Video: RT America’s One-Hour Special on Guantánamo Featuring Andy Worthington, Joe Hickman, Nancy Hollander and Tom Wilner


Gitmo 2016: a screen shot from RT America's one-hour special on Guantanamo in June 2016.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.

The full video of the show is below, via YouTube, and I urge you to watch it if you have the time, and to share it if you find it useful:

After the section on Mohamedou Ould Slahi, Simone del Rosario discussed the prison blocks that still exist at Guantánamo — the isolation cells of Camp 5, and Camp 6 with its communal spaces — and spoke to a guard who seemed to break with the military’s efforts at brainwashing by acknowledging that he saw the prisoners as human beings who responded to good and bad treatment as any human being would.

Joseph Hickman was interviewed next, and after that Simone del Rosario turned her attention to the allegations of recidivism — of prisoners “returning to the battlefield” — that have done so much damage during the Obama presidency, as parts of the machinery of government — in the Pentagon and the office of the Director of National Intelligence — have regularly claimed that around 15 percent of the men released from Guantánamo are “confirmed” recidivists, and a similar percentage are “suspected” of recidivism. The two numbers are generally bundled up together by mainstream media outlets, demonstrating a fundamental betrayal of the principles of journalism, and it is also generally overlooked that the authorities provide zero evidence to back up their claims, which, it is completely appropriate to say, are seriously exaggerated.

This was part of what I was asked to discuss, in my segment that began around 33 minutes into the show. I also ran through the story of who is currently held, and explained why they are, fundamentally, political prisoners, and I also explained how this essentially dates back to the original basis of the “war on terror,” when, with breathtaking arrogance, the Bush administration decided that it was going to hold human beings with no rights whatsoever, holding them neither as criminal suspects nor as prisoners of war.

My interview, also via YouTube, is below, for anyone interested in seeing it as a stand-alone piece:

My interview was followed by an interview with Tom Wilner, with whom I co-founded the Close Guantánamo campaign in 2012. Tom represented the Kuwaiti prisoners held at Guantánamo, and was also Counsel of Record to the prisoners as they petitioned the Supreme Court to grant them habeas corpus rights — efforts which were successful twice, in June 2004, in a victory that allowed lawyers to begin representing the men held at Guantánamo, even though Congress subsequently moved to block the men’s habeas rights, and in June 2008, when the Supreme Court rebuked Congress for having acted unconstitutionally, and granted them constitutionally guaranteed habeas rights.

However, although the 2008 ruling led to dozens of prisoners securing their release after District Court judges ruled on their habeas petitions, telling the government that they had failed to establish that they were connected to Al-Qaeda or the Taliban, politically motivated appeals court judges in Washington, D.C. began overturning or vacating those rulings, and changed the rules regarding the habeas petitions — telling the lower court judges that everything the government alleged was to be treated as presumptively accurate — so that, since July 2010, not a single habeas corpus petition has been won by the prisoners.

Disgracefully, the Supreme Court has repeatedly failed to confront this injustice, but, as Tom explained, one route out of the impasse ought to be for the Obama administration to allow an appeal to be heard by the full, en banc appeals court in Washington, D.C., which is now less dominated by profoundly conservative judges that it was in 2010-11.

At the end of the show, three more lawyers were interviewed — Gary Thompson, who represents Ravil Mingazov, a Russian citizen also facing a Periodic Review Board (on June 24), and military defense lawyer James Connell and his colleague Alka Pradhan, who represent “high-value detainee” Ammar al-Baluchi (aka Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali), one of the alleged 9/11 co-conspirators facing a trial by military commission. All three spoke eloquently about the failures of justice since the “war on terror” began, with Connell, in particular, noting how, disgracefully, the makers of the Hollywood film Zero Dark Thirty were given more information about his case than his lawyers.

My thanks to RT America for producing this show, which, as often with RT, is the sort of program that mainstream US media should be producing, but which, of course, is spectacularly lacking on the main US networks.

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 (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), 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.

One Response

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    Here’s my latest article featuring – and describing – RT America’s new one-hour special on ‪Guantanamo‬, in which I was interviewed along with my Close Guantanamo colleague Tom Wilner, former guard Joe Hickman, Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s attorney Nancy Hollander and others. It was a powerful program, and congratulations to RT for producing a show that the mainstream US networks ought to be producing but aren’t.

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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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