Videos: Speeches at the Close Guantánamo Protest in London, Jan. 8, 2022, Including Andy Worthington and John McDonnell MP

Screenshots from videos of Andy Worthington and John McDonnell MP speaking at a rally in Trafalgar Square calling for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on January 8, 2022.

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Back in January, campaigners in the UK, calling for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, put up with torrential rain while marching from Parliament to Trafalgar Square, where a rally was held, with speakers including John McDonnell MP and myself, calling for the closure of the prison just days before the 20th anniversary of its opening on January 11.

The protest was coordinated via the Guantánamo Network, a coalition of concerned groups including Amnesty International, Close Guantánamo, Freedom From Torture, the Guantánamo Justice Campaign and the London Guantánamo Campaign, and it was also attended by a number of Julian Assange supporters. 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”, as I have previously explained, “Lewes has become something of an epicentre for Guantánamo activism.”

39 campaigners, hooded and dressed in orange jumpsuits, represented the men still held in the prison at the time, and, despite the rain, created an eye-catching protest, as I recorded in photos I took on the day.

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Video: Q&A with Mohamedou Ould Salahi, Kevin Macdonald, Nancy Hollander and I at Screening of ‘The Mauritanian’ in Tunbridge Wells

A screenshot of the Q&A at Tunbridge Wells on March 20, 2022, following a screening of ‘The Mauritanian’ at the Trinity Theatre.

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Last month, I was privileged to take part in a number of events during the first ever UK speaking tour by former Guantánamo prisoner and torture victim Mohamedou Ould Salahi (aka Slahi), which was arranged by my friend Bernard Sullivan and his niece Oriel, in which the author of the acclaimed memoir “Guantánamo Diary” brought his extraordinary message of forgiveness to Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Chatham House and the LSE in London, Brighton, Tunbridge Wells and a peace centre in Somerset. Mohamedou’s tour culminated in a visit to the Houses of Parliament, where he addressed a number of supportive MPs and peers, and had the distinction of being the first non-British former Guantánamo prisoner to be welcomed into the Palace of Westminster.

As I have previously reported, I met Mohamedou for the very first time at the Chatham House event. I had already taken part in a number of online events with him, so I knew of his charisma, his winning smile and his wicked sense of humour, but, meeting him in person, it was also impossible not to recognize how the torture to which he was subjected continues to haunt him. Like an unsettled day in which the sun breaks out, illuminating everything with warmth and radiance, only for dark clouds to then obscure it, suddenly bringing darkness and cold, Mohamedou alternates between extraordinary sociability and silent seriousness behind which the ghosts that continue to dog him are evidently still at play.

The Chatham House event, on March 10, was my first opportunity to see Mohamedou’s mesmerising effect on audiences, and it was followed, as were all his speaking events, by attendees queuing up to buy copies of  “Guantánamo Diary”, and to have them signed by Mohamedou, as he engaged with them and brought them directly into his world for a few moments.

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Former Guantánamo Prisoner Mohamedou Ould Salahi Embarks on a UK Speaking Tour

A screenshot of former Guantánamo prisoner Mohamedou Ould Salahi (aka Slahi) speaking by Zoom to a meeting of the Lewes Amnesty Group on January 11, 2021 (the 19th anniversary of the opening of the prison), which also featured journalist and activist Andy Worthington.

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I’m delighted to report that former Guantánamo prisoner, torture victim and best-selling author Mohamedou Ould Salahi (aka Slahi) has safely arrived in the UK for his first ever speaking tour, and appeared yesterday evening (March 3) at the University of Bristol’s Human Rights Implementation Centre, where, according to the human rights activist Bernard Sullivan, who has organised his tour, he spoke “to a packed auditorium of academics, students and guests, with many others watching via Zoom”, and where copies of his book Guantánamo Diary, which he was signing, sold out.

Mohamedou is here for the rest of the month, taking part in nine other events, and I’m pleased to note that I will be joining him for two of these, at the University of Brighton and at the Trinity Theatre in Tunbridge Wells. Some of the events will also involve a screening of ‘The Mauritanian’, the feature film based on Guantánamo Diary, directed by Kevin Macdonald, and featuring Tahar Rahim, Jodie Foster and Benedict Cumberbatch.

I’ve been following Mohamedou’s story since I first began working on Guantánamo full-time 16 years ago, and I first met Bernard when he and his wife Susie helped to arrange a Parliamentary meeting about Mohamedou’s case, in April 2016, hosted by the Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake, at which the actors Sanjeev Bhaskar and Toby Jones read out passages from Mohamedou’s book, and those in attendance also heard from his brother Yahdih, who lives and works in Germany, Nancy Hollander, Jo Glanville, the director of English PEN, and Jamie Byng of Canongate Books, Mohamedou’s UK publisher.

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

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).

Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.





 

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.

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“The Mauritanian” Perfectly Captures the Horrors of Guantánamo and the US Torture Program

The goody bag for the online screening of “The Mauritanian” that I was invited to attend last Friday, February 5, 2021.

Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.





 

UPDATE MAR. 3, 2021: “The Mauritanian” is now available for streaming in the US, although UK viewers will have to wait until April 1.

Last Friday I was privileged to be invited to an online pre-release screening of “The Mauritanian,” the new feature film about former Guantánamo prisoner and torture victim Mohamedou Ould Slahi (aka Salahi), based on his best-selling memoir Guantánamo Diary, which I cannot recommend highly enough.

French actor Tahar Rahim shines as Mohamedou, capturing his nimble mind, and also capturing something of his gentle charisma, admirably supported by his attorneys Nancy Hollander (played by Jodie Foster) and Teri Duncan (actually a composite of two attorneys, played by Shailene Woodley), and with Benedict Cumberbatch appearing as Lt. Col. Stuart Couch, Mohamedou’s military prosecutor, who resigned after discovering his torture, and how the only evidence against him consisted of statements that he made as a result of his torture.

The screenplay was written by Michael Bronner (as M. B. Traven), working with the writing duo of Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani, and the director was Kevin Macdonald, and all involved are to be commended for creating a film that does justice to Mohamedou’s story — and I’m grateful to Nancy Hollander for having specifically included a photo of herself holding up a “Close Guantánamo” poster in the end credits, which I took of her in April 2016 at a Parliamentary meeting for Mohamedou in London.

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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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