January 19, 2014
On Thursday evening, as part of my 12-day "Close Guantánamo Now" tour (supported by the World Can’t Wait), which came to an end at Cal Poly in Pomona yesterday, I was at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Anaheim, California with my friend and colleague Jason Leopold, speaking about Guantánamo, funnily enough. Jason and I have known each other for many years, and it’s always a pleasure to take part in events with him, and to hang out with him.
The full video of the event — at which I delivered a 20-minute speech, Jason spoke for half an hour, and there was then a lively Q&A session for 35 minutes — is posted below, and I thank the filmmaker, Ted Shapin, for recording it and making it available. For earlier events, see the videos of New York here, and of Washington D.C. here.
After two days in New York, two days in Washington D.C., and three days in San Francisco, I arrived in Los Angeles on an absurdly early flight on Wednesday morning, to be met at the airport by Jason and taken to his favourite coffee shop, Urth Caffe in Beverly Hills, followed by a bagel across the road at The Original Brooklyn Water Bagel Co., another Los Angeles institution.
Jason then took me for my lunchtime appointment — as the keynote speaker at a luncheon at a Methodist church, in honor of Martin Luther King, which was arranged by Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, a Los Angeles area interfaith coalition who describe themselves as being "united behind the message that religious communities must stop blessing war and violence."
My speech was very well received, and was followed by two performers drawing on publicly available documents to bring the stories of hunger striking prisoners to life, and then powerful contributions by two local religious leaders, the Rev. Dr. Art Cribbs of CLUE-LA (Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice), who is a wonderfully eloquent and powerful speaker, and Edina Lekovic of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, whose insights were also much appreciated. Jason then took me to where I was staying, with a World Can’t Wait supporter, in the Hollywood Hills — amazingly, close to the world-famous "Hollywood" sign — and picked me up later for our evening event, a screening of the documentary film, "Doctors of the Dark Side," at Revolution Books on Hollywood Boulevard, followed by a Q&A with the two of us.
During the hour and a quarter the film was showing, Jason took me on a tour of Hollywood Boulevard while we continued to catch up and strategize — allowing me to see, for the first time, the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame, or part of it at least, and the iconic Capitol Records Building, and we then returned for the Q&A, to talk about the issues raised in the film, as well as to bring the story up to date for the 12th anniversary of the opening of the prison, with me giving an account of Guantánamo’s origins, and, in particular, its story under President Obama, and Jason reporting about his recent visits to the prison.
Our talks at Revolution Books weren’t filmed, so it was great that Thursday’s event in Anaheim was recorded, to capture Jason and I in what I think was rather fine form.
I don’t want to give too much away from Jason’s talk, as it’s a great account of how sad and surreal it is to visit Guantánamo. This was apparent from the very beginning, when, as Jason explained, the visitor is confronted with the Joint Task Force’s motto, "Safe, Humane, Legal, Transparent," (a collection of words to describe the prison that a talented satirist would be hard pressed to better), running through to the revelation that the authorities’ provision of details about the hunger strike stopped (on December 2) because it was "too successful," and Jason’s observations that the men still held are noticeably getting older and more ill with each passing year.
This is a situation that, as I added, is made all the more absurd and painful because there is no reason for this bleak and soul-destroying charade to still be in existence, and it is only a lack of political will that is keeping it going. Jason also noted that skilled medical personnel are now being flown to Guantánamo on a regular basis to deal with certain prisoners’ deteriorating health, and stated that the authorities were seriously worried that prisoners would die — not out of concern for the men, as such, but because it would be a PR disaster.
Ironically, high-level attempts to address this problem — through passages inserted into this year’s National Defense Authorization Act by the Senate (originating under the leadership of Sen. Carl Levin as the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee), which were designed to allow the president to bring prisoners from Guantánamo to the US mainland for urgent medical treatment (as well as for trials and, in some cases, until legal challenges can be mounted, for ongoing detention without charge or trial) — were defeated in the compromise bill that had to be thrashed out with the Republican-dominated House of Representatives, who, predictably, initially passed their own version of the bill which contained more restrictions than ever before.
The good news, as I spoke about in my talk (and mentioned throughout my tour), is that the Senate prevailed in its proposals to ease the restrictions on releasing prisoners that, for three years, meant that only five men were freed from Guantánamo, and as we have seen in the last few months, eleven prisoners were released before the end of the year. However, President Obama urgently needs to release the other 76 prisoners — out of 155 men in total — who have been cleared for release (all but one of them since January 2010, and some since 2006-07, under President Bush).
As well keeping pressure on him to do this, we who are concerned to close Guantánamo also need to work out whether pressure on the president or on Congress will be the best course of action to ensure that overcoming the ban on transfers to the US is lifted. Without it happening, there is no hope that Guantánamo can be closed. Watch this space for further details, and please feel free to contact me if you have suggestions and/or want to be involved.
In the meantime, I hope you have time to watch the video of Jason and I, and to share it if you find it useful.
Please note: If you’re in Washington D.C. next Tuesday, January 21, between 5.30 and 6 pm, or can be there, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, along with other faith organizations, are sponsoring an Interfaith Candlelight Prayer Vigil outside the White House, on the eve of the 5th anniversary of President Obama’s Executive Order in which he promised to close Guantánamo within a year. As NRCAT state: "Everyone is welcome to join us as we lift up in prayer the tortured, the abused, the forgotten at Guantánamo and once again remind President Obama of his promises to close Guantánamo." See the flyer here and the announcement here.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the "Close Guantánamo" campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for 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).
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 four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and "The Complete Guantánamo Files," an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
Please also consider joining the "Close Guantánamo" campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.