‘Guantánamo: 20 Years After’ — Mohamedou Ould Salahi and I Are Keynote Speakers at Brighton University Online Conference on Nov. 12-13


A screenshot from the website of the conference, ‘Guantánamo: 20 Years After’, taking place on Nov. 12-13, 2021.

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I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

I’m delighted to announce a two-day online conference about Guantánamo — ‘Guantánamo: 20 Years After‘ — on Friday November 12 and Saturday November 13, hosted by the University of Brighton, which I’ve been organizing with Sara Birch, a lecturer in law at the university and, like me, a longtime advocate for the prison’s closure.

Covid-19 has made the conference an online affair, but what it has also done is to allow us to bring together people who might not have been able to travel for a physical conference; in this case, in particular, former Guantánamo prisoners who, in common with everyone who has been released from the prison over the unforgivably long years of its existence, face restrictions on their ability to travel freely, either because they aren’t allowed to have passports, or because they face often insurmountable problems getting visas.

I’m honoured to have been asked to open the conference on Friday as a keynote speaker, followed by former Guantánamo prisoner and best-selling author Mohamedou Ould Salahi, and on Saturday we’re delighted to have former prisoner Mansoor Adayfi and his collaborator Antonio Aiello — on Adayfi’s recently published memoir ‘Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantánamo’ — as guest speakers.

The conference also features eleven academic papers, delivered by, amongst others, the academics and activists Jeremy Varon and Maha Hilal, retired psychologist and investigator Jeffrey Kaye, and the academics William Hudon, Sam Raphael (of the UK’s Rendition Project) and Maureen Duffy.

There are also three panel discussions — on ‘Military Commissions and Torture’, ‘Guantánamo: The Future’ and ‘Activism and Accountability’, with panelists including Michel Paradis, a long-standing civilian defense attorney with the military commissions, Jonathan Hafetz of Seton Hall School of Law, Nancy Hollander, who represented Mohamedou, Daphne Eviatar of Amnesty International USA, and Shane Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights. I’ll be taking part in the final panel discussion, ‘Activism and Accountability’, when one of the topics I’ll be raising is the need for the restrictions on former prisoners — based on their apparently lifelong definition as “enemy combatants” — to be lifted.

With the 20th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo swiftly approaching (on Jan. 11, 2022), the conference could not be better timed. Although President Biden has indicated his desire to close the prison, he has done little to encourage us to believe that it ranks high in his priorities.

Only one prisoner has been freed since he took office, and currently, of the 39 men still held, 13 have been approved for release, but are still held. Six of these men have been approved for release under Biden (via the Periodic Review Boards, a parole-type process established under President Obama), but others have not been freed despite being approved for release back in 2010, and President Biden needs to be reminded, as loudly as possible, that approving men for release but then not releasing them is both cruel and unjust.

Of the 26 others, just 12 have been charged with crimes in the military commission trial system (or have been through that system), while the 14 others have been aptly described as “forever prisoners” — never charged with a crime, but historically considered too dangerous to release. Like most of the men approved for release but still held, they too have been through the Periodic Review Board process, but have repeatedly been found to still constitute some sort of threat, although the process itself is both opaque and not legally binding.

If they are not to be charged, they too must be released, as even US lawmakers have finally realized that indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial is an abomination. However, President Biden is running out of time to deliver a major statement on his willingness to close Guantánamo by making sure that as many of these men as possible are released before that most ignominious of anniversaries — the 20th anniversary of the opening of the prison — arrives in just two months’ time.

We very much hope that the conference will help to maintain pressure on the Biden administration to move forward on the closure of Guantánamo by shining a light on the many reasons why, in the past, present and future, its existence has been, is and will continue to be intolerable.

Registration for the conference is £50 for those with institutional backing, but £10 for unaffiliated individuals. I hope it’s of interest, and I hope to see you there.

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer (of an ongoing photo-journalism project, ‘The State of London’), 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 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, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.55).

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of the 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, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the struggle for housing justice — and against environmental destruction — 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.

