Seven Years of Guantánamo Bay: London ActionsTagged as:
Published by group: London Guantánamo Campaign
Sunday 11 January 2009 marked seven years of lawlessness, torture, abuse, arbitrary detention and all the extralegal excesses committed by the Bush administration in the name of the "war on terror" as the detention and torture camp at Guantánamo Bay "celebrated" its seventh birthday.
Along with pictures of dead Iraqi children and the manmade tragedy following Hurricane Katrina, the orange jumpsuits, shackles and black hoods worn by the Guantánamo detainees will be one of the enduring images of the Bush administration for generations to come.
Related article: Binyam's Story: From Ladbroke Grove to GTMO
President Barack Obama made a pledge in his election manifesto to close Guantánamo Bay and to end the use of torture. In recent days, in the run up to his inauguration, he has wavered on this commitment. For seven years, the world has sat by, acquiesced and given a silent nod to the illegality that is Guantánamo Bay and the countless nameless and faceless other illegal jails set up by the CIA under the so-called "war on terror". It is up to the right-minded people of the world to stand up to the US administration and call on it to respect human rights and the rule of law.
To mark this sad occasion and to raise awareness about it, the London Guantánamo Campaign held a weekend of action to mark the seventh anniversary. Kicking off on Friday night, January 9, at the Westbourne Grove Church in west London, close to the former home of Binyam Mohamed, a 30-year old of Ethiopian origin who is the last Londoner in Guantánamo Bay, 30 people, mainly local residents, participated in an evening telling the tragic ordeal of Binyam Mohamed through performance and film from his departure from London in 2001 to his horrific torture for over two years in Morocco and Afghanistan up until his journey to Guantánamo in 2004, where he remains, without charge or trial, to this day. Including comments about Binyam by his lawyers and fellow detainees and the stories of other prisoners around the world, including Terry Waite, the performance was followed by a lively discussion and brought together people of all faiths and none, of all nationalities and walks of life to remember Binyam.
On Saturday 10 January, prior to the Gaza demonstration, Wandsworth Stop The War held a local stall in Clapham where they handed out leaflets and spoke to the public to raise awareness about the seventh anniversary and practices at Guantánamo Bay.
Similar stalls were held on Sunday 11 January in the afternoon at Speaker's Corner, Hyde Park, Camden Market, Whitechapel and Kilburn. With four to a dozen activists in each group, some wearing orange jumpsuits and black hoods, information leaflets about Guantánamo Bay were handed out to the public. Some passers by stopped to talk but there is still much ignorance and even more apathy about the torture and illegal detention at Guantánamo Bay.
Daniel Viesnik, one of the organisers of the Kilburn (NW London) action said: "Just over a year ago we were delighted when Brent resident Jamil El-Banna and Harrow resident Abdel Nour Sameur were finally reunited with their families after so many years of suffering under US custody; but fellow Londoners Binyam Mohamed and Shaker Aamer still languish in that American hellhole with no recourse to justice even after all these years, and Britain has been complicit in the whole scandalous affair. The day when these men and others like them can finally receive justice and have their liberty restored cannot come a moment too soon. We must, however, not forget that these men and their families have suffered so much that life for them will never be the same again".
The local actions were then followed by a demonstration outside the US Embassy in Mayfair. This action was peaceful and was attended by around 70 people. The first speaker was CND Vice President and peace activist Walter Wolfgang, who said Guantánamo Bay was a part of the same problem as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and it must close down for peace and justice and that there can be no peace otherwise. Mr. Wolfgang called on the UK to accept Guantánamo detainees to help the US close it down.
Green MEP for London Jean Lambert also called on the UK and other EU countries to take immediate action. Her message was direct and simple: there must be no more anniversaries.
Veteran peace campaigner and prisoner rights activist Bruce Kent called on both the US and the UK to follow the law. He criticised both countries for breaching the articles of the UDHR on due process rights and the UK's abuse of human rights in the "war on terror" with its use of arbitrary detention and unfair terms of detention. He also criticised the UK and other EU countries for the "connivance" in extraordinary rendition and other illegal practices.
Martin Linton, Labour MP for Battersea, in whose constituency the family of Saudi resident Shaker Aamer lives then spoke about the situation he faces, the abuse Shaker has faced, including being kept in solitary confinement for many years and being subject to sensory deprivation, Mr. Linton said that "no one is asking for special favours", just for justice and the rights of all. He stated that detainees must be charged, put on trial and released if found innocent. Shaker Aamer has a six year old son who he has never met.
Camilla Jelbart, a campaign organiser at Amnesty International's international secretariat then spoke about Amnesty's 100 day campaign calling on Barack Obama to shut down Guantánamo Bay. She added that furthermore the new administration must ensure that there is an enquiry into the abuses at Guantánamo and detainees are released to safety. Ms. Jelbart stated that this is not impossible and concrete steps need to be taken. The EU must also act to help close down Guantánamo Bay. "Enough is enough", human rights must be put back on the agenda.
Joy Hurcombe from Brighton Against Guantánamo spoke from the campaigner's point of view, of the need to keep working to ensure all the detainees are released and the rule of law is respected. The detainees need to be returned to their families and the suffering is not just of the men but of their families and communities too.
Imam Shakeel Begg from Lewisham Mosque spoke about the duty of individuals to act, in particular members of the Muslim community, who he said should not sit back and do nothing in the face of such injustice,
Rap artist Mohammed Yahya performed a special rap song he had composed in solidarity with the detainees, calling on people not to forget them.
Mousa Brown who has been detained at Belmarsh and later acquitted by a jury in a "terror" trial spoke of his own experiences in the UK and how difficult it was for him and his family, even though hr still had some access to them.
The final speaker was journalist and author of The Guantánamo Files, Andy Worthington, who spoke of some of the recent events at Guantánamo, including the military "trials" and the release of several detainees following court orders. He also spoke of the hope that Obama would close Guantánamo and some of the problems he may face.
Actions were held elsewhere in Europe, including demonstrations outside the US Embassies in Dublin and Madrid and another against extraordinary rendition at Shannon Airport in the Republic of Ireland, which has been used for "torture flights".
The London Guantánamo Campaign will continue to bring pressure to bear on the US and UK governments to act to close down Guantánamo Bay and other illegal jails under the "war on terror", the use of torture, the safe and secure release of detainees and an end to the impunity of individuals involved in torture and other breaches of the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law, military and civilian alike.
The message from this day of action was quite clear: there must be no more anniversaries.
The London Guantánamo Campaign is a grassroots organisation that campaigns for justice for all prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, for the closure of this and other secret prisons, and for an end to the practice of "extraordinary rendition". Freedom and justice for all.
Contact email: london.gtmo[at]googlemail.com