Monday, January 12, 2015

“Is This Who We Are?”: London Marks 13 Years of Guantánamo Bay

Report by Aisha Maniar

courtesy of Faiz Baluch

Reading the Sunday newspapers on 11 January, one may be excused for not knowing that the date marks 13 years since the US-run concentration camp at Guantánamo Camp opened on 11 January 2002. The ongoing hunger strike and regime of indefinite detention for 127 prisoners almost all held wholly without charge or trial for so many years was barely worth a mention. To a media hungry for the next sensationalist scare story, torture and arbitrary detention are possibly too real. Providing little more than a pretext to justify the illegal actions of governments worldwide, the suffering of the remaining prisoners and their families otherwise lacks importance.
street theatre

This did not stop human rights activists across the world holding protest actions to mark this sombre anniversary. Protest actions were held in the UK, Ireland, Mexico and the US. In Australia, activists and singer-songwriter Les Thomas launched a new song “Guantanamo Blues” In the evening, activists around the world joined the London Guantánamo Campaign and Free Omar Khadr Now for an online Twitter storm.
street theatre

In the afternoon, around 150 people joined the London Guantánamo Campaign for a unique protest action outside the US Embassy in London. As organisers of the main UK protest to mark the anniversary of Guantánamo opening over the past 8 years, people often expect to turn up to a sea of orange jumpsuits, black hoods and angry chanting. This year we adopted a very different approach. Realising that 13 years on, not only are people immune and accustomed to the abuses that occur at Guantánamo Bay on a daily basis, many are simply unaware altogether. With such little coherent coverage it is hard to know what is really happening. To address this, we performed a piece of street theatre called “The Three Obamas”, in which three actors, and some support, re-enacted various statements and promises Barack Obama has made since 2008 about closing Guantánamo Bay. As president, his first action in 2009 was to sign a decree ordering the closure of Guantánamo Bay by 2010. Five years later, 127 men are still waiting.
Noa Kleinman, Amnesty International UK
courtesy of Faiz Baluch
The street theatre was in two parts to reflect the period between 2011 and 2013, when Obama acknowledged his broken promises with silence and the start of the ongoing hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay which brought the prison camp back under the spotlight.

Ben Griffin, Veterans for Peace UK
Joy Hurcombe, Save Shaker Aamer Campaign

Jean Lambert, Green MEP for London

During the “intermission” between the two parts, activists were addressed by speakers including solicitor for several British nationals held in Guantánamo Bay, Louise Christian, London Green MEP Jean Lambert, Noa Kleinman from Amnesty International UK, Ben Griffin from Veterans for Peace UK and Joy Hurcombe from the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign. It has now been 10 years since the last British nationals were released from Guantánamo Bay. 
Louise Christian, solicitor

While the street theatre performance highlighted the hypocrisy of the US administration over Guantánamo Bay and CIA torture, the speakers focused mainly on the collusion of the British government. Pointing out that this year also marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, it is ludicrous that British resident Shaker Aamer remains in Guantánamo Bay after 13 years without charge or trial. Speakers also called for an independent torture inquiry into the UK’s collusion with the US and transparency over Britain’s role in the US’s wars on terror. Joy Hurcombe reminded people that David Cameron will be meeting President Obama later this month and urged people to write to the prime minister and their MP to urge that the question of Shaker Aamer’s release to the UK feature high up the meeting agenda. In an election year, this is also a perfect opportunity to raise your concerns about Guantánamo Bay with local election candidates.

courtesy of Faiz Baluch
After 13 years, this is indeed who we are, along with the US and all its other allies. In the meantime, the campaign to close Guantánamo will continue and we hope you will join us. The London Guantánamo thanks everyone who joined us for a successful and enlightening event, in particular the actors, singers and props persons involved in the street theatre performance. Special thanks to our speakers for sharing their expertise and concerns with us and to Occupy London for providing live streaming throughout the event.

In case you missed or did not get enough yesterday, the Islam Channel will feature a one-hour special about the anniversary action on “The Report” at 9pm on Monday 12 January, on Sky channel 806 and Freeview.

Media of the event:

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