Video: Al-Jazeera’s Powerful and Important Documentary, “Life After Guantánamo”

After seven and a half years of researching and writing about the prisoners held in the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, it’s always refreshing to hear from former prisoners — and, in many cases, to see their faces and hear their voices for the very first time.

The highlights of “Life After Guantánamo,” Al-Jazeera America’s newly released documentary about Guantánamo (available below, via YouTube) are interviews with two released Yemeni prisoners, Mohammed Hassan Odaini (freed in July 2010), and Farouq Ali Ahmed (freed in December 2009). I told the story of Ahmed, the victim of two notoriously false allegations made by other prisoners, in an article following his release, and I told the story of Odaini, an innocent student seized in a house raid in Pakistan in March 2002, in a series of articles between May 2010, when he had his habeas corpus petition granted, and his release 48 days later (see here, here and here).

At the time, it was clear to me that both men were palpably innocent, and seeing and hearing them now only confirms it. Both are charming and articulate, working, married, and expecting their first children, and, importantly, neither man even remotely fulfils American fears that released Yemenis will “return to the battlefield.” Read the rest of this entry »

“Dirty Wars”: An Immensely Powerful Anti-War Film, Uncovering Obama’s Global “War on Terror”

On May 13, I was privileged to be invited to a London preview of “Dirty Wars,” the new documentary film, directed by Richard Rowley and focusing on the journalist Jeremy Scahill’s investigations into America’s global “war on terrorism” — not historically, but right here, right now under President Obama.

In particular, the film, which opens in the US this weekend, and is accurately described by the New York Times as “pessimistic, grimly outraged and utterly riveting,” follows Scahill, who wrote it with David Riker, and is also the narrator, as he uncovers the existence of the shadowy organization JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command, established by 1980, which is at the heart of the “dirty wars” being waged in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere.

I had seen rushes with representatives of the Center for Constitutional Rights at the London base of the Bertha Foundation, one of the backers of the film, last year, and I remembered the powerful sequences in Afghanistan, where Scahill found out about JSOC after meeting the survivors of a raid in Gardez by US forces in 2010 in which two pregnant women had been killed, and there had then been a cover-up.This involved US soldiers returning to the scene of their crime to remove bullets from the corpses — something difficult to forget once informed about. Read the rest of this entry »

Why We at “Close Guantánamo” Have Cautious Optimism Regarding President Obama’s Plans for the Prison

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with 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.

Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we are cautiously optimistic about the release of prisoners in the months to come, following promises made by President Obama in a major speech on national security on Thursday.

On Guantánamo, the President made three particular promises.

He said, “I am appointing a new, senior envoy at the State Department and Defense Department whose sole responsibility will be to achieve the transfer of detainees to third countries. I am lifting the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen, so we can review them on a case by case basis. To the greatest extent possible, we will transfer detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries.”

We’ve all heard fine words from the President before — when he was running for President, and when he took office in January 2009. On his second day in office, of course, he issued an executive order in which he promised to close Guantánamo within a year. Then, of course, uncomfortable realities arose. The President encountered political opposition, from Republicans and from members of his own party. His close advisers told him the effort to close the prison was not electorally worth the expenditure of political capital. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Hunger Strike: Obama Administration Hints at Progress on Releasing Yemenis

100 days after the majority of the remaining 166 prisoners in Guantánamo embarked on a hunger strike, and after a weekend of actions in the US, the UK and elsewhere to highlight the continuing injustice of the prison, the world is waiting — again — to hear from President Obama.

As news of the hunger strike filtered out of the prison in late February, and, throughout March, spread like wildfire throughout the world’s media, attracting criticism of the administration from the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations, as well as critical coverage in the US, President Obama remained silent.

Three weeks ago, President Obama finally broke his silence, delivering a speech at a news conference in which, as I explained here, he eloquently explained why Guantánamo is such an abomination, but failed to accept his own responsibility for the prison’s continued existence, blaming Congress and claiming that all he could do was to go back to lawmakers to seek their cooperation.

Whilst it is certainly true that lawmakers have raised huge obstacles to prevent the release of prisoners and the closure of the prison, it is also true that President Obama personally imposed a ban on releasing any of the cleared Yemenis who make up 56 of the 86 men still held whose release was recommended by the President’s own inter-agency task force back in January 2010, following a failed airline bomb plot on Christmas Day 2009, which was hatched in Yemen. Read the rest of this entry »

Close Guantánamo: President Obama, Drop Your Ban on Releasing Yemenis

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with 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.

Also please sign and share the petition on Change.org urging renewed action from President Obama to close Guantánamo, which now has nearly 200,000 signatures!

