Act Now or Face Extinction: My Birthday Present From the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

A car driver in California watches a wildfire spread on December 6, 2017 (Photo: Noah Berger/AP).

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Today is my birthday.

59 years ago, in Salford Maternity Hospital, my mother brought me into this world during one of the coldest winters in modern history, believed to have been the coldest since the winter of 1739-40.

59 years on from my birth, as I reflect on all that has happened to me in the 21,550 days of my life — all my struggles, my achievements, my loves, my joys, my sorrows, and my persistent inability not to question what those in authority tell me — and as I also reflect on the political and cultural changes of these many decades, I am struck by how this is all in the past, and how the pulse of life itself, which inhabits a continuous present that so many of us struggle to accept, is now located in a world in which bleak winters, like that of 1962-63, will never happen again.

When we look at why that is, one abiding truth becomes clear. Life on earth is a chemical miracle, one that requires a fine balance between its various components to maintain an atmosphere in which life is abundant. We know of nowhere else in the universe where life teems as it does on earth, and yet, because of capitalist greed and hubris, and a dangerous disconnection from nature, we are undermining the miracle of life, changing the atmosphere, primarily through our use of fossil fuels, into one that that will make the world inhospitable.

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“Forever Prisoner” at Guantánamo: The Shameful Ongoing Imprisonment of Khaled Qassim

Guantánamo prisoner Khaled Qassim (aka Khalid Qasim), in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011. Please be aware that this photo doesn’t reflect what Khaled looks like now, as it was taken 14 or 15 years ago, when he was around 30 years old. According to his birthdate in the Pentagon’s records, he has just marked his 45th birthday, and in May will have been held at Guantánamo for 20 years without charge or trial.

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On the 20th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay — a disgraceful anniversary that should never have come to pass — President Biden sought to divert attention from his general inaction on Guantánamo in his first year in office by announcing that five men had been approved for release from the prison by Periodic Review Boards, a parole-type process established under President Obama. 

What was less widely reported was that another prisoner, Khaled Qassim (aka Khalid Qasim), held for nearly 20 years, had his ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial approved by a Periodic Review Board, not because of any crime he has committed — the board members recognised his “low level of training and lack of leadership in al Qaida or the Taliban” — but because of his “inability to manage his emotions and actions”, his “high level of significant non-compliance in the last year”, and his “lack of plans for the future if released.”

The decision reveals a fundamental weakness in the PRB system, a purely administrative process, which is not legally binding, and has, essentially, replaced reviews of prisoners’ cases in the courts via habeas corpus petitions — a process that led to dozens of prisoners having their release ordered by the courts between 2008 and 2010, when cynical, politically motivated appeals court judges passed rulings that shut the process down.

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Remembering the Stonehenge Free Festival 37 Years On, and the Video of Last Year’s Virtual Stonehenge Festival

A photo of celebrants/campaigners at Stonehenge on June 21, 2021, who occupied the stones despite a call by English Heritage for people to stay away because of Covid regulations (Photo: Reuters).

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Happy summer solstice, everyone, wherever you are. I’m in London, where it’s overcast and drizzly, as it is across much of southern England, but although I’d love to be basking in the sun, I’m also rather enjoying how, today, Mother Nature is dominant in a different way, as a few people scurry about under umbrellas, while everything green and rooted happily soaks up the rain. In addition, although I’m not at all happy about the economic hardship that an extra month of lockdown will mean for businesses that were hoping to reopen today, concerns about the rising numbers of Covid infections are genuine, and part of me is relieved that Boris Johnson didn’t succeed in declaring the summer solstice as ‘Freedom Day’, as he originally intended.

Today, like every summer solstice, I’m also thinking about Stonehenge, the ancient iconic temple in Wiltshire, where, on several occasions in my life, I’ve spent the summer solstice — twice at the Stonehenge Free Festival, in 1983 and 1984, and on five occasions from 2001 to 2005, at the ‘Managed Open Access’ events organised by English Heritage, the body that manages Stonehenge on behalf of the government.

Stonehenge, of course, remains enigmatic about issues of ownership, as it has done for thousands of years. Those who created it aligned its main axis on the summer solstice and the winter solstice, but left no written records to indicate what its purpose was, and over the years the state, archaeologists, neo-pagans, anarchists, festival-goers and curious members of the public have all staked a claim on its significance, and on its central cosmic axis.

