Photos and Report: The Wet But Spirited Close Guantánamo Protest in London, Jan. 8, 2022, and an Online Gathering of Former Prisoners

9.1.22

Campaigners across the road from 10 Downing Street during the Guantánamo Network’s march and rally against the continued existence of Guantánamo on Jan. 8, 2022 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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It would be hard to imagine more challenging weather conditions than the torrential rain that dogged a protest against the continued existence of Guantánamo in central London yesterday, marking the 20th anniversary of the opening of the prison in two days’ time.

39 campaigners in orange jumpsuits and hoods — representing the 39 men still held — marched in solemn procession from the Houses of Parliament, around Parliament Square and up Whitehall, stopping opposite 10 Downing Street, and ending up at Trafalgar Square. Each campaigner carried a laminated sheet featuring a photo of one of the prisoners, as well as their name and nationality.

The protest was organised by the Guantánamo Network, a coalition of groups that includes members of various Amnesty International groups, myself as the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign, two long-running London-based Guantánamo groups (the Guantánamo Justice Campaign and the London Guantánamo Campaign), and Freedom From Torture. Particular thanks are due to Sara Birch, the Guantánamo Network’s convenor, who is part of the Lewes Amnesty Group — and under whose energetic leadership Lewes has become something of an epicentre for Guantánamo activism.

Campaigners in Old Palace Yard before the start of the march to Trafalgar Square (Photo: Andy Worthington).
Close Guantánamo campaigners marching around Parliament Square on Jan. 8, 2022 (Photo: Andy Worthington).
Campaigners call for the closure of Guantánamo opposite 10 Downing Street on Jan. 8, 2022 (Photo: Andy Worthington).
Campaigners representing the 39 men still held at Guantánamo, shortly after arriving in Trafalgar Square after marching up Whitehall from the Houses of Parliament, Jan. 8, 2022 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

When the campaigners reached Trafalgar Square, a number of speakers addressed the crowd, starting with John McDonnell, the Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, and the Shadow Chancellor from 2015 to 2020. A longtime opponent of Guantánamo’s existence, John set up the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group back in November 2014, which helped to secure the release from the prison of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, in October 2015, along with the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, and We Stand With Shaker, the group I set up with activist Joanne MacInnes, which involved persuading celebrities and MPs to have their photos taken with a giant inflatable figure of Shaker.

I also spoke, delivering a fiery speech lambasting President Biden for his almost complete inaction on Guantánamo in his first year in office, akin to those that, in pre-Covid days, I delivered outside the White House every year on the anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo, directed at Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

Other speakers were Kevin Macdonald, the director of the feature film ‘The Mauritanian’, about torture victim, Guantánamo prisoner and author Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who read out a message from Mohamedou; Imam Sulaiman Ghani, who has a long history of involvement with human rights issues, including campaigning for Shaker Aamer; Lise Rossi, Amnesty International’s UK Coordinator for North America; Steve Crawshaw, the Director of Policy and Advocacy at Freedom From Torture; Kate Hudson, the chair of CND; Noel Hamel of the London Guantánamo Campaign, and Dave Ebester of the Guantánamo Justice Campaign.

Sadly, the cameraman who was supposed to film the speeches couldn’t make it, so there’s no record of the eloquence, passion, indignation and solidarity that was on display, but I hope these photos capture something of the spirit of resistance that was evident yesterday.

John McDonnell MP addressing the crowd in Trafalgar Square, Jan. 8, 2022 (Photo: Andy Worthington).
Imam Sulaiman Ghani addressing the crowd in Trafalgar Square, Jan. 8, 2022 (Photo: Andy Worthington).
Lise Rossi, Amnesty International’s UK Coordinator for North America, addressing the crowd in Trafalgar Square, Jan. 8, 2022 (Photo: Andy Worthington).
Steve Crawshaw, the Director of Policy and Advocacy at Freedom From Torture, addressing the crowd in Trafalgar Square, Jan. 8, 2022 (Photo: Andy Worthington).
Kevin Macdonald, the director of the feature film ‘The Mauritanian’, who read out a message from Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Photo: Andy Worthington).
Andy Worthington photographed in Trafalgar Square on Jan. 8, 2022 with Emmy Butlin of the Committee to Defend Julian Assange.

I also took photos of the speakers and of various campaigners standing with the latest Close Guantánamo poster marking how long the prison has been open — 7,306 days on the 20th anniversary of the prison’s opening. If you’d like to be involved, take a photo with the poster and send it to info@closeguantanamo.org. All this year’s photos will be displayed on a new page on the website, and also on Facebook.

In the evening, I watched a very special online gathering of former prisoners for “Guantánamo: 20 Years On”, organized by CAGE, featuring Moazzam Begg in conversation with Shaker Aamer, Mansoor Adayfi, Omar Deghayes, Ahmed Errachidi, Omar Khadr and Mohamedou Ould Slahi, as well as Clive Stafford Smith, the founder of Reprieve, who represented most of them during their imprisonment.