As the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo begins its fourth month, we at “Close Guantánamo” are concerned that men will die unless President Obama follows up on his fine words last week with actions to match his understanding of why the prison’s continued existence is so wrong. As he said, it is “critical for us to understand that Guantánamo is not necessary to keep America safe. It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counter-terrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.”

To close Guantánamo, as we have been urging, the President needs to do three particular things:

  1. To appoint a high-level official to deal specifically with the prison’s closure;
  2. To drop his ban on releasing the Yemenis who make up two-thirds of the 86 prisoners cleared for release by the President ‘s own inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, which he imposed in January 2010 after the arrest of the Yemen-trained would-be plane bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab;
  3. Either to tackle Congress regarding the imposition of obstacles preventing the release of prisoners, or to use the waiver in the legislation (the National Defense Authorization Act) that allows him to bypass Congress if he regards it as being in America’s best interests.

Bringing the appalling injustice of Guantánamo to an end is, we believe, very much in America’s best interests. Read the rest of this entry »

Families of US Citizens Killed in Drone Attacks in Yemen Take Obama Officials to Court

Yesterday, in New York, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit (PDF) accusing US defense secretary Leon Panetta, CIA director David Petraeus, and William McRaven and Joseph Votel, the commanders of Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), of violating the Constitution and international law when they authorized and directed drone strikes that resulted in the deaths of three US citizens in Yemen last year — Anwar al-Aulaqi (aka al-Awlaki) and Samir Khan in a strike on September 30, 2011, which I wrote about here, and al-Aulaqi’s 16-year old son, Abdulrahman al-Aulaqi, in another strike on October 14, 2011, at an open-air restaurant (a strike that killed at least seven people, including another child, Abdulrahman’s 17-year old cousin).

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Nasser Al-Aulaqi, the father and grandfather of Anwar and Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi, and Sarah Khan, the mother of Samir Khan, and please see below a heart-breaking video of Nasser al-Aulaqi speaking about his grandson, in which he explains, “I want Americans to know about my grandson. He was a very nice boy he was very caring boy … I never thought that one day this boy, this nice boy, will be killed by his own government for no wrong he did certainly.” Abdulrahman had no connection to terrorism, and had merely been trying to find his father, who he missed, having last seen him before he went into hiding in 2009.   Read the rest of this entry »

Death from Afar: The Unaccountable Killing of Anwar Al-Awlaki

What a strange and alarming place we’re in, when the US government, under a Democratic President, kills two US citizens it dislikes for their thoughts and their words, without formally charging them with any crime, or trying or convicting them, using an unmanned drone directed by US personnel many thousands of miles away.

And yet, that is what happened on Friday, when Anwar Al-Awlaki (aka al-Awlaqi, or Aulaqi) and Samir Khan, both US citizens, were killed in a drone strike in Yemen, along with several companions. Al-Awlaki, an imam who had left the US in 2002, had aroused the US government’s wrath because his anti-American sermons were in English, and readily available online, and because he openly advocated violence against the United States.

It has also been widely reported that he apparently met three of the 9/11 hijackers, that he had been in email contact with Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the sole suspect in the killing of 13 military personnel at Fort Hood, in Texas, in November 2009, who he later reportedly described as a “hero,” and that he was allegedly involved in planning the failed plane bombing on a flight into Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, for which a Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was arrested. Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington Discusses Al-Qaeda Film “The Oath” on Press TV

Recently, I was happy to follow up on my discussion on Press TV of “You Don’t Like the Truth,” the harrowing documentary about Guantánamo’s former child prisoner Omar Khadr, with another discussion, this time about “The Oath,” an extraordinary documentary by American filmmaker Laura Poitras. See here and here for the two parts of the Omar Khadr show.

Filmed in Yemen, Poitras’ film follows Abu Jandal (aka Nasser al-Bahri), a former bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, who left al-Qaeda before the 9/11 attacks, and was imprisoned in Yemen when the attacks took place. He then became an extraordinarily valuable informant for the FBI, and was eventually freed. When Poitras met him, he was driving a cab in Sana’a, a charismatic figure, who, nevertheless, is either conflicted or ambiguous when it comes to his beliefs.

What is clear throughout, while Abu Jandal espouses his love of jihad but his hatred of terrorism, is his guilt that his brother-in-law, Salim Hamdan, for whom he secured paid work as a driver for Osama bin Laden, was still held in Guantánamo at the time the film was made, while he was a free man in Yemen. Hamdan was eventually freed at the end of 2008, after he became the first prisoner to be tried in a war crimes trial following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Read the rest of this entry »

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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, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer (The State of London).
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