Out now on Truthout is a 15-minute video by Sari Gelzer and Troy Page, featuring an interview with Andy Worthington, journalist and author of The Guantánamo Files, which includes excerpts from the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington).
The interview was recorded in San Francisco, during Andy’s recent visit to the US to promote “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” and includes reflections on the problems facing the Obama administration, as it tries to close the prison, as well as an explanation of some of the key themes discussed in film, illustrated with powerful clips featuring former prisoners Moazzam Begg and, in his first major interview, Omar Deghayes, and lawyers Tom Wilner and Clive Stafford Smith.
These key themes include an examination of how the Bush administration turned its back on domestic and international laws, how prisoners were rounded up in Afghanistan and Pakistan without adequate screening (and often for bounty payments), and why some of these men may have been in Afghanistan or Pakistan for reasons unconnected with militancy or terrorism (as missionaries or humanitarian aid workers, for example).
Focusing on the stories of three particular prisoners — Shaker Aamer, who is still held), Binyam Mohamed (who was released in February 2009) and Omar Deghayes (released in December 2007) — “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” provides a powerful rebuke to those who believe that Guantánamo holds “the worst of the worst” and that the Bush administration was justified in responding to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 by holding men neither as prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions, nor as criminal suspects with habeas corpus rights, but as “illegal enemy combatants” with no rights whatsoever.
The following passages describe some of Andy’s comments about the Obama administration’s problems when it comes to closing Guantánamo, many of which — as explained in a recent article, “Guantánamo: Idealists Leave Obama’s Sinking Ship” — are self-made, and the result of lamentable cowardice in the face of right-wing pressure:
Recently, Worthington held screenings for “Outside the Law” in the US, which garnered discussion about the future of Guantánamo detainees as President Barack Obama’s self-imposed deadline to close the prison fast approaches. Worthington said that as he toured the US with the film, he noticed something he describes as the “Obama Effect.”
“There seems to be an enormous number of people who are still sitting and thinking that everything’s fine because President Obama’s in and he said he is going to close it and that there is nothing to worry about. Whereas it’s actually not very long until the prison’s supposed to close and there are going to be some real difficulties in achieving that.”
A main difficulty, said Worthington, is finding a place to go to for those who have been cleared of terrorist activities. Even though a handful of European countries have allowed former detainees to resettle, there remain dozens in Guantánamo with nowhere to go. The problem, said Worthington, is that members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are indulging in fearmongering and not allowing prisoners who have been found innocent to resettle in the US.
Worthington said that Congress is the main reason that there is still “no option available for finding new homes in the United States for people who were wrongly imprisoned by the United States, who are not terrorists, who have been cleared by both the Bush administration and the Obama administration of posing a threat.”
“Very simply put,” said Worthington, exasperated at the lack of responsibility by the very country that wrongly imprisoned them, “if something doesn’t happen on this front, I think these men stay and rot in Guantánamo forever.”
Andy Worthington is 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). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009, details about my film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.