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Video: Mansoor Adayfi, James Yee and I Discuss Guantánamo and Its Closure in a Zoom Event Organized by Veterans’ and Peace Groups in California

A screenshot of a Zoom event about Guantánamo, organized by veterans’ and peace groups, primarily in California, which took place on Feb. 21, featuring Andy Worthington, Mansoor Adayfi and James Yee as speakers.

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A week last Sunday, February 21, I was delighted to take part in a panel discussion about Guantánamo with former prisoner Mansoor Adayfi, a talented, Yemeni-born author, who was resettled in Serbia in 2016 (and whose memoir, “Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantánamo,” will be published this August), and James Yee, the former Muslim chaplain at Guantánamo, who, for two months in 2003, was wrongly imprisoned as a spy.

The meeting was organized by a number of activist groups in California — Veterans for Peace Los Angeles, the Peace Resource Center of San Diego, the Long Beach Area Peace Network, the MLK Coalition of Greater Los Angeles and ANSWER Los Angeles, as well as the national Veterans for Peace, CODEPINK: Women for Peace, and Close Guantánamo, which I co-founded with the US attorney Tom Wilner in 2012 to campaign for the prison’s closure, and it was streamed live on Facebook.

I’m pleased to discover that it has now been made available on YouTube, on the Veterans for Peace YouTube channel, and I’ve posted it below. I hope you have time to watch it, and that you’ll share it if you find it useful.

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Radio: I Discuss London’s Housing Crisis and Covid’s Impact on Business Rents with Andy Bungay, Plus Three Four Fathers Songs

A deserted Piccadilly Circus on Christmas Day, 2020, an unpublished photo from Andy Worthington’s photo-journalism project ‘The State of London.’

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Recently I spoke to Andy Bungay of Riverside Radio, a community radio station in Wandsworth, for his show ‘The Chiminea’, which was broadcast on Boxing Day, and is available here on Mixcloud.

Andy and I have been speaking for several years, and it’s always great to talk to him.  Our 50-minute segment of the two and a half hour show began just under 21 minutes in, when Andy played ‘Fighting Injustice’, the first of three songs by my band The Four Fathers, which has long been a live favourite, and whose chorus is something of a mantra of mine — “If you ain’t fighting injustice / You’re living on the dark side.”

We then began our discussion by taking about my photo-journalism project ‘The State of London’, which I began in 2012, and which involves me cycling and taking photos on a daily basis throughout London’s 120 postcodes, and, since 2017, posting a photo a day, with an accompanying story, on Facebook.

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Radio: I Discuss Hopes for Guantánamo’s Closure Under Joe Biden, and Julian Assange’s Extradition, with Chris Cook on Gorilla Radio

A composite image of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on the day it opened, January 11, 2002, and WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange.

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Chris Cook, in Victoria, British Columbia, hosts a great weekly progressive radio show, Gorilla Radio, and I’m delighted to have been talking to him on a regular basis — mostly about Guantánamo — for many years now.

I spoke to Chris recently for an hour, and you can find the show on his website here, and also here as an MP3. A shorter version of the interview was included in the show that was broadcast on December 17, featuring journalist and author John Helmer in the first half (and the MP3 of that show is here).

I began by providing a brief history of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, which will mark the shameful 19th anniversary of its opening in just three weeks’ time, and I stressed how, under Donald Trump, the prison has essentially been sealed shut for the last four years. Bearing that in mind, there is now hope that, at the very least, some of the remaining 40 prisoners will be freed, and there will progress towards the prison’s closure.

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Radio: I Discuss The Future of Guantánamo Under Joe Biden with Andy Bungay and Colin Crilly in South London

A screenshot from Mixcloud of Andy Bungay’s show ‘The Chiminea’ on Riverside Radio in Battersea on November 22, 2020, also featuring Colin Crilly.

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On Saturday, I was delighted to take part in a remotely recorded radio show for Riverside Radio, a community station in Battersea, with Andy Bungay, who hosts ‘The Chiminea’, the 11pm to 2am slot on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and his colleague Colin Crilly.

Our interview starts about 27 minutes into the two-hour show, which is available on Mixcloud here, and Andy began by playing ‘This Time We Win’, a recently released eco-anthem by my band The Four Fathers, recorded with and featuring the great Charlie Hart on keyboards.

I then introduced myself, particularly mentioning my Guantánamo work, which I’ve been undertaking for the last 15 years, and my photo-journalism project ‘The State of London.’ We talked about the successful campaign to secure the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who was held for 14 years without charge or trial, but was eventually released five years ago, on October 30, 2015, as I noted on Facebook, following up with a photo from a Parliamentary reception for Shaker, hosted by Jeremy Corbyn, which took place on November 17, 2015.

