The last week has been so busy for me with developments relating to the announcement of the imminent release of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, that I didn’t have time to cover the Labour Party Conference, and to express my delight at seeing Jeremy Corbyn as the new leader of the Party and John McDonnell as the shadow chancellor delivering their message of hope and change — yes, really! — to the conference.
Jeremy’s election, by a landslide, came about because of his refreshing honesty and decency, something that I know about through following his work for many years — and that of John McDonnell, his closest Parliamentary colleague — and being involved with them in the campaign to free Shaker Aamer (John set up the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group last November, and Jeremy, as a member, visited Washington D.C. in May as part of a cross-party group of MPs calling for Shaker’s release). It is fair to say that everyone who cares about injustice — in issues of social justice, the unfettered greed of the banks and the housing market, the persecution of minorities, workers’ rights, and many more issues — will have discovered over the years that John and Jeremy have taken up their cause, along with another indefatigable opponent of injustice, Caroline Lucas, Britain’s sole Green MP.
It has been wonderfully refreshing to know that, everywhere I go, people I know and care about are delighted that Jeremy has been elected, and are also delighted that John is the shadow chancellor. 60,000 people have joined the Labour Party since Jeremy’s victory on 12 September, and his appeal to the young and the disenfranchised and those fed up with the greed and cynicism of most politicians means that he might well be able to draw in a significant number of the 15.7 million people in the UK who don’t vote. There are, I think it’s fair to say, millions of us in this country who care about all kinds of injustice that are firmly established in the political status quo, and finally we have elected representatives taking on the government and presenting an alternative view that is so refreshing that I can’t help reflecting regularly on the fact that there has been no robust opposition to the prevailing neo-liberal world view, with its focus on selfishness and enriching the rich, since before Tony Blair became the leader of the Labour Party over 20 years ago. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve just launched a YouTube channel for my band The Four Fathers. We’re based in Lewisham, in south east London, and we’re four fathers, as the name suggests — myself on lead vocals and guitar, Richard Clare on guitar and backing vocals, Bren Horstead on drums and percussion and Andrew Fifield on flute and harmonica — plus, last but by no means least, Louis Sills-Clare, Richard’s son, on bass.
The first video I’ve uploaded (see below) features myself and Richard Clare playing an acoustic version of ‘Song for Shaker Aamer’, the song I wrote last year that was used in the campaign video for We Stand With Shaker, the campaign I launched last November with my activist friend Joanne MacInnes, which has just met with considerable success, as it was announced on Friday that Shaker will soon be released, after nearly 14 years in US custody without charge or trial, and over eight years since he was first told that he would be freed.
The version played by the full band is the opening track on The Four Fathers’ debut album, ‘Love and War,’ which we released on CD in July. It’s available here as a download, for 80p ($1.25), although you can pay more if you want, and 25% of the money received will be donated to Shaker’s family. The other songs on the album are also available to download for 60p ($0.93) each, or you can buy the whole eight-track album as a download for £4.50 ($7) or on CD, with two extra tracks, for £7 ($10.85). As with ‘Song for Shaker Aamer’, you can pay more if you wish for any of the songs or for the album, and if you do so that will be very greatly appreciated. Read the rest of this entry »
I remember, ten years ago, being profoundly shocked by the almost indescribably inept response of the Bush administration to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans on August 29, 2005, and thinking that it showed two things above all: firstly, that racism remained a horrendous blight on the nation, as it was New Orleans’ poor and black population that suffered the most, and that, I was convinced, would be socially cleansed as the clean-up began; and, secondly, that this is what happens when governments put private profit and the slashing of federal budgets before the common good.
I recall, in particular, the tens of thousands of displaced residents crammed into the Superdome in apocalyptic fashion, as though the US was some sort of failed state, and the incongruous images of soldiers with guns treating citizens as criminal suspects as a humanitarian disaster engulfed the city because of incidences of looting in some of the few parts of the city that were not drowning.
