videos of New York here, and of Washington D.C. here.
After two days in New York, two days in Washington D.C., and three days in San Francisco, I arrived in Los Angeles on an absurdly early flight on Wednesday morning, to be met at the airport by Jason and taken to his favourite coffee shop, Urth Caffe in Beverly Hills, followed by a bagel across the road at The Original Brooklyn Water Bagel Co., another Los Angeles institution. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve now been in the US for a week, on the “Close Guantánamo Now” tour organized with the campaigning group the World Can’t Wait, and I’m writing this on after only a few hours’ sleep, an early morning flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles, a reunion with my old friend and colleague Jason Leopold, an inspiring lunchtime inter-faith event in L.A., and a few moments of relaxation with my L.A. hosts in the Hollywood Hills.
I’ll be reporting more details soon about events in Washington D.C. on the 12th anniversary of the opening of the prison (on Saturday January 11), and about my subsequent stay in San Francisco and the events there, as well as today’s lunchtime event, but to start my coverage of the tour I’m posting below videos of the first event I took part in, at All Souls Church on Lexington Avenue in New York City, where I took part in presentations and a Q&A session following a screening of the documentary film, “Doctors of the Dark Side,” about medical complicity in the torture of prisoners seized in the “war on terror,” which was directed by Martha Davis, a clinical psychologist who also attended the screening.
This powerful film addresses the torture programs introduced by the CIA, at their “black sites,” and by the military at Guantánamo, looking at important events like the reverse-engineering of the SERE program (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape), which is used to train US personnel to resist interrogation if captured, for the actual torture of US prisoners. Throughout, the film retains an unerring focus on the medical personnel needed to monitor torture, to ascertain how to break prisoners, and to advise how far the torturers could go not to kill the men. Read the rest of this entry »
Late last year, as the coalition of groups calling for the closure of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba began deliberations for this year’s protest on the anniversary of the prison’s opening (on January 11), I reached out — as part of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign — to Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity, founded and led by Clive Stafford Smith, whose lawyers represent 15 prisoners still held at Guantánamo.
As we discussed ways to publicize the plight of the prisoners on the 12th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, Reprieve suggested asking Sami al-Haj, a Sudanese prisoner released in 2008, to record a video statement that could be used, and I’m delighted to note that Sami agreed, and his video message to President Obama is posted below.
Sami is the only journalist to have been held at Guantánamo, and he was working as a cameraman for Al-Jazeera when he was seized on assignment crossing from Pakistan to Afghanistan in December 2001. I subsequently covered his story, in particular in the months before his release, when he had embarked on a hunger strike and was providing information to the world about it via Clive. In this period, he also made a number of drawings about the hunger strike. When these were seized by the Pentagon’s censors, Reprieve described them to a British cartoonist, Lewis Peake, who recreated them based on the descriptions, and I told Sami’s story, and reproduced the drawings, in an article entitled, “Sami al-Haj: the banned torture pictures of a journalist in Guantánamo.” Read the rest of this entry »
If you have the time to watch a 46-minute video about Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen and former child prisoner held at Guantánamo for 11 years, then I heartily recommend the recording of a recent talk in Canada by Sam Morison, a civilian lawyer working for the US Department of Defense, who recently submitted an appeal against Khadr’s 2010 conviction in his trial by military commission, as I explained in an article two weeks ago entitled, “‘He Didn’t Commit a War Crime’: Omar Khadr’s US Lawyer Challenges His Conviction at Guantánamo.”
The video of the talk, which took place at The King’s University College in Edmonton, was posted on the website of the Free Omar Khadr campaign, and is posted below, via YouTube. It was organized by the University of Alberta’s Chester Ronning Centre for the Study of Religion and Public Life and the Micah Centre at The King’s University College, and a previous talk (also posted below) featured Retired Brig. Gen. Stephen Xenakis, MD, a psychiatrist who spent hundreds of hours with Omar Khadr at Guantánamo. Both events took place under the heading “Omar Khadr: The Man – The Law.”
Morison, who “has practiced law for more than 20 years and is a nationally recognized expert on federal executive clemency and the restoration of civil rights,” as his website describes him, delivered a compelling explanation for why Khadr is not guilty of war crimes, when the appeal was submitted. Khadr accepted a plea deal in October 2010, pleading guilty to five crimes, including killing a US soldier by throwing a grenade during the firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002 that led to his capture, but there is no evidence that he actually threw the grenade, and he only accepted the plea deal as a way to leave Guantánamo, receiving an eight-year sentence in exchange. Read the rest of this entry »
In the long and ignoble history of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, those who have fought to secure its closure have generally labored without the kind of celebrity endorsement that tends to secure mass appeal for political causes. This year, however, celebrities began to take notice when the majority of the 164 prisoners still held embarked on a hunger strike to draw the world’s attention to their ongoing plight, and to remind people that over half of them — 84 men in total — had been cleared for release by an inter-agency task force that President Obama established shortly after taking office In January 2009.
