Nine Months After the Entirely Preventable Grenfell Tower Fire, UN Housing Rapporteur Says UK Government May Have Breached Residents’ Human Rights

The Silent Walk for Grenfell, December 14, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

Today, survivors of the Grenfell Tower Fire last June — and supporters from across London —  are taking part in a Silent Walk that begins outside the offices of Kensington and Chelsea Council and ends by the blackened skeleton of the tower, where over 70 people died. The fire should never have happened, but did so because safety standards have been fatally eroded over many years by those responsible for the safety of tenants and leaseholders — central government, local government, management companies that have taken over the management of swathes of social housing, and contractors.

For me, the fire was the defining moment of 2017, and in summer I wrote a song about it, remembering those whose lives were “so needlessly lost”, and calling for ”those who only count the profit not the human cost” to be held accountable. Three members of my band The Four Fathers — myself, Richard Clare and Mark Quiney, accompanied by my son Tyler beatboxing — were recorded playing the song by a German film crew in autumn. We released it as a video in December, and I’m pleased to note that it currently has nearly 1,500 views on YouTube (posted below) and on Facebook. Please watch it, and share it if you like it. We hope to make a studio recording soon, and would be delighted to hear from anyone in the Grenfell community who would like to be involved, as we would love it to be used to help the survivors.

Read the rest of this entry »

Over 1,200 Views for The Four Fathers’ ‘Grenfell’ Video, Remembering Those Whose Lives Were Lost, and Calling for Those Responsible to be Held Accountable

The Silent Walk for Grenfell, December 14, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Last month, at a party of activists in Brooklyn, towards the end of my annual US visit to call for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on the anniversary of its opening (the 16th anniversary of its opening, on January 11), I played ‘Grenfell’, the song I wrote after an entirely preventable inferno consumed Grenfell Tower, a residential tower block in west London last June, killing 71 people.

I wasn’t sure how much the small audience of human rights activists knew about it — how much news of distant disasters spreads around the globe, despite the notion that technology has made us all inter-connected — but I realised when introducing it that it was, for me, the defining moment of 2017, and I’m sure my passionate rendition of it helped one small corner of Brooklyn to understand.

I wrote ‘Grenfell’ last summer, as my response to the disaster, and played it with my band The Four Fathers for the first time in September at a benefit gig for campaigners in Tottenham, as part of their opposition to the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV), a deeply unpleasant proposal by Haringey Council to enter into a £2bn deal with the rapacious international property developers Lendlease (the destroyers of Southwark’s Heygate Estate), which would involve the council transferring all its social housing to the HDV, with the ensuing destruction of entire estates, and their replacement with new private housing, from which most of the existing tenants would almost certainly be excluded. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Andy Worthington Discusses “Guantánamo, Torture and the Trump Agenda” with Carl Dix at Revolution Books in Harlem, Jan. 16, 2018

Andy Worthington and Carl Dix at Andy's talk about Guantanamo at Revolution Books in Harlem on January 16, 2018.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

I’m delighted that the video is now available of my speaking event, “Guantánamo, Torture and the Trump Agenda,” at Revolution Books in Harlem, which took place last week as part of my annual visit to the US to call for the closure of the prison on and around the anniversary of its opening — on January 11.

This year — the 16th anniversary of its opening, and the first anniversary in which it was open under the control of Donald Trump — I was particularly aware of the passage of time, and the prison’s horrendously long existence. As a result, I came up with a revival of the Gitmo Clock that I first set up under President Obama in 2013, counting how many days the prison has been open — 5,845 days on the anniversary, and 5,859 days today — and if you’re interested at in the closure of Guantánamo, then please get involved. Posters for every 25 days are available on the Gitmo Clock website, and the next poster is for 5,875 days on February 6. Please take a photo with the poster, and send it to us, and we’ll post it on the Close Guantánamo website and on social media.

In my various talks on my trip, and in discussions with fellow activists, I also made frequent allusions to how long the prison has been open, noting that my son, who just turned 18, was only two years old when Guantánamo opened, and asking people to think about how long it would take them to think of 5,845 things, one for each day the prison has been open. I’d actually like to make a video featuring one image of each day Guantánamo has been open, and if you’re a filmmaker, and this is of interest to you, then do get in touch. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: On 16th Anniversary of the Opening of Guantánamo, Andy Worthington Tears Into Donald Trump for His Failure to Close the Prison, and His Defense of Endless Imprisonment Without Charge or Trial

A screenshot of Andy Worthington calling for the closure of Guantanamo outside the White House on January 11, 2018.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration, including my current US visit.

