Podcast: Andy Worthington Discusses Closing Guantánamo and the Rightward Drift of Politics in the US and the UK with Kevin Gosztola for Shadowproof


The image from Shadowproof for Kevin Gosztola's interview with Andy Worthington in November 2016.Last Thursday, just two days after the US Presidential Election, I was delighted to speak to Kevin Gosztola of Shadowproof (formerly FireDogLake) for his “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast series. The show was made available on the site on Sunday, but when it was posted the focus was on Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein, who was interviewed in the first half-hour of the one-hour show, along with a partial transcript of the interview.

And so, yesterday, Kevin posted an article focusing on my interview with him, including a transcript of much of our interview. The interview is available here, as an MP3, beginning 30 minutes in, and I hope you have time to listen to it and to share it if you find it useful. You can also listen just to my interview, in an edit made by my friend the campaigner Bernard Sullivan, which is available on Soundcloud here.

Kevin had picked up on a press release I sent him about the video for the Close Guantánamo campaign that I launched last Thursday, in the hope of maintaining pressure on President Obama to do all in his power to close Guantánamo before he leaves office in January. The video is also on Facebook, and anyone wanting to get involved is urged to print off a poster to remind President Obama that, on November 30, he will have just 50 days left to close the prison, to take a photo with it, and to send it to us, to add to the more than 500 photos that have been sent in by celebrities and concerned citizens across the US and around the world since the Countdown to Close Guantánamo was launched in January.

The video, via YouTube, is posted below:

The video also features my band The Four Fathers performing “Close Guantánamo,” a new song I wrote for the campaign, which is available to listen to in its entirety — and to buy as a download — below:

Kevin and I also, of course, spoke about Donald Trump, whose election victory last week promises to bring chaos to the United States, in almost every aspect of life. On Guantánamo, of course, there are specific worries because of what Trump said on the campaign trail about keeping it open, sending Americans there to be prosecuted and bringing back torture, but, as I explained to Kevin, he is likely to face serious resistance to all of these plans should he try to implement them, although that may not be the obstacle it should be if he is obsessed enough, or if he gathers around him some of the most far right-leaning and unpleasant members of Congress he can find — and on all of the above the best that can be said yet is that we aren’t exactly sure where we’re heading, but that there’s no reason for us not to worry. As Zoe Williams of the Guardian noted in an excellent article yesterday, The dangerous fantasy behind Trump’s normalisation:

[T]his situation is not normal … When women are lining up for long-term contraception in a mournful, pragmatic farewell to their reproductive autonomy; when the chief strategist is accused of enabling racism and antisemitism; when the vice-president-elect signed legislation requiring women to hold and pay for funerals for miscarried foetuses; when the president-elect has vowed to deport three million immigrants; when he has at least 12 allegations of sexual misconduct outstanding against him; when he has announced a cabinet that includes his own three children: this looks nothing like a democracy. It looks nothing like reconciliation. It looks despotic, inflammatory, extreme and violent: it looks, in short, exactly as Trump promised it would look, as he campaigned on a pledge to imprison his opponent. His adversaries respond that he probably doesn’t mean what he says, a position for which there is precisely no evidence. Their desire to normalise has put them in the fantastical state of seeing the forthcoming presidency as they wish it, and not as it plainly is.

Kevin also asked me to discuss the case of Abu Zubaydah, the so-called “high-value detainee” for whom the Bush administration’s torture program was developed, who recently had his ongoing imprisonment approved by a Periodic Review Board, and the discussion of the PRBs also made me wonder whether they will survive into Trump’s administration.

As Kevin also noted in his introduction, “Later in the interview, we go on a bit of a tangent and spend a few minutes addressing the rise of far-right elements in the United States and the United Kingdom, particularly because Worthington is based in the U.K.”

Below is a partial transcript of the interview:

Kevin Gosztola: What do you plan to do during final days of President Obama’s presidency to push for the closure of Guantánamo, especially now that Donald Trump is president and open to torture and possibly even bringing more prisoners to Guantánamo?

Andy Worthington: I’ve been working on the Guantánamo issue for over ten years, and it’s always been my intention to try and get it closed. So, back in January 2012, when it was the tenth anniversary of the opening of the prison, I set up a campaign and website called “Close Guantánamo” with the attorney Tom Wilner, who represented the Guantánamo prisoners in their Supreme Court cases in 2004 and 2008.

What we did this year, 2016, is we set up a Countdown to Close Guantánamo. So we counted down the last year of the presidency, and every 50 days we had these posters that [supporters] could print off that they could stand with, they could send in to us, and we put them on the website and on social media. We’ve had over 500 celebrities and people across the U.S. and around the world sending in photos every 50 days.

Of course, we’re now into the very last ten weeks of Obama’s presidency so what I am trying to do is just to keep the pressure on as we’ve been doing all year, just to try and keep President Obama aware that people are watching. Obviously, he doesn’t need any telling. After the election result, it’s more urgent than ever. If he really does want to close the prison, he needs to do everything that he can in his power to do it before he leaves office because, as you say, Donald Trump has said on the campaign trail that he wants to keep it open. He wants to send Americans there to be prosecuted. He wants to reintroduce torture.

