Monday, January 18, 2016

History in the Making: 14 years of Guantánamo Bay

As we have done every year since 2008, the London Guantánamo Campaign organised the main UK event to mark the anniversary of the opening of the US military-run Guantánamo Bay prison camp. As in recent years, it was one of the largest events worldwide, with possibly only a larger protest coordinated by a coalition of US organisations outside the White House in Washington DC. More than 100 people joined the London Guantánamo Campaign (LGC) on a very cold evening for a candlelight vigil, demonstrating the commitment to human rights of the British people and the desire to see Guantánamo closed even after all the British nationals and residents have returned.

Shaker Aamer lights candles at the candlelight vigil
Former prisoner Moazzam Begg
This year’s event, on the evening of Monday 11th January, entitled “History in the Making”, had a sense of urgency to it: as Guantánamo Bay enters the fifteenth year of its regime of torture and indefinite detention without trial, Barack Obama enters the final year of his second term as president of the United States. It is now six years since he promised to close Guantánamo by January 2010, in an executive decree he signed in one of his first acts as president. With less than one year left to go of his presidency, questions have been raised as to whether he can and will deliver on his many promises to close Guantánamo Bay.

Although there was good news on the day with the repatriation of Saudi Mohammad Abdul Rahman al Shumrani, one of 17 prisoners due to be released this month, the LGC is particularly concerned about the fate of those prisoners who, after 14 years, have not been cleared for release and have not been charged, as expressed in our media release. Obama’s plan appears to be not to close Guantánamo and end indefinite detention but to close the facility and transfer the remaining prisoners elsewhere. The LGC’s rejection of this proposal was made clear on our main banner for the protest: “Shut Guantanamo – Don’t Move It”.
The LGC is pleased to have been joined by a number of former British nationals and residents who were previously held at Guantánamo Bay. With the exception of Shaker Aamer, released in October 2015, all have joined LGC events in the past, but we have not pointed them out in the past, and did not point them out on this occasion, out of respect for their privacy. Former prisoners Moazzam Begg, who was released in 2005, and Shaker Aamer, in his first unmediated address to the public (video below), spoke at the vigil. It was an honour for the LGC to have these two former prisoners share their feelings and views on the 14th anniversary of Guantánamo with us, and to join us in standing in solidarity with the remaining prisoners.

Jean Lambert MEP
As an open mic event, there were no scheduled speakers. Contributions were also made by Jean Lambert, Green MEP for London, Sheikh Suliman Gani from Tooting Mosque, Lindsey German from the Stop The War Coalition, American peace activist Paul Polansky, John Clossick and Ray Silk from the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, and campaigners Hamja Ahsan, Peter Tatchell and Dr David Nichol. The event was compered by David Harrold from the LGC and Val Brown from the LGC also spoke about the case of Omar Khadr. 

The LGC was also joined by other prisoner support campaigns, including for Chelsea Manning, and a contribution was also made at the mic by the daughter of Munir Farooqi, a British man currently serving 4 life sentences for terrorism after being set up by undercover police officers. 

Other prisoners whose cases the LGC supports were mentioned, including Dr Aafia Siddiqui and Shawki Ahmed Omar. CND director Kate Hudson gave her apologies for not being able to join activists. Statements were also read out on behalf of Guantánamo lawyers Barry Wingard, whose client Fayiz Al-Kandari returned to Kuwait on 9 January, and Nancy Hollander, who provided a statement about her client, Guantánamo Diary author Mohamedou Ould Slahi (please see below).

As well as an open mic, Sheikh Suliman Gani led activists in reading out the names of the remaining 103 prisoners (there are currently 93) and calls for each of them to be set free. 

The London Guantánamo Campaign will be back outside the US Embassy on 4 February at 12pm for our first monthly Shut Guantánamo! demonstration of 2016, and the 9th anniversary of our regular protests demanding that Guantánamo closes, outside the Embassy.

Bernard Sullivan, who joined the anniversary vigil for the first time this year, spoke at the vigil and later shared his thoughts about it:

"Jottings on a Guantanamo Vigil"
I met Shaker Aamer today, and between his media interviews and speeches to the gathering outside the US embassy marking the 14th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo, had the opportunity to speak with him. I found an exceptional character, open, friendly, charismatic, and a motivational orator, who expressed a strong belief in one human race, without distinction of colour, religion or race. A living example of how the human spirit can not only survive the terrible ordeal that he was put through, but can grow enormously from it. He was overwhelmed by the fact that while incarcerated for years with nothing to do but sit in his 6 x 8 cell, many outside with jobs, families, children and many other responsibilities, had given up years of their time to campaign for him and his fellow detainees.
As an active supporter for the closure of Guantanamo of a mere three months standing, I found myself in awe of those around me, but determined to stand with them until the human rights hypocrisy that is Guantanamo is closed for good, and the many innocents held within, are truly free.
Only then, can the USA and its supporting allies begin to emerge from this darkest shadow of their own making, and try to restore the catastrophic loss of trust of countless people around the globe.”
The LGC thanks everyone who joined us and stood with us in solidarity with the prisoners still held at Guantánamo Bay.

Statement by Barry Wingard about his client Fayiz Al-Kandari who was released to Kuwait on Saturday 9 January:

“It has been a long fourteen year road to show that the United States Government had no actual evidence against Fayiz.

It should really come as no surprise, of the 779 men held in Cuba's most notorious prison, fewer than 15 will be given a kangaroo proceeding in the military commissions.  Almost all the guys getting trial "like" proceedings were brought to GTMO from CIA torture sites in 2006 to "scare up the place."

I look forward to seeing Fayiz and his family back in Kuwait where he should have been for the last fourteen years of his life.  I know Fayiz is too smart to hold a grudge as he would say "being angry at others gives them power over you, be strong and ignore those who seek to do you harm.  In that way you show you are stronger than them."
Well Fayiz, time to get on with the rest of our lives as we have both been freed from GTMO.  Time to find your wife and start your family my friend.  Let me be the first to welcome you back.”

Statement by Nancy Hollander about her client Mohamedou Ould Slahi, best-selling author, the last Mauritanian in Guantánamo and extraordinary rendition victim, who has yet to be cleared for release:

“I speak to you on behalf of Mohamedou Ould Slahi. I know he would want to thank everyone for your commitment to demand that Guantanamo be closed, that everyone who is not being prosecuted be sent home or to a third country and that that those facing prosecution be tried in a regular United States court with all the constitutional protections that apply to every person---citizen and alien---who is charged with crimes against the United States. Closing Guantanamo means closing it forever, not moving it to another location. Mohamedou Ould Slahi has been incarcerated by the United States for fourteen years. He is an innocent man who has never been charged with any crime. Although he was tortured, he remains unbroken. His dignity, humor and humanity are available for all to see in his memoir, Guantanamo Diary, now available in 21 countries and 19 languages. We will not cease our efforts until he is free. ”

Sheikh Suliman Gani with Shaker Aamer

Further media of this event:

1 comment:

  1. It is heartwarming to see that there are still so many, after 14 years of official procrastinating stonewalling, prepared to turn out on a winter's night to hold government's to account for state-sanctioned criminality, inhumanity, cruelty and illegality.