 

Last Thursday, January 11, was the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, and, as I have done every January since 2011, I traveled from London to join campaigners calling for the prison’s closure outside the White House — as well as taking part in other events on an around the anniversary.

This year, as I reported in an article, Telling Donald Trump to Close Guantánamo: My Report on an Inspiring 24 Hours of Protest and Resistance in Washington, D.C. on the 16th Anniversary of the Prison’s Opening, and in a photo set on Flickr, there was renewed energy for a fight to get Guantánamo closed, after a year in which campaigners and lawyers struggled to keep the focus on Guantánamo in the general tsunami of bad news emanating from the Trump administration.

We succeeded only when something so terrible happened that it erupted through the general patina of indifference towards Guantánamo — the treatment of hunger strikers, who claimed in September that the military, under new instructions, was no longer monitoring their health, the decision by the chief judge of Guantánamo’s broken military commission trial system to imprison the head of the defense team for defending the right of civilian attorneys to resign after they discovered that the government was spying on them, and the decision by the military, after an exhibition of the prisoners’ art went on display in New York, to overreact to the resultant humanizing of the prisoners (which they themselves had facilitated by providing art classes to the prisoners in the first place) by publicly threatening to burn all their artwork in future. Read the rest of this entry »

Grenfell, Six Months On: The Four Fathers’ New Song Remembering Those Who Lost Their Lives and Calling for Those Responsible to be Held Accountable

A screenshot from the video of The Four Fathers performing 'Grenfell' - with added titles.Before June 14 this year, anyone reflecting on the skyline of London would think about the Shard, the Gherkin, One Canada Square, the ostentatious towers of the face of modern capitalism; on the morning of June 14, however, a new vision of a tower was seared into the nation’s memory — the charred, still-smoking remains of Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey residential tower block in North Kensington, in west London, consumed in an overnight inferno with the loss of 71 lives.

The Grenfell Tower fire was entirely preventable. Designed so that each flat would be able to withstand fire until the emergency services arrived, the tower’s structural integrity was destroyed when it was given new cladding — through holes made in the body of the tower, through the use of flammable cladding to save money, and through the gaps behind the cladding that facilitated the extraordinarily swift spread of the fire. At every level, it seems clear — central government, local government, the devolved management responsible for Kensington & Chelsea’s social housing, and the various contractors involved in maintenance and refurbishment — safety standards were eroded or done away with completely,

When I wrote about the fire just two days later, I was deeply shocked to discover that the disaster had been foretold by residents in the Grenfell Action Group, who had stated in a post in November 2016, “It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the  KCTMO [Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation], and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders. We believe that the KCTMO are an evil, unprincipled, mini-mafia who have no business to be charged with the responsibility of  looking after the every day management of large scale social housing estates and that their sordid collusion with the RBKC Council is a recipe for a future major disaster.” Read the rest of this entry »

Support Lauri Love, Computer Expert and Activist, Who Faces Extradition to the US in a Life-Threatening Betrayal of Justice

An image created by the campaign to prevent computer expert Lauri Love from being extradited to the US.This Wednesday and Thursday, November 29 and 30, a hearing is taking place at the High Court in London to assess whether Lauri Love, a computer expert with Asperger’s Syndrome, should be extradited to the US for acts of online activism —  allegedly targeting US government websites in the wake of the suicide of computer expert and activist Aaron Swartz in January 2013, along with many other online activists.

There is no evidence that any harm was caused in the US, Lauri has never set foot in the US, the British government has brought no case against him in the UK, and yet, under the terms of the 2003 US-UK Extradition Treaty, the US is able to demand that he be sent to the US to be imprisoned (in isolation in a maximum-security prison) and subsequently tried (in a broken, punitive system in which huge pressure is exerted to accept a plea deal and a 10-20 year sentence rather than fight and lose and be imprisoned for life). Worryingly, Lauri Love has been openly stating that he could not bear punitive isolation in the US, and would kill himself rather than be extradited, and those closest to him do not dispute this intent.

I have some experience of the chronic unfairness of the US-UK Extradition Treaty, because, back in 2012, I worked to oppose the injustice of the treaty with reference to the cases of Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmad, who ended up being extradited in relation to a UK website encouraging Muslim resistance to oppression, which was run from the UK, but had, at one point, involved a server in Connecticut — enough, apparently, for extradition to take place. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Andy Worthington’s Band The Four Fathers Play Anti-Austerity Song ‘Riot’, Released on Sixth Anniversary of UK Riots

Listen to ‘Riot’ hereA photo of the London riots in August 2011., and watch the live video here.