In all, the flooding from Hurricane Katrina led to about 80% of New Orleans being submerged. More than 400,000 residents were displaced out of a total population of about 470,000, and 1,800 people died across the whole of the Gulf Coast hit by the hurricane. The economic cost was around $100bn, but figures don’t reveal the human cost of the destroyed and displaced lives, or, indeed, the cost to the credibility of the Bush administration, which callously showed the American people and the world how little it cared about poor black people in New Orleans. Read the rest of this entry »
Last Saturday, the new Tory government was confronted by a massive anti-austerity protest, when 250,000 people marched through central London to express their dissatisfaction and disgust with the current political situation — one in which a party that gained the support of just 24.4% of the electorate, and 36.1% of those who voted, nevertheless secured 50.9% of the seats, and is committed to more of the ruinous policies implemented over the last five years — more privatisation of essential public services, including the NHS and our schools, more persecution of the poor, the unemployed and the disabled, and more enriching of the already rich, widening the chasm between the rich and poor with every day that passes.
I wrote about the anti-austerity march here and here, and my photos from the day are on Flickr here, and I hope that another opportunity for people to express their rage in significant numbers will be organised in the not too distant future. We need to meet up regularly, to reassure ourselves that we are many, and they are few, and to find ways in which we can work towards the creation of a better world.
At the end of the march last Saturday, protestors filled Parliament Square, where a succession of speakers addressed the crowd, including Labour leadership contender (and We Stand With Shaker supporter) Jeremy Corbyn, Owen Jones, Mark Steel, Caroline Lucas and Russell Brand. Also speaking was Charlotte Church, the Welsh singer-songwriter, actress and television presenter, who was a child star as a classical singer, and who delivered a powerful speech against austerity and in defense of public services. I’m posting the video of her speech below, as well as a transcript of it from her website: Read the rest of this entry »
Happy summer solstice, everyone! I thought I might visit megalithic Wiltshire this year, for my first solstice visit in 10 years, but the anti-austerity march in London — and my desire to attend it — rather put paid to that plan. My hoped-for destination was Avebury, the village built in the remains of a colossal stone circle, roughly 20 miles north of Stonehenge, which awakened — or rather reawakened — my interest in all things megalithic from 1996, when a chance visit with my new girlfriend (and now wife) Dot led to such enthusiasm on my part that I devoted much of the next ten years to visiting ancient sacred sites all over England, and in Scotland, Malta and Brittany.
I also wrote two books in this period, after my original plan failed to find a publisher. That project was, “Stonehenge and Avebury: Pilgrimages to the Heart of Ancient England,” and it was based on three long-distance walks I made with Dot and other friends in 1997 and 1998, along the Ridgeway from the Thames to Avebury, and then an eight-day trek through Wiltshire to Stonehenge, from Dorchester in Dorset, which I christened “The Stonehenge Way,” and another walk of my devising from Stonehenge to Avebury.
I hope one day to revive that particular project, but what happened in 2002 was that I was encouraged to focus on one particular aspect of the book — the Stonehenge Free Festival, my first inspiration when it came to ancient sacred sites. As a student, I had visited the festival in 1983 and 1984, and had found my view of the world transformed by this gigantic anarchic jamboree that filled the fields opposite Stonehenge every June. The photo above is from 1975, the second festival, and is from the Flickr site of Basil and Tracy Brooks. Basil played with Zorch, who played at both of the first two festivals, in 1974 and 1975. See the albums here and here. Read the rest of this entry »
In the latest news about Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who has long been cleared for release, and who wants only to return to his family in London, his lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, the founder of the legal action charity Reprieve, released sections from a number of Shaker’s recent letters from the prison. Clive made Shaker’s words available to We Stand With Shaker, the campaign group I established with Joanne MacInnes last November.
The quotes were subsequently made available to the media and were read out in Parliament yesterday by Jeremy Corbyn MP (Labour, Islington North), a member of the cross-party Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, and one of four MPs — along with the Conservatives David Davis and Andrew Mitchell, and his Labour colleague Andy Slaughter — who visited Washington D.C. two weeks ago to discuss Shaker’s case with senior officials.
In a foreign affairs debate in the House of Commons yesterday, Jeremy Corbyn urged ministers to “step up the fight to free Mr. Aamer,” as the Daily Mail described it. “He has never been charged, never been prosecuted, never been through any legal process whatsoever,” Mr. Corbyn said, adding, “Can we have an undertaking from the Foreign Office to follow this up with real vigour to push the Obama administration to name the date by which Shaker Aamer will be released and returned to his family?” Read the rest of this entry »
Exactly 30 years ago, on June 1, 1985, a convoy of vehicles trying to get to Stonehenge to establish what would have been the 12th annual free festival in the fields opposite Britain’s most famous ancient monument, was set upon with violence on a scale that has not otherwise been witnessed in peacetime in modern times in the UK.
