Video: Calling For The Closure Of Guantánamo Outside The White House On The 18th Anniversary Of The Opening Of The Prison
Above Photo: Andy Worthington outside the White House on January 11, 2020, calling for the closure of the prison on the 18th anniversary of its opening (Photo: Witness Against Torture).
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I was there as a representative of Close Guantánamo, an organization I established eight years ago — on the tenth anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo — with the attorney Tom Wilner, and I was delighted to be part of a line-up of speakers that included representatives of numerous other campaigning groups and lawyers’ organizations — Amnesty International USA, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Justice for Muslims Collective, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and Witness Against Torture, to name just a few, as well as some other individuals playing music and performing spoken word pieces.
The video is posted below, via the Center for Constitutional Rights’ Facebook page, and I hope that you have time to watch it in its entirety. If you want to see what happened when I distilled a year’s worth of rage and indignation at Guantánamo’s continued existence into four minutes, my speech begins around 55 minutes in.
As in most years, we were allowed to congregate outside the White House, and, on an alarmingly warm afternoon (hello, climate change), we were joined by a committed crowd of supporters, as well as drawing in passers-by, attracted by the theatrical presence of many dozens of campaigners — from Witness Against Torture, whose supporters had been fasting and holding actions across the capital all week — and who, as usual, were hooded, and wearing orange jumpsuits to remember the men still held at Guantánamo, and to recall those released, as well as those who have died at the prison over the last nine years.
In ten years, there has never been a surfeit of hope regarding Guantánamo. Even in that first year, at the start of Barack Obama’s third year as president, robust hope for the prison’s closure — which, I imagine, must have been readily apparent in 2009, just before Obama’s inauguration — had been dashed, because Obama, despite openly campaigning to close Guantánamo, and promising to close it within a year on his second day in office, had failed to do so.
One of our lowest ebbs was in 2013, just before the start of President Obama’s second term in office, when he had, for over two years, almost entirely stopped releasing any prisoners because of obstruction by Republicans in Congress, even though, at the time, 86 of the 166 men still held had been approved for release by a high-level government review process — the Guantánamo Review Task Force — that he himself had established when he first took office. The prisoners themselves eventually forced him to resume releasing them, by embarking on a prison-wide hunger strike in February 2013, which reminded the world of the shameful ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and led to widespread international criticism of Obama’s inaction.
The second low ebb was, unsurprisingly, three years ago, on the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration. The year, we were caught in a limbo between presidents. President Obama was releasing prisoners until his last day in office to try, belatedly, to redeem himself, but his failure to close Guantánamo made the grim truth ever more apparent with every passing moment: that he was now handing it on to Donald Trump, a known racist and Islamophobe, who had already tweeted his first order about the prison — “There must be no more releases from Gitmo” — the week before our rally.
2018 was also a bad year, as Trump was true to his word, and released no one in his first 12 months, for the first time in Guantánamo’s history. By 2019, however, there was a glimmer of hope, as Democrats took control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections in November 2018, and campaigners began scheduling meetings with key representatives on House committees, to get Guantánamo back on the radar.
And this year that glimmer of hope continued to flicker, despite Trump’s outrageous assassination of Passim Suleimani, which threatened to precipitate World War 3, and for no discernible reason except his efforts to provide a distraction from his impeachment.
Perhaps partly because it’s an election year, perhaps partly because the only way to avoid despair under Donald Trump is through relentless resistance, there was a real energy to this year’s rally — and a commitment, of course, to finding a way to keep that energy alive through this election year, to try and ensure that Donald Trump is not re-elected as president, and to try and make sure that Republicans lose their majority in the Senate, so that the closure of Guantánamo can once more be up for discussion. After eight years of Obama, and his failure to close Guantánamo, I have no illusions that the Democrats, in general, have any particular enthusiasm for closing Guantánamo, but the blunt truth right now is that, under Trump and this particular manifestation of the Republican Party, absolutely no progress is possible — and that therefore, for this reason alone (although there are, of course, very many others), the Republicans must be removed from power in November.
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Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, 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 (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) 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), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from seven years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.
In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new 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 resistance 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.