The fact that these men were still held — and that justice appeared to have gone AWOL in the cases of the majority other prisoners still held — encouraged the best-selling novelist John Grisham to write an op-ed about Guantánamo for the New York Times on August (which I wrote about here), focusing on the case of Nabil Hadjarab, an Algerian national, who, Grisham discovered, had been prevented from reading his books. Nabil was freed soon after, although sadly the decision by the British singer-songwriter P.J. Harvey to record a song about Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, did not lead to his release, although nearly 100,000 people have listened to the song.
The latest celebrity to call for the closure of Guantánamo is Esperanza Spalding, a singer, songwriter and bassist who won a Grammy for Best New Artist in 2011. Her song, “We Are America,” with its accompanying video that features cameos by Stevie Wonder, Harry Belafonte and Janelle Monáe, is posted below, and is excellent — a soulful call for justice that ought to be rallying cry for all Americans who believe in the law, and who ought to be appalled that men are being held indefinitely without charge or trial at Guantánamo. Read the rest of this entry »
Below is a powerful new animated film, six minutes in length, which tells the story of the hunger strike at Guantánamo that began in February, and involved the majority of the 164 prisoners still held over the six-month period that followed. At its height, 46 prisoners were being force-fed, and even though just 17 prisoners are still taking part in the hunger strike, 16 of them are being force-fed. Force-feeding is a brutal process, condemned by the medical profession, but it is difficult to understand what is happening at Guantánamo because no images are available of prisoners being force-fed.
To overcome the difficulty for people to empathize with people whose suffering is deliberately kept hidden, the new animated film, “Guantánamo Bay: The Hunger Strikes,” produced by Mustafa Khalili and Guy Grandjean of the Guardian, and the animation company Sherbet, features the testimony of four prisoners, all of whom have been cleared for release but are still held (a situation in which 84 of the remaining 164 prisoners find themselves). The film, which depicts life in the prison, including the horrible reality of force-feeding, is narrated by the actors David Morrisey and Peter Capaldi. See here for an account of the making of the film in today’s Observer, and see here for David Morrissey’s comments about it.
The men whose stories are featured are Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, Younus Chekhouri (aka Younous Chekkouri), a Moroccan who has strong ties to Germany, Samir Moqbel (aka Mukbel), a Yemeni whose op-ed in the New York Times in April drew attention to the hunger strike, and Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian who lived in the UK before his capture. The film also includes testimony from Nabil Hadjarab, one of just two prisoners released since President Obama promised to resume releasing cleared prisoners in May, and all of the statements were provided by the men’s lawyers at Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity. Read the rest of this entry »
Suddenly I’m talking to people on the radio all the time — for the first time since the height of the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo a few months back. I’ll shortly be speaking to an old friend, Peter B. Collins in San Francisco, and on Sunday I’ll be speaking to another old friend, Jackie Chase at Radio Free Brighton, and I’ll be making those shows available as soon as they’re online. On Saturday, I spoke to Chuck Mertz in Chicago for “This is Hell” (which I publicized here), and in the interests of completeness I’m posting here a couple of shows I did recently that I haven’t made available until now.
The first show was a half-hour interview with Linda Olson-Osterlund on KBOO FM in Portland,Oregon, which I wasn’t able to make available until now because of problems with KBOO FM’s website. These have now been resolved, and the interview is available here (or via the webpage here). Linda and I have been discussing Guantánamo for many years, and, although it is never a happy occasion to have to talk about Guantánamo, it was good to be able to discuss at length the ongoing injustice of the prison, the failure to close it, and the responsibilities for that failure, which lie with all three branches of the US government — the Obama administration, Congress and parts of the judiciary; specifically, the court of appeals in Washington D.C. and the Supreme Court.
The spur for our discussion was the release of two Algerian prisoners, and it is a sign of how very wrong things are at Guantánamo that they were the first two prisoners to be freed as a result of the wishes of the Obama administration — rather than through a court order or a plea deal in the military commission trials — since September 2010. The two men had been cleared for release in January 2010 by the inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established when he took office in January 2009, but while they have finally been released, 84 other men, also cleared for release by the task force, continue to be held, because of Congressional obstruction, and President Obama’s unwillingness to spend political capital overcoming the obstacles raised by Congress. Read the rest of this entry »
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