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Keeping Live Music and Performance Alive in a Covid Lockdown Culture

The Four Fathers’ gig on October 31, 2020, successfully completed before the second Covid lockdown starts on November 5.

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I was preparing to play a gig — yes, an actual gig! — on Saturday evening, with my band The Four Fathers, when news of a second lockdown in England was finally confirmed by the government. It wasn’t surprising, because infection rates had been steadily rising, but the government — as indecisive as ever — had missed the opportunity to impose a two-week “circuit breaker” lockdown to coincide with half-term, as recommended by medical experts, and was now, belatedly, announcing a four-week lockdown instead, starting on Thursday, November 5, and lasting until December 2.

Unlike the first time around, though, the government announced that schools and universities were to stay open, even though what are regarded as “non-essential” shops and businesses will be required to shut, imperilling the future of countless small businesses, who had just begun to find their feet, and who must now be facing, in numerous cases, a fatal loss of business in the run-up to Christmas. Even if they are allowed to reopen on December 3, it seems pretty certain that Amazon and a host of other online retailers — many in the “fast fashion” business, and many with dodgy employment practices — will be making a fortune while nailing shut the coffins of high streets across the land.

To impose this kind of sweeping lockdown for an entire month while leaving schools and universities open is exactly the kind of muddled thinking on the government’s part that — even putting aside for a moment their cronyism, corruption, and obsession with incompetent, overpaid corporate service providers to do jobs that should be provided by health professionals — will enrage and alienate people, whilst also failing to actually tackle the problems of rising infection rates.

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Covid Lockdown: Video of My Band The Four Fathers Playing at a Small Party in a London Park That Would Now Be Illegal

A screenshot of The Four Fathers playing in a park in south London on August 29, 2020.

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On the August Bank Holiday weekend, my band The Four Fathers played a largely acoustic set — and then joined other musicians in a jam session — as part of a little party in our local park in south London, parts of which were filmed by our bassist’s daughter, and which now constitute a record of what London looked like five months after the government first declared a lockdown to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

The party normally takes place in a friend’s house, but this year, because of Covid-19, everyone concerned recognised that even a well-behaved house party wasn’t acceptable at the time, and so the proposal to move it to our local park was suggested instead.

In the earliest days of lockdown, London’s parks were patrolled by the police and local officials to make sure that no one stopped or mingled during their allotted one hour of exercise a day, but, as the peak of the panic passed, parks then became the focal point of human interaction, and while there were some obvious examples of slightly reckless behaviour — parties of young people drinking late into the night, provoking the wrath of the curtain-twitching brigade — for the most part people were aware of social distancing, and were simply trying to balance the need to avoid spreading the virus with an equally important need to socialise.

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Check Out The Four Fathers’ Video Trilogy from Our Pre-Covid Charlie Hart Sessions

A screenshot from The Four Fathers’ YouTube channel.

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Since the coronavirus hit, my band The Four Fathers have, like most musicians, been unable to do much at all. Initially isolated from each other — and with our bassist Paul having moved to San Francisco — we didn’t get together until June, when we played a few songs for my friend Neil Goodwin’s Virtual Stonehenge Free Festival, available on YouTube here.

Paul then returned from San Francisco, which was good news for us, and we’ve rehearsed a few times since, but, unsurprisingly, we haven’t played any gigs, although we did manage to release three new studio recordings, which we recorded in December with the great Charlie Hart, who, in a 50-year career, has played in Kilburn and the High Roads with Ian Dury, and in Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance, has produced music for the legendary Congolese singer Samba Mapangala, and currently plays in a revived Slim Chance and in his own band The Equators, an extraordinary world-jazz-blues group of extremely talented musicians.

The recordings were of three new songs that I wrote in 2018/19, all available on Bandcamp, where they can be purchased as downloads: The Wheel of Life, a meditation on mortality and living in the moment, This Time We Win, an eco-anthem inspired by Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion, on which Charlie plays Wurlitzer piano, and Affordable, a punky blast of rock and roll about lying politicians and the housing crisis.

We also followed up the release of the new recordings with experimental videos using found footage that were made by our drummer Bren Horstead.

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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).
Email Andy Worthington

CD: Love and War

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The Guantánamo Files

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The Battle of the Beanfield

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion book cover

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

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Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo

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