Exactly six years ago, on August 6, 2011, riots erupted across the UK. The trigger had been the killing, by police, of Mark Duggan in Tottenham in north London the day before, and for the next three days there were riots across the country — the largest riots in modern British history, as 14,000 people took to the streets.

As I wrote back in May, when my band The Four Fathers released our song, ‘Riot’, which was partly inspired by the 2011 riots, “Buildings and vehicles were set on fire, there was widespread looting, and, afterwards, the police systematically hunted down everyone they could find that was involved — particularly through an analysis of CCTV records — and the courts duly delivered punitive sentences as a heavy-handed deterrent.”

I wrote about the riots at the time, in an article entitled, The UK “Riots” and Why the Vile and Disproportionate Response to It Made Me Ashamed to be British, and my song ‘Riot’ followed up on my inability to accept that the British establishment’s response to the riots had been either proportionate or appropriate. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Andy Worthington’s Band The Four Fathers Play ‘Stand Down Theresa’, An Updated Version of The Beat’s ‘Stand Down Margaret’

A screenshot from the video of The Four Fathers playing 'Stand Down Theresa', a version of The Beat's protest classic, 'Stand Down Margaret.'When I was growing up in late 70s Britain, one of the great political anthems of the time — when we were not short of protest music from, to name but a few artists, the Sex Pistols, the Clash and the Specials — was ‘Stand Down Margaret’ by The Beat, featured on their debut album, ‘I Just Can’t Stop It,’ which was released in 1980. Paired with Prince Buster’s ‘Whine and Grine,’ ‘Stand Down Margaret’ primarily featured a polite but wonderfully poetic and insistent message, asking Margaret Thatcher, who became Prime Minister the year before, to resign. As the song stated:

I see no joy, I see only sorrow
I see no chance of a bright new tomorrow
Stand down Margaret, stand down please
Stand down Margaret

Here’s Dave Wakeling of The Beat talking about the song in 2013 — and about Margaret Thatcher, about whom he said, “Most everything about Margaret Thatcher was pretend … a way for the privileged to secure themselves at the expense of everybody else.” And here’s fabulous footage of The Beat playing their “insurrectionary anthem” on children’s TV. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: “Zone of Non-Being: Guantánamo,” Featuring Andy Worthington, Omar Deghayes, Clive Stafford Smith, Michael Ratner

A screenshot from 'Zone of Non-Being: Guantanamo', a documentary film released in 2014.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

Several years ago (actually, way back in December 2012), I was interviewed at my home for a documentary produced by the Islamic Human Rights Commission, which was directed by the filmmaker Turab Shah. For some reason, I never heard about the film being completed (I think its initial screening was in January 2014, when I was in the US), but after Donald Trump became president of the United States, I received an email from the IHRC stating that they were screening the film, which prompted me to look it up, and to discover that it had been put online in July 2014.

The film features a fascinating array of contributors, including myself, former prisoners including Omar Deghayes, Moazzam Begg and Martin Mubanga, Clive Stafford Smith, the founder of Reprieve, the late Michael Ratner, the founder of the Center for Constitutional Rights, the author and academic Arun Kundnani, Ramon Grosfoguel, Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, the journalist Victoria Brittain, the writer Amrit Wilson, and Massoud Shadjareh of the ICRC.

The ICRC described the film as follows: Read the rest of this entry »

Video: On CBS’s 60 Minutes, Former Guantánamo Prisoner, Torture Victim and Best-Selling Author Mohamedou Ould Slahi Tells His Story

A screenshot from "Prisoner 760," 60 Minutes' interview with Mohamedou Ould Slahi.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

If you haven’t already seen it, I urge you to watch the first full-length, post-release interview with former Guantánamo prisoner, torture victim and best-selling author Mohamedou Ould Slahi, freed last October, which was shown on CBS’s 60 Minutes show on Sunday. A transcript is here.

Slahi was handed over to the CIA in November 2001, on the mistaken basis that he possessed important information about al-Qaeda, and was then tortured in Guantánamo, in a special program approved by defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, until, after being taken out on a boat and beaten for hours while freezing from ice packed into his clothing, and after being told that his mother was being brought to Guantánamo, he was “broken” and began telling his interrogators whatever they wanted to hear — lies, but lies that were somehow regarded as credible.

Moved into separate housing with another perceived informant, he was then allowed to write the memoir that was eventually published as Guantánamo Diary in 2015, a devastating account of US torture and incompetence that was profoundly shocking despite its many redactions, and that also revealed Slahi as a witty, perceptive and thoroughly likeable human being. I should note also that I find it ironic that Slahi was only allowed to write a memoir in the first place because of his torture and his subsequent cooperation. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

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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