Around 1,400 police from six counties and the Ministry of Defence were in Wiltshire to “decommission” the convoy, which consisted of around 500 new age travellers, free festival goers and environmental activists. The police were thwarted in their efforts to arrest the majority of the convoy via a roadblock, and the travellers then occupied a pasture field and an adjacent bean field, establishing a stand-off that was only broken late in the afternoon, when, under instructions from on high, the police invaded the fields en masse, and violently assaulted and arrested the travellers — men, women and children — smashing up their vehicles to try and make sure this new nomadic movement would never be able to function again.
Successive waves of legislation — the Public Order Act of 1986 and the Criminal Justice Act of 1994 — largely destroyed Britain’s traveller community, although there were fascinating eruptions of dissent along the way — in particular via the rave scene of the late 80s and early 90s, and the road protest movement that was a direct descendant of the free festival movement. Unable to travel freely, protestors rooted themselves to a fixed spot, occupying land regarded as sacred and, in many noteworthy cases, living in trees in an effort to prevent road-building projects from taking place. Read the rest of this entry »
Last night, as Britain collapsed into five more years of Tory rule, from the party that believes only in enriching the already rich, privatising everything that hasn’t yet been privatised, and permanently abusing the poor, the unemployed and the disabled, one of the only glimmers of light was not in the UK, but was in Canada, on a suburban street where former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Khadr was holding his first press conference since being released from prison.
Now 28, Omar was held for twelve years and ten months — ten years and two months in US custody (almost all in Guantánamo), and two years and eight months in Canadian prisons. This was in spite of the fact that he was just 15 years old when he was seized after a firefight in Afghanistan, where he had been taken by his father, and was therefore a juvenile, and not responsible for his actions.
Abused by the Americans, Omar also had his rights ignored by Canadian agents who visited him at Guantánamo, and who destroyed his hopes that his home country would help him. He then had to plead guilty at a disgraceful war crimes trial, in the military commissions at Guantánamo, to secure his release from the prison, receiving an eight-year sentence, with one more year to be served at Guantánamo, and the rest in Canada. Read the rest of this entry »
On February 18, David Hicks’ conviction for providing material support to terrorism was overturned by the US Court of Military Commission Review. Hicks, an Australian, had been charged in the military commissions at Guantánamo, unwisely brought back from the history books by the Bush administration, under the guidance of Dick Cheney, and his conviction came about through a plea deal in March 2007. Almost immediately repatriated, he was a free man by the end of 2007, but was haunted by his conviction and those who used it against him to portray him as some sort of terrorist, when he was no such thing.
As I explained in an article for Al-Jazeera following the ruling, this was the fourth conviction to be overturned, out of only eight cases that have resulted in convictions, and, as a result, it ought to sound the death knell for the commissions, which should never have been revived — either by the Bush administration, or, in 2009, by President Obama.
I continue to call for the commissions to be scrapped, but in the meantime, I wanted to publicize a rare interview on David Hicks’ part — with the World Socialist Web Site, conducted by Richard Phillips and published on March 5, in which, as the WSWS explained, he spoke “about the court ruling, the response of the Australian government and media, and his concerns about escalating attacks on basic democratic rights and preparations for war.” Read the rest of this entry »
I’m posting below an episode of “A Simple Question,” a show presented by former Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik on Press TV, which I took part in (interviewed at my home), along with the journalist Riaz Khan. The show, “American inconsistencies on human rights,” was initially broadcast a few months ago, and asked whether the United States’ use of torture has affected its reputation worldwide. I have just found it, in two parts on YouTube, so I’m now posting it here.
The five questions discussed in the show were:
1) Which countries do you consider guilty of using torture?
2) How do you feel about the use of torture in Guantánamo Bay, especially the use of force-feeding?
3) What impact does the use of torture have upon the reputation of America internationally?
4) Do you feel that the use of torture has had an impact on the level of the terrorist threat against Americans in the US and abroad?
5) What should America do about its use of torture?
The videos of the show are below: Read the rest of this entry »
Writer, campaigner, investigative journalist and commentator. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.”
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