Now, we also know that Donald Trump, to be generous, is a colossal windbag, and that it’s not necessarily true that the things he says he means. But he is now the president. The Republican Party that he nominally is the president of is in control of the Senate and the House, and there are some very unpleasant characters in the Republican Party, who love Guantánamo and who would love to reinstitute torture.

I think it’s fair enough at this point for people to be genuinely worried that any progress that has been made toward the closure of Guantánamo is going to hit a very sticky patch with the inauguration of Donald Trump.

Kevin Gosztola: I get the real sense that we shouldn’t take any chances here, that perhaps the human rights community could get to Donald Trump and convince him that Guantánamo needs to be closed. We already see figures surrounding him like Rudy Giuliani and also, a quite goonish character, Tom Cotton, who is a senator, and former veteran, who has incredible bloodlust.

Andy Worthington: He’s a dreadful individual. It’s so out of control that kind of massive enthusiasm for Guantánamo and the hysteria and the exaggeration about the people who were held there. Any rational analysis of Guantánamo has always accepted there are a handful of significant people there, but the majority of people there never were. It’s awful the things he’s been saying.

But you know, I’m really worried about the kind of people we’re hearing that are gathering around Donald Trump. I thought we’d seen the last of Rudy Giuliani and people like that. I’m hearing people mention John Bolton. Surely not. Surely, we’re not going to put up with him again. But who knows?

Kevin Gosztola: The neoconservatives, as they call them, ran away from Donald Trump, but it seems they may be coming back, as it’s their only way to have access to power. So let’s talk about the critical issue of the human beings who still remain captive at Guantánamo. I know you’ve done some recent work on Abu Zubaydah. Just so people can have a case within our interview to think about, and to think about the critical importance of closing Guantánamo and what’s at stake, talk about how he was denied release and what we know about how he was treated.

Andy Worthington: I suppose I should really start out by breaking down who is at Guantánamo, these 60 men. Twenty of them have been approved for release by two review boards, one back in 2009. There are still a handful of men approved for release then, who haven’t actually been freed. The rest of them were approved by a review board that’s been taking place over the last few years, the Periodic Review Board, which is like a parole board. People have to demonstrate they show contrition for what they did, and they want to have constructive peaceful lives if they’re released.

That process has been involving, at Guantánamo, who[ever] isn’t already approved for release or facing trial. And just ten men are facing trials. So, at present, of those people held, there are 30 men, who have had these reviews, that have said, on balance, we’ve reviewed their cases and we’re still going to carry on holding them but we’re not putting them on trial.

Abu Zubaydah is one of those people. He was the person that the Bush administration’s CIA torture program was created for. He was the first victim of that. He was someone who was outrageously hyped up by the Bush administration as somebody close to Osama bin Laden, involved in 9/11 attacks. Number three in al-Qaida was what they were saying at the beginning, even though there were people in the intelligence community who knew from the beginning that this simply was not true about him.

But they tortured him abominably, waterboarded him on 83 occasions, destroyed him in some ways. He has fits, is in a pretty terrible way. All of this was for somebody that was not who they said he was. The U.S. government eventually backed down and said they didn’t think he knew about the 9/11 attacks. He wasn’t a member of al-Qaida. They’re still trying to suggest that he was part of some kind of militia that would enable them to say he was an enemy of the United States.

The thing about Zubaydah is, obviously, as with everybody held, the terrible things that happened should not have happened. Skilled interrogators would have been able to sit down with these guys without laying a finger on them and get information from them. Then we would have been able to have trials that would have been acceptable. But this is a kind of revisionism of history that didn’t happen. Terrible things happened instead.

This man was a facilitator for an independent training camp that had some involvement in military training and some people that were trained there it seems went away and became involved in plots. So it’s not that there isn’t a case against him on some level, but whether he actually constituted an enemy of the United States, I couldn’t really say.

But there he is in Guantánamo, and like all these men who, to some degrees, were mistreated, and who may or may not have done things in some way against the United States, he’s had this review process, and they’ve said, well, no, we’re not going to approve him for release. He’s now eligible for further reviews, as are all the other men who had their ongoing imprisonment upheld.

Now, these reviews were initiated several years ago by an executive order that President Obama issued. They involve the Defense Department, the intelligence agencies, all the major government departments. So it’s an ongoing process unless, of course, a new government decided they were not interested in them, and we don’t know where President-To-Be Donald Trump stands on the Periodic Review Boards or where the people gathering around him stand on them. But I think it would be fair to say there will be a certain amount of hostility toward them. What I don’t know is how much within these departments of the kind of unchanging people who do the work, regardless of who the government is, how much there will be feedback within these various departments and agencies about what they think is the usefulness or not of reviewing people.

I think it’s fair to say that we’re fortunate — those of us who want to see Guantánamo closed — that President Obama has done so much in recent years to reduce the population.

