For Witness Against Torture, My Independence Day Article About Tyranny at Guantánamo Bay


A screenshot of my article for Witness Against Torture on US Independence Day 2017.

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.


For the last 41 days, my friends with Witness Against Torture — an organization of volunteer activists, founded in 2005, which “seeks to end torture worldwide, close the Guantánamo detention center, and seek reparations for torture victims” — have been running a campaign, “Forever Human Beings,” which I wrote about when their campaign started. the 41 days chosen for the campaign — from May 26 to July 5 — was chosen to reflect the number of prisoners still held at Guantánamo, and every day they highlighted the story of one particular prisoner.

To coincide with the end of their campaign — and US Independence Day — I wrote an article for Witness Against Torture about the significance of Guantánamo on the day that ordinary Americans celebrate their liberation from tyranny; this year, the 241st anniversary of the new nation’s freedom from the tyranny of King George III in 1776.

Ironically, however, those celebrating, for the most part, are unaware or unwilling to think of the uncomfortable fact that, at Guantánamo, a version of that same tyranny still exists, set up by the very government that is supposed to make sure that the kind of tyranny overthrown in 1776 can never happen again — specifically, imprisonment without charge or trial, which is supposed to be something that countries that claim to be civilized, and that claim to respect the rule of law, condemn without reservation.

My article is cross-posted below, for those who are interested. I hope that, if you like it, you will share it.

Remembering Guantánamo on Independence Day
By Andy Worthington, Witness Against Torture, July 4, 2017

Today, as a British citizen, I’m acutely aware that, 241 years ago, the United States of America issued a Declaration of Independence from the UK, noting that King George III had sought “the establishment of an absolute Tyranny.”

A system of checks and balances introduced by the Founding Fathers was supposed to prevent tyranny from arising in the liberated United States of America, and yet, at various times in its history, these safeguards have been discarded — during the Civil War, for example, and during the Second World War, in the shameful internment of Japanese Americans.

Another example is still taking place now — at Guantánamo Bay, in Cuba, where the U.S. runs a naval base, and where, since January 11, 2002, it has been holding prisoners seized in the “war on terror” that George W. Bush declared after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Under the laws and treaties we rely on to protect ourselves from executive tyranny, people can only be deprived of their liberty if they are accused of a crime, when they must speedily be put on trial in a court with a judge and a jury, or if they are seized on a battlefield during wartime, when they can be held until the end of hostilities, unmolested and with the protections of the Geneva Conventions.

However, in the “war on terror” declared after 9/11, George W. Bush came up with a third method of imprisonment that brought back into sharp focus the executive overreach of centuries past that was supposed to have been done away with once and for all.

Bush and his advisors decided that prisoners seized in their “war on terror” would have no rights whatsoever, and could be held forever if they so wished. They invented a term for them — “enemy combatants” — and, when they felt they were resistant to questioning, they introduced a torture program to get them to talk. This was repellant under any circumstances, but it was also an innovation based, often, on shockingly imprecise information.

Men were rounded up in Afghanistan and Pakistan not because they were “on the battlefield,” as the US authorities claimed, but because, for the most part, they were sold to the U.S. by their Afghan and Pakistani allies for generous bounty payments. Others, who were rounded up by the U.S., were often seized as a result of unreliable evidence, and these men, held in Guantánamo, in CIA “black sites” in Thailand, Poland, Romania and Lithuania, and even in proxy torture prisons run by other regimes — in Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Morocco, for example — then ended up telling lies about their fellow prisoners, to such an extent that the publicly available files (leaked to WikiLeaks by Chelsea Manning, and publicly released in 2011) are so full of unreliable information that they are, fundamentally, worthless.

And yet, Guantánamo continues to exist — with the Bush administration’s early claims that the men held there were “the worst of the worst” still resonating throughout American public life, and with most Americans unconcerned by the tyranny that is happening in their name at this wretched offshore prison.

There have been times in Guantánamo’s long and ignoble history when it has been off the radar more fundamentally than at other times. One such occasion was in the prison’s early years, under George W. Bush, when no one wanted to speak out. Then under Obama, there was widespread silence, after his promise to close the prison within a year expired, unfulfilled, and Congress cynically set up obstacles to try to prevent the release of prisoners, until the prisoners themselves brought Guantánamo and its ongoing injustice back onto the agenda through a prison-wide hunger strike in 2013.

And now, under Donald Trump, with so much going wrong under his inept leadership, Guantánamo has once more receded from view, after Trump’s early attempts to send new prisoners there, and to reintroduce torture, were widely criticized, not just outside his administration, but even by some of his own appointees, who are clearly not as unhinged as the president himself.

To be honest, though, Guantánamo has never been as prominent in the minds and the consciences of ordinary Americans as it should have been, and this is as true now as it was when the prison first opened, 15 and a half years ago.