18 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, publicizing ‘Guantanamo: 20 Years After’, a great two-day online conference about Guantanamo on Friday Nov. 12 and Saturday Nov. 13, hosted by the University of Brighton, which I’ve been organizing with Sara Birch, a law lecturer at the university.

    The conference features former prisoners Mohamedou Ould Salahi and Mansoor Adayfi (and Mansoor’s editor and collaborator Antonio Aiello), panels of lawyers and other experts, including Jonathan Hafetz of Seton Hall School of Law, Nancy Hollander, who represented Mohamedou, Daphne Eviatar of Amnesty International USA, and Shayana Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and academic papers and presentations from speakers around the world, including the academics and activists Maha Hilal and Jeremy Varon, and retired psychologist and investigator Jeffrey Kaye.

    It’s going to be a powerful couple of days, as we reflect on the horrors of Guantanamo over 20 years, and work out how to exert pressure on President Biden to finally get this legal, moral and ethical abomination closed once and for all, and I hope you’ll be able to join us. Tickets are £50, or £10 for those on a lower income.

  2. Anna says...

    Shoot, didn’t see the Captcha at the bottom, hope it will work properly. Maybe the ‘Submit’ button should be below the Captcha one 🙂 ? So once more :
    Great initiative Andy ! Unfortunately the times when I would fly over for such an event are over, I hope temporarily, due to the pandemic. Will there be a possiblity to follow it on-line without ZOOM or something similar which I do not have and do not intend to have ?

  3. Anna says...

    Hm, this time all I had to do is fill out the Captcha and press Return on my computer, for the message to fly into space.
    No need to press ‘submit’ :-).
    I’ll never understand the logic of computer programmes, which increasingly govern us instead of the other way round.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    I haven’t looked at the Captcha formatting yet, Anna, but I hope it all works OK. I was being deluged with spam, and the spam prevention company have been asking for more and more money to protect me from it. A friend in the US has been updating my site, and reckoned Captcha was a good way round the problem.

    The conference is a thoroughly virtual affair, so even if you felt like flying, there’s nothing real to fly to. I don’t think there’s going to be any way to join in without Zoom, although we do hope to record all of it and have it available afterwards, probably on YouTube. Personally, I think you should join us. I don’t recall having to provide Zoom with any information. I just had to download the software.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m inclined to agree with you on the latter point, Anna, but I don’t see that we can do much about it. At least with my website you can be sure that I’m not harvesting data to sell on to some evil corporation!

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Debra Sweet wrote:

    I’ll be there.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Great, Debra!

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Richard Sroczynski wrote:

    I’m in, the program looks great.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Richard. That’s great to hear.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Natalia Rivera Scott wrote:

    I’ll be there! #CloseGuantánamo

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    🙂 Natalia!

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Gail Helt wrote:

    Glad this will be recorded. I’ll be at the CERL conference on Guantanamo in Philadelphia, so won’t be able to tune in.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    I didn’t know about that conference, Gail. It looks very good. Some excellent speakers from throughout Guantanamo’s history.
    ‘The Future of Guantánamo Bay: Recovering the Rule of Law in the Detention Facility and the Military Commissions’:

  14. Anna says...

    Don’t worry, the Captcha works perfectly – as opposed to many other sites – and glad to contribute to less spam :-).

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m glad to hear it, Anna – and my new technical support friend will be glad to hear it too!

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Brighton University students have set up a Twitter account for the conference, which they’ll be using to live tweet the proceedings. Please feel free to follow: https://twitter.com/Guantanamo20yrs

  17. Anna says...

    Great ! Just checked that Twitter account and it is accessible to all, wonderful & thanks to those who prepared it 🙂 !

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Glad to hear it, Anna. It was set by students at the university, who have also been filming interview with participants in the conference, which will go up on the website and on a YouTube channel, and the conference will be recorded as well. I had a great interview yesterday morning with two of the students, who, over 45 minutes, asked me some great questions that allowed me to tell the story of Guantanamo in real depth.

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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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