On My Annual US Visit to Call for the Closure of Guantánamo, Reporting Resistance in Trump’s Shutdown America

13.1.19

Andy Worthington with a Close Guantanamo poster marking 6,210 days of the prison's existence at New America in Washington, D.C. on January 11, 2019, the 17th anniversary of the prison's opening.

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I’m six days into my annual trip to the US to call for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, on and around the 17th anniversary of its opening (on January 11), and while it would be foolish to suggest, in any sense, that there is going to be any sort of movement on Guantánamo from the execrable Donald Trump, it’s certainly noticeable that, for the first time for three years, there is a real energy in the movement to finally get Guantánamo closed.

Three years ago, there was an energy to the efforts to get Barack Obama to close Guantánamo before he left office (which didn’t work, but did lead to him reducing the prison’s population to just 41 men), but two years ago we were caught in a dreadful limbo between the end of Obama and the start of Trump, and last year everyone seemed pretty crushed by the grim realities of Trump’s first year in office.

In part, this is just one aspect of what looks to be a growing resistance to Donald Trump on numerous fronts, and of course it’s not insignificant that I arrived. on Monday evening, during Trump’s petulant government shutdown, in which, to pursue his vile racist obsession with a wildly expensive expansion of the wall between the US and Mexico, he has shut down the salaries of millions of Americans who work for the government. At the time of writing, I’m glad to note, the effects of the shutdown seem to be damaging him in terms of his popularity.

In the longer term, however, another aspect of this resurgent energy has come from the chink of light offered by the Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections, so that, after two years of the Republicans controlling both the Senate and the House, and having no interest, even nominally, in  addressing Guantánamo at all, now campaigners can try and get Guantánamo back on the table — and, I hope, also raise the question of the shameful and dangerous situation whereby no one in the Trump administration has responsibility for Guantánamo, after Trump closed the office of the Envoy for Guantánamo Closure. For meetings with Democrats, see this email from Witness Against Torture describing meetings that took place just before the Guantánamo anniversary.

The office was set up under Obama, not only to re-settle former prisoners, but also to monitor them after release, and its closure — essentially because Trump has no intention of releasing anyone — has not only endangered, or even led to the deaths of former prisoners, because there is literally no one in the State Department that anyone can talk to when it comes to any Guantánamo issues, but has also meant that there is no office within the US government that is actively monitoring former prisoners from a national security perspective.

I discussed these problems most recently in an article in November, Guantánamo’s Lost Diaspora: How Donald Trump’s Closure of the Office Monitoring Ex-Prisoners is Bad for Them – and US Security, and I look forward to finding ways to work on them with other organizations this coming year, as well as continuing to seek ways to get Democrats to pay attention to the ongoing need for Guantánamo to be closed. For reports on the envoy issues, see these news articles here and here by UrduPoint News.

Below is the video of a panel discussion about Guantánamo that I took part in on the anniversary, at the New America think-tank in Washington, D.C., with the attorney Tom Wilner, with whom I set up the Close Guantanamo campaign seven years ago, and Laura Pitter of Human Rights Watch, and as I explained when I posted it on Facebook, “The event — which, I’m glad to note, was also broadcast live by C-SPAN — was extremely well-attended, and in complete contrast to last year, when everyone seemed crushed by Trump’s first year in office. This year there was a real spirit of resistance, in part because of people’s realization that there is no option but to resist, and partly because of the slim glimmer of hope offered by the Democrats taking the House of Representatives in the midterm elections.”

Please also check out this clip of me speaking outside the White House, at the vigil that took place afterwards. I hope that video of my entire statement will be made available online sometime soon by Witness Against Torture, but as Middle East Eye and the Turkish Anadolu Agency explained in articles on the day, part of my short, sharp attack on Donald Trump for having the 40 men still held as “political prisoners” or even as his own “personal prisoners,” involved me saying, “Today Guantánamo has been open for 6,210 days. That’s 6,210 days of shame for every decent American. Every day this prison is open is a source of shame for all decent people. This isn’t an ordinary prison where people have been tried and convicted. This isn’t a war prison where people are taken off the battlefield and held, protected by the Geneva Conventions, until the end of hostilities. This is a prison where people were taken to in the first place so they could be held absolutely without any rights whatsoever”, a situation that, essentially, continues to this day, as no one can be released except at the whim of the president.

For further information, feel free to check out the interview below, which I conducted by phone with Michael Slate before I left New York for Washington, D.C. I’ll be posting more links soon, and don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’d like to interview me. Please also check out all the Close Guantánamo photos of campaigners holding posters marking 6,210 days of Guantánamo’s existence on Jan. 11, the 17th anniversary of the opening of the prison, and calling for its closure.

* * * * *

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 see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in 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), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, the resistance continues.

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, The Complete Guantánamo Files, 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.

13 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, in which I reflect on my six days – so far – in the US as part of my annual trip to call for the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay on an around the anniversary of its opening (17 long and horrible years on January 11), and comment on the renewed energy of the resistance after two years in the doldrums that I have felt and been part of.

    There’s are links to the video of the lively and powerful panel discussion at New America on the anniversary that I was part of, and my radio interview with Michael Slate, with more media to follow, but for now I hope this inspires you to continue to struggle for the closure of Guantanamo, and also to take heart that there is renewed energy in the wider struggle against the disgusting and disgraceful presidency of Donald Trump.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Valerie Jeans wrote:

    Thank you more than words, Andy!

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your support, Valerie, which is greatly appreciated!

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Beth Adams wrote:

    🤗👏Kudos, Andy! For all you do to Close Guantanamo & end torture, including that of indefinite detention everywhere!
    Thank you for constantly inspiring us with the stories of these Muslim men, many imprisoned in Guantanamo for 16 years!

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    And thanks for your kind words, Beth. Great to see you in Washington, D.C.!

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Geraldine Grunow wrote:

    Yes! Thanks for this and for all you do, Andy. Public reaction to our own little protest (Detroit Amnesty) backs what you say; we got much more supportive honking from passing traffic than in previous years.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m very glad to hear it, Geraldine. It gives me hope.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Toia Tutta Jung wrote:

    Thank you, Andy Worthington and it is time to close Guantanamo.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Way past time, Toia. 17 years – and the last two of those under Trump. Obama should be ashamed for all he failed to do in his eight long years in office.

  10. Tom says...

    It’s now Week 2 of the “Border Security Negotiations”. Naturally nothing’s been done. Now, what happens when the next shutdown happens? Will federal employees who weren’t paid miss out on this back pay because of a new shutdown? Federal contractors never get any back shutdown pay.

    I sent an email to the Boston Globe’s Spotlight Investigative Office re: this question. How come nobody’s ever been prosecuted for these shutdowns? How come nobody’s criminally liable for destroying people’s lives, the economy and the US global image? No reply yet.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    It all seems rather inexplicable to those of us outside the US how shutdowns can take place because of politicians, but then workers don’t get paid – and are also expected to continue working for no pay or get sacked.
    I hope you get some answers, Tom. Do let me know if you do!

  12. Tom says...

    Is a govt shutdown legal in the UK?

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    I didn’t think it was, Tom, but apparently there are circumstances in which it’s a possibility, as this article from 2015 explained: http://theconversation.com/budget-2015-could-see-a-government-shutdown-in-the-uk-19634
    There’s also been talk about some Brexit maneuvering leading to a shutdown: https://www.theweek.co.uk/brexit/98801/is-the-uk-government-facing-a-us-style-shutdown

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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, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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