I Discuss the Significance of WikiLeaks’ Release of ‘The Guantánamo Files’ in a Primary Sources Podcast with Clive Stafford Smith

28.11.21

“WikiLeaks and ‘The Guantánamo Files'”: a screenshot of the ‘Primary Sources’ podcast featuring Andy Worthington and Clive Stafford Smith in conversation with Chip Gibbons of Defending Rights and Dissent.

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I’m delighted to be sharing with you an hour-long podcast about the significance of the formerly classified military files from Guantánamo (the “Detainee Assessment Briefs”), which were released by WikiLeaks as “The Guantánamo Files” in 2011, and on which I worked as a media partner. I took part in the podcast along with Clive Stafford Smith, the founder of Reprieve, and both Clive and I were invited to speak with the podcast’s host Chip Gibbons because of our long involvement with Guantánamo, and because we had both testified on behalf of WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange at his extradition hearing in the UK in October 2020.

Chip works for Defending Rights and Dissent, formed in 2016 through the merger of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC), founded in 2001 to resist the draconian post-9/11 Patriot Act, and the Defending Dissent Foundation, originally formed in 1960 as the National Committee to Abolish the House Un-American Activities Committee. They describe their mission as being to “strengthen our participatory democracy by protecting the right to political expression.”

Defending Rights and Dissent recently set up a podcast series, “Primary Sources,” in which, over the last six months, Chip Gibbons has interviewed the “Pentagon Papers” whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, James Goodale, General Counsel of the New York Times when the “Pentagon Papers” were published, human rights attorney Carey Shenkman discussing the Espionage Act, whistleblower and attorney Jesselyn Raddack, whistleblowers Jeffrey Sterling, Thomas Drake, John Kiriakou and Matthew Hoh, and drone program whistleblowers Lisa Ling, Keagan Miller, Cian Westmoreland, and Christopher Aaron, and it was an honor and a privilege to be invited to join this extraordinary line-up of witnesses exposing the crimes of the US government over many decades.

In a great introduction, Chip pointed out that the proposed US prosecution of Julian Assange enters treacherous new territory for the use of the Espionage Act, both because it involves, for the first time, a journalist and a publisher, thereby endangering the freedom of the press, but also because of its extra-territorial reach, seeking to convict and imprison an Australian citizen whose work took place abroad. He also explained how significant “The Guantánamo Files” are to the case against Assange, with a third of the charges pertaining to those files.

At the start of the show, Clive and I discussed our long involvement with Guantánamo, with Clive talking about how difficult it was, at the time Guantánamo opened, to get US lawyers involved, and that he was one of only three lawyers who were prepared to launch the first case against the Bush administration, the others being Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and death penalty lawyer Joe Margulies.

I then spoke about how I became involved with Guantánamo, back in 2006, and how I undertook my research for my book The Guantánamo Files, published in 2007, and the conversation then proceeded with Clive discussing meeting his clients at Guantánamo, from 2004 onwards, when lawyers were first allowed to visit the prison and to meet with clients, and the sweeping censorship process that applied until the lawyers challenged these restrictions through the media.

Clive then spoke about his client Ahmed Rabbani, a case of mistaken identity who has finally been approved for release from Guantánamo, but is still held, and after I concluded my explanation of how I became involved with Guantánamo, and how the majority of mainstream journalists failed to properly examine the publicly available documents that I used as the basis for my book, we started discussing WikiLeaks, and the significance of the release of the classified military documents from Guantánamo that were leaked to Wikileaks by Chelsea Manning, around 32 minutes in.

I explained how the main significance of the files was that they named the men who, for one reason or another (whether through torture or abuse, the promise of favors or “comfort items,” or what we might call “interrogation fatigue”) had made false allegations against their fellow prisoners. The extent of these false confessions had previously been hinted at in some ground-breaking reporting, but it hadn’t, crucially, involved these prisoners being identified by names, and I wrote about some of these “serial liars” in the article that I wrote to accompany the release of the files in April 2011.

Around 48 minutes in, I discussed my involvement in the release of the files, and the US’s hypocrisy in singling out Julian Assange for prosecution, even though, when I worked as a media partner on the files’ publication, numerous newspapers were also involved, and WikiLeaks’ role was no different from that of the Washington Post, McClatchy Newspapers, the Daily Telegraph and others — or, indeed, the New York Times and the Guardian, who had secured the files from another source, which had nothing to do with Julian Assange at all.

At the close of the show, as I’ve mentioned before (including in my testimony in Julian Assange’s extradition case), I noted how I still find it significant that, just a week after “The Guantánamo Files” were released, the US government decided that they had to assassinate Osama bin Laden, thereby ensuring that the files only had one week to be of mainstream media interest, and allowing the US’s torturers and their apologists to falsely claim that it was the use of torture, and the existence of Guantánamo, that had led to the identification of bin Laden’s location.

There was even more in the show than I’ve managed to outline above, and I hope that you have time to listen to it, and that you’ll share it if you find it useful.

* * * * *

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.

5 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, linking to, and discussing my recent appearance, with Clive Stafford Smith, on the ‘Primary Sources’ podcast, hosted by Chip Gibbons of Defending Rights and Dissent, to talk about our long involvement with Guantanamo, the significance of WikiLeaks’ release of ‘The Guantanamo Files’ in 2011 (on which I worked as a media partner), and the reasons why we testified on behalf of Julian Assange in his extradition hearing in October 2020.

    It’s part of an ongoing series of very valuable podcasts, primarily with whistleblowers, but also with others concerned with checks on executive overreach, and the right to publish material that might embarrass governments, or expose their involvement in crimes.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Kevin Hester wrote:

    More courageous journalism from Andy and his collaborators shining a light on the US prison Gulag in occupied Cuba’s Guantanamo bay.
    The inhuman conditions in this torture camp is exactly what they have planned for fellow journalist Julian Assange.
    Knowing what has happened to Julian and Ed Snowden any journalist standing up to the neo-fascism evolving in the NATO block is putting their lives and liberty at risk.
    Huge respect Andy.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Kevin. It definitely seems to me that the US government specifically wants to take Julian down, but I wonder if they’re fully aware of what the ramifications for the freedom of the press- for the functioning of a society that isn’t openly a dictatorship – would be if they’re successful.

    Hopefully, it won’t come to that. I suspect that this will go all the way to the Supreme Court, and will continue to be blocked for the reasons identified by Judge Baraitser in January, but that’s a long way off, and Julian has to continue to be able to survive his isolation in Belmarsh.

    And if he were to eventually end up extradited, I don’t see the case winning in a US court either, but, again, that would involve years of imprisonment in the US, and Julian’s ability to survive that has to be called into question – again, as Judge Baraitser recognized in January.

    It would be so much easier if Biden just dropped the extradition request, but it seems pretty certain that isn’t going to happen. I think it might be helpful if a campaign against legal overreach and the infringement of the First Amendment were to be directed at Merrick Garland, Biden’s Attorney General.

  4. Anna says...

    I’ll certainly listen to a podcast with two of my favourite human rights fighters !
    In the meantime, this excellent piece about Assange, the fate of people extradite to the US and their carceral system in general.
    The title says it all :
    https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2021/11/30/assange-and-the-assurances-of-civilised-torturers

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Anna. I’m glad to hear that the podcast is of interest. The whole series is pretty good, I think, and there are more WikiLeaks-related podcasts to come.

    Thanks also for the link to the Al-Jazeera article. I hadn’t heard of Azeezah Kanji before, but she’s written a very good article.

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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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