Kevin Gosztola: There’s been a lot of promising developments, especially in the last year, but at the same time, you see a real failure because now, with the election of Donald Trump, the Obama administration has left the door open for the military to keep using it as a facility. Right now, as I understand it, some of the camps are being transformed into mental health or hospital facilities. Still, easily, you could put the brakes on that. Donald Trump could use that again for what we already have read about in your reporting and other books.

Andy Worthington: I have to say, although the worst case scenario could happen in anything we think of, when we look at Donald Trump and these figures within the Republican Party who want power and influence, there are very strong arguments I suspect that will be made by career bureaucrats, by lawyers, and certainly of course by NGOs. I would not expect silence from the liberal media. I would think there would be a lot of voices discussing very loudly how inappropriate it would be, for example, to send anyone new to Guantánamo.

President Obama, to his credit, he always treated it as a legacy issue. He never sent anybody new there. Every time that some terrorist suspect was apprehended, pretty much wherever it was, these Republicans, the kind of people now jockeying for power, would have been saying send this person to Guantánamo. Give him the works. Torture them. All of this stuff, ridiculous, and he never did.

This isn’t just some kind of humanitarianism that can be easily dismissed. The truth is if you apprehend a terrorism suspect and want to give them a trial then do it in federal court. Because federal courts have a long and capable history of doing it. What everybody needs to remember and what even the great cheerleaders for Guantánamo actually know when you put them on the spot is that when Guantánamo was set up there were still federal court trials taking place successfully for people accused of terrorism. The same happened throughout the Obama administration.

Really, when you step back and look at it and strip away the hysteria, Guantánamo is an aberration. It’s a broken place that doesn’t work. It would be very hard to make a case. We’re not thankfully in the middle of a national emergency like we were in the wake of 9/11.

There is no clear and present danger to the nation that would justify people saying, I know what the rules are that normally reply, but the thing that’s happening to us is so awful that we must throw away all those ways of behaving and do this terrible thing. There isn’t actually any pressure for doing that that is justifiable. I think that it would be difficult for them to justify it, and there would be a lot of resistance institutionally. But you know, who am I to know? If people take over with an aggression and craziness, it’s possible they can steamroll everything before them.

Kevin Gosztola: You also are a singer, and you have a band. I wanted to have you share the work you’ve been doing. It’s called The Four Fathers. You recorded a song particularly for the campaign to close Guantánamo.

Andy Worthington: I’ve kind of revisited something I’ve done before, which is to sing about something of importance to me. You actually made a “Protest Song of The Week” awhile back, the song I wrote for Shaker Aamer, who was the last British resident in Guantánamo, and who I was campaigning to release. I came up with another song fairly recently about Guantánamo.

So here’s this sunny, bouncy tune, which I think is probably appropriate for what this corner of the Caribbean should be, and then I basically just sang about what’s happened at Guantánamo since the prison was set up. I kind of distilled into verse what I’ve always understood about it — how the Bush administration chose it to be beyond the law, said they could torture and abuse people, and, when they tortured and abused people and they told lies, they had the nerve to then present these lies that people told under torture and abuse as though they were the truth.

And then the last verse of the song, which I’ve used in the campaign video for the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, is about President Obama’s struggles to close Guantánamo and what seems to be his failure to be able to do so. I hope people will like the song. I think it tells the story well and in a good manner. It would be lovely if you could play it to your listeners.

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’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). 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.

7 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, linking to and providing commentary about my recent interview with Shadowproof’s Kevin Gosztola for his “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast series. Via a press release I sent out, Kevin picked up on the new video promoting the Close Guantanamo campaign, which I launched just after Donald Trump’s election victory, calling on President Obama to finally get Guantanamo closed before he leaves office. Kevin and I also spoke, of course, about the dangers of Donald Trump’s presidency, and my song ‘Close Guantanamo’, played by my band The Four Fathers and used in the video.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Lindis Percy wrote:

    This time I will press ‘like’ button…Andy et al – you have been wonderful and steadfast in your determination to keep the spotlight on Guantanamo…xx

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Lindis. Good to hear from you. I was reassured to hear today that further releases from Guantanamo will be taking place before Obama leaves office, but we’ll need to be ready to make sure that Donald Trump understands that it will not be acceptable to keep Guantanamo open, or to send any new prisoners there, or, of course, to reintroduce torture.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Please check this out. My Close Guantanamo colleague Tom Wilner on RT expressing his fears about a Trump presidency: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1–0dk5awI

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Just added; an edit of the interview by my friend Bernard Sullivan, so that it’s a stand-alone 35-minute interview rather than one that follows a half-hour interview with Jill Stein. If this is helpful for you, please check it out! https://soundcloud.com/user-669874755/andy-worthington-interview

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Hanan Bagh wrote:

    So demoralizing everything that’s happening Andy Worthington, just saw Trumpet’s selection on the news, good to see you all on here after seeing that, a flash of hope

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Hanan. “A flash of hope” – that’s wonderful. We mustn’t let them grind us down, but it’s sometimes difficult, with the Brexit madness here and the steady drip-drip of appalling news from the US. Trump – not the brightest tool in the box – beginning to appoint a succession of dangerous far-right lunatics to huge important jobs. We have such a fight on our hands!

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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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