A Hunger for Justice at Guantánamo as Witness Against Torture Video of Thanksgiving Fast Gets 900,000 Views


Witness Against Torture activists in Cuba, staging a fast on Thanksgiving Day in solidarity with the Guantanamo prisoners (Photo: Justin Norman).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.

The Guardian then published another story, and Jeremy Varon of WAT had an op-ed published in The Hill, but the high point in the media coverage was undoubtedly Al-Jazeera’s video showing the activists fasting at a table for Thanksgiving in the Cuban countryside, with one of  them hooded, representing the men at Guantánamo, and particularly those who are on a hunger strike and are being force-fed. The video also included short interviews with Matthew Daloisio of WAT, Enmanuel Candelario of the New York-based Peace Poets, and Maha Hilal, the Executive Director of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, and, to date, it has been viewed nearly 900,000 times on Facebook.

The video is below, via YouTube:

Note: The photos used in the video are by Justin Norman, who is Witness Against Torture‘s designer, responsible for the website, and the posters available there. He is also a friend. Last year, he set up the website for the We Stand With Shaker campaign, which I co-launched with the activist Joanne MacInnes, and in 2013 I commissioned him to set up the Close Guantánamo campaign’s Gitmo Clock, to mark how many days it is since President Obama’s promise to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, and how many men have been freed. See all of Justin’s photos from the Cuba trip here, here and here.

Please also check out this video of the Peace Poets performing on WAT’s first night in Cuba.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album, ‘Love and War,’ is available for download or on CD via Bandcamp — also see here). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign, the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

3 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Congratulations to my campaigning friends in Witness Against Torture for their recent visit to Cuba, where they held a Thanksgiving fast outside ‪Guantanamo‬. Al-Jazeera’s video of the fast has secured nearly a million views on Facebook to date, so please share it if you haven’t already. Thanks also to WAT’s designer/photographer Justin Norman for the excellent photos! The AJ video is here: https://www.facebook.com/ajplusenglish/videos/649756305165880/

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    When my friend Jan Strain shared this, she wrote:

    From my great friend (and boss of my roadie gig that has yet to be started), Andy Worthington

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for sharing, Jan. Wish I had lots of gigs for you to roadie at! As it is, there are some forthcoming, but all in London – rather far from Seattle! This one should be good: https://www.facebook.com/events/1088018787889026/

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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