It was the first time for many years that I had seen Omar Deghayes, who featured in the 2009 documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo”, which I co-directed, and with whom I undertook a speaking tour across the UK in 2010, and it was also the first time that I had seen Ahmed Errachidi or Omar Khadr discussing Guantánamo. Ahmed and I were in touch many years ago, when he was working on his memoir, about how a Moroccan chef, employed in London’s top hotels, ended up regarded as “The General” in Guantánamo, and for many years I wrote about the plight of Omar Khadr, one of Guantánamo’s youngest prisoners, both during his imprisonment, and also after his release, as he struggled for justice in Canada.

A screenshot of Omar Khadr at “Guantánamo: 20 Years On”, organized by CAGE on Jan. 8, 2022.

What was particularly noticeable about all the former prisoners was how eloquent they all are, and how demonstrably intelligent, capable of nuance, and lacking in rancour — and how it would be hard to find a bigger contrast with the violence and ignorance of their captors, those who dreamt up Guantánamo in the first place, and those who, in the US, still defend it. Some Republicans and parts of the mainstream media, marinaded in their own poison, do so vigorously, but Democrats and the liberal media are more subtle, generally dealing with it as something wrong, but not something worth losing sleep over — or even, in general, going out of their way to either condemn or to bring to an end.

* * * * *

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 you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.50).

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.

10 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, my photos of, and report about the protest for the closure of Guantanamo that took place in central London yesterday, to mark the 20th anniversary of opening of the prison in two days’ time.

    The event, organised by the Guantanamo Network, consisting of various Amnesty International groups, Close Guantanamo and others, involved 39 campaigners in orange jumpsuits and hoods, representing the 39 men still held, marching from Parliament to Trafalgar Square, where speakers included myself, John McDonnell MP, Imam Sulaiman Ghani, and Kevin Macdonald, the director of ‘The Mauritanian’, who read out a message from Mohamedou Ould Slahi.

    I also report on the unprecedented online gathering of seven former prisoners convened yesterday evening by CAGE, at which the eloquence of these men stood in stark contrast to the violence and ignorance with which they were treated for so many years, and which still typifies those in the US and elsewhere who seek to defend Guantanamo and all the evils it stands for.

  2. Anna says...

    Too busy preparing posters for what probably will be a lonely one-woman demo tomorrow in front of US consulate to listen to it right now : https://www.aljazeera.com/podcasts/2022/1/10/guantanamo-at-20-through-the-eyes-of-a-detainee

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for that, Anna. I see a flurry of media reports, which is all very heartening, but by the day after they will all have moved on, sadly. Please send a photo of your protest if you can!

  4. Anna says...

    Sent a picture to your mail :-). Tonight I wanted to watch the live discussion but found to my dismay that it is not available off-line. Do you have any idea whether it will be at some point ? I found out about it too late to be able to watch it live.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Anna. I had a quick look, but it was the maddest day yesterday – an early morning radio show, a Turkish TV show, a New America panel discussion, the Virtual Vigil (Disrupt, Confront and Close Guantanamo), posting 50 Close Guantanamo photos on the website and on social media, releasing a live video of a new song by my band The Four Fathers, and also publishing an anniversary article.

    Is it the Virtual Vigil you’re referring to? It seems only to be on Facebook.

  6. Anna says...

    No hurry Andy, catch your breath and have some rest. I was referring to Cage’s ‘Guantanamo 20 years on’. Maybe I should check their page for a link.
    And maybe it is my old age, but I regularly miss the Captcha and press Submit, only to get a message that I have to start all over again – and often just give up when the comment was long and had needed proper reflection. Maybe for goofy’s like me, the Submit button could be located under the Captcha, instead of the other way round … ?
    Also sometimes forget to put name & mail address and then also lose the content of the comment, but changing that into a warning : ‘fill in missing info’ I suppose is more complicated than just moving the location of a button :-).

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    The Cage event is now on YouTube in its entirety, Anna, and well worth a watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G4sTwshp-HQ

  8. Anna says...

    Hi Andy, I was about to send you the link :-). Yesterday I wrote to Cage and almost immediately got answer with link. Loved it.
    How different Shaker looked from that first BBC interview, Clive’s briefs :-), Omar Khadr – who spoke so warmly about Afghans – and just received a whole plane load of them in Edmonton a few days ago :-). https://globalnews.ca/news/8504131/afghan-human-rights-activists-arrive-in-canada/
    Bravo, Canada apparently is keeping its promise to accept human rights activists, among them a number of my friends who ran an NGO in that field, with families. Would be nice if one day they may have normal social contacts with Omar without some paranoiac authorities interfering.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, it was an extraordinary event, Anna. Such eloquence from all the former prisoners, and the most damning condemnation of the brutality and injustice of Guantanamo throughout its long history.

    I’m glad to hear about Canada accepting human rights activists. I wish the UK was both more generous and more organised. This was the news just before New Year about how many refugees are stuck in temporary accommodation: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/dec/28/12000-afghan-refugees-to-start-new-year-stuck-in-uk-hotels

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    For a Spanish version on the World Can’t Wait’s Spanish website, see ‘Fotos y reporte: la protesta mojada pero llena de animada en Londres el pasado 8 de enero y la reunión en línea de los ex detenidos’: http://www.worldcantwait-la.com/worthington-fotos-y-reporte-protesta-mojada-londres.htm

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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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