Those of us who recognize Guantánamo for what it is — a legal, moral and ethical abomination, which shames America every day is it open — will continue to campaign to get it closed, and if you are not already with us, we hope you to will be moved to join us, to rid us of the tyranny that has been allowed to thrive in this U.S.-controlled corner of Cuba for far too long.

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 music is available 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.

6 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s a cross-post of the article I wrote for my friends at Witness Against Torture for US Independence Day – a reminder of why, on the day that Americans celebrate overthrowing the tyranny of King George III, 241 years ago, they are, for the most part, ignoring the fact that a tyranny of their own remains unchecked at Guantanamo Bay, where men are held indefinitely without charge or trial, in defiance of international laws and treaties regarding imprisonment. Please do share it if you find it useful.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Apologies for posting this so late. I was out this evening, rehearsing with my band The Four Fathers for our gigs tomorrow and on Saturday. Details here:

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Also check out our song ‘Close Guantanamo’ if you haven’t heard it:

  4. the talking dog says...

    Bravo, Andy.

    I’d like to think it’s a matter of “if only my countrymen knew” what was going on at GTMO, surely they’d be outraged. But then… the United States incarcerates something like one per cent of its population at any given moment (many of them for dubious “crimes”); in that context, a few unlucky bastards caught up in the unfortunate post 9-11 dragnet of Central Asian bounty hunters who have managed not to get released from Guantanamo seems small beer, certainly when one considers the scale, such as the drone program stepped up by the Obama Administration has killed several times more people than were ever held at GTMO (and the Trump Administration seems enamored of stepping that program up more.)

    Fortunately (for its own ruling class, that is), the United States remains a world leader in at least two key areas: obviously, one is mass incarceration, and the other is the effectiveness of its propaganda in convincing its own public of its own virtues. This effectiveness, alas, precludes the appropriate cognitive dissonance that should go with a so-called human rights leader engaging in expedient authoritarianism.

    One hopes, perhaps irrationally, that the American public will wake up one day and scream ENOUGH; fifteen years of bombarding Afghanistan, one of the poorest nations on Earth, endlessly, just has to stop. The empire isn’t paying for itself, and has to retrench before it implodes. At which point even the American courts would have to acknowledge that GTMO’s rationale would crash to a close. For example, recently there was a big deal vote pushed by Rep. Barbara Lee, the sole member of Congress to vote against the post 9-11 Authorization to Use Military Force, the AUMF that has been oh so useful as a legal justification for GTMO, Rep. Lee got a House Committee to agree to pass a resolution withdrawing the 2001 AUMF, and replacing it with a narrower one so that Trump (or more accurately the generals to whom he has outsourced the military) cannot escalate military force endlessly. Who knows? Maybe something like that will happen, or some other demonstration that the American people have had it with never-ending war (and its attendant blood and treasure, not to mention moral, cost).

    In the meantime, thank you for keeping up the drumbeat; as they said in another context, silence does equal death.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, TD. Your points of comparison are all very valid – the shockingly high incarceration rate (particularly of black Americans), the numbers killed by Obama’s drone program, and Trump’s seeming enthusiasm for drones.
    I too wonder if there can be any kind of tipping point, given that, as you say, the propaganda is so effective. It really ought to be quite shocking that the US is still in Afghanistan after nearly 16 years, proving nothing, and failing to secure anything resembling peace, and yet – where’s the outrage? How right the warmongers were to get rid of the draft after Vietnam? Now the authorities US can have a futile war that may actually have no end, and there’s almost no opposition to it at all.
    I saw a brief mention of Barbara Lee’s latest efforts to rid us of the AUMF. I have to commend her persistence. Not many people know that she was the only opponent of the original AUMF, the week after the 9/11 attacks, but again, as with the general blanket of indifference, how can it be that she remains such a solitary beacon of good sense 16 years after the quagmire of involvement in Afghanistan began?

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Actually, on examination, TD, it seems that Barbara Lee has had more success than in her previous efforts to repeal the AUMF.
    As Politico reported on June 29:

    Congress may finally be getting fed up with war on autopilot.

    A powerful House committee voted unexpectedly Thursday to require Congress to debate and approve U.S. military action in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and other far-flung countries — in a surprise victory for a longtime Democratic critic of the nearly two-decade-old war on terrorism.

    The amendment from Rep. Barbara Lee of California — one of countless she has offered in recent years — is only a modest first step in getting Congress to update the authorization of military force that lawmakers adopted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But Thursday’s voice vote in the GOP-controlled Appropriations Committee is a symbolic move forward.

    Even Republicans with military experience embraced Lee’s defense spending bill amendment, which would repeal the 2001 authorization. They noted that the anti-terror struggle has evolved markedly since the days when U.S. troops hunted Osama bin Laden in the mountains of Afghanistan, yet Congress has never debated and authorized the fight against newer extremist groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.


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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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