On Monday and Tuesday evenings, the BBC’s Newsnight ran an extraordinary two-part feature on Guantánamo, bringing former guard Brandon Neely over from the United States to meet — and apologize to — former prisoners Shafiq Rasul and Ruhal Ahmed, two of “The Tipton Three,” from the West Midlands, who were freed in March 2004 and whose story was later featured in “The Road to Guantánamo,” a powerful film about their experiences.
Brandon Neely served at Guantánamo in the first six months of the prison’s existence, between January and June 2002. He was then deployed to Iraq, but when the Army attempted to recall him from his Inactive Ready Reserve (IRR) status to active duty in May 2007, he ignored every letter and email, until the Army gave up, granting him an honorable discharge in June 2008.
A vocal opponent of the war and president of the Houston chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Brandon has explained that he saw “a lot of bad and horrible things and have done them too while over there,” but it was not until 2008 that he also began tentatively to speak out about Guantánamo.
In October 2008, he told Courage to Resist, “You know, when we first got there they put it into your head — I can remember them telling us, you know, these are the worst of the worst, these are the guys who plotted 9/11,” but added that after the first prisoners arrived, “actually talking to some of these detainees — and there were a lot of young ones too — and some guys, they seemed like common people.”
A month later, I received an email out of the blue from Brandon, in which he thanked me for my work and wrote, “It’s nice to see that someone is helping to give a voice to these people who mostly were wrongfully held.” He also explained, “When I was in Gitmo I was 21. I was young and didn’t know what was going on really. You’re told one thing and go with it, but over time I realized that it was wrong. So many of those people were innocent.”
I’ve been in touch with Brandon on and off ever since, and was pleased when he agreed to give a detailed interview to UC Davis’ Guantánamo Testimonials Project, which was published in February 2009.
In my email exchange with him, Brandon wrote that he had had discussions with the Australian prisoner David Hicks, but I didn’t know until this week that he had also spoken to the British prisoners — Shafiq Ruhal and Asif Iqbal — and that, around the time he got in touch with me, he found Shafiq on Facebook and sent him a message, apologizing for his part in the ill-treatment of Shafiq and the other prisoners at Guantánamo, which eventually led to the meeting orchestrated by the BBC.
It was a genuinely touching meeting, and I was impressed that Brandon had found the courage to meet Shafiq and Ruhal, and to apologize to them in person (which, after all, is easier said than done), and pleased also that his criticism of Guantánamo — and the fact that Shafiq and Ruhal, who are playing pool when we meet them in the BBC’s film, and are clearly not “the worst of the worst” — put out such a clear message about the injustice of Guantánamo on the eighth anniversary of the prison’s opening.
As Brandon stated at one point, recalling discussions with Ruhal in Guantánamo, “It was no different from me sitting at the bar with a friend of mine talking about women or music. He would say, ‘You ever listen to Eminem or Dr. Dre?’ and he threw off a little rap and it was just funny. I thought how could it be somebody is here who’s doing the same stuff that I do when I’m back home?”
In the United States, in contrast to this important reflection on the human cost of the Bush administration’s largely indiscriminate post-9/11 dragnet, opposition to the closure of Guantánamo has been ramped up horribly in the last two weeks, after opportunist lawmakers and pundits stirred up fear and paranoia in the wake of the failed plane bomb on Christmas Day. With President Obama capitulating to unreasonable demands to prevent the release of any more cleared Yemeni prisoners, the supporters of Guantánamo appear to have derailed the closure of the prison for the foreseeable future.
The two parts of Newsnight’s feature are available on the BBC website here and here, but in the hope of making this meeting available to a global audience, the blogger Rick B announced on his site Ten Percent that he has made the second part (in which the men meet) available as a two-part video on YouTube. Both parts are posted below:
January 13, 2010
Gavin Lee reports on the reunion between former Guantanamo prison guard, Brandon Neely, and two of his former prisoners from Britain, Shafiq Rasul and Ruhal Ahmed.
As Rick B explained in a message accompanying the videos, “Note to BBC Newsnight: I have a TV license. I think this story should be seen internationally, so I have taken the liberty of putting this online for a global audience. I hope you take a more enlightened view of copyright on this than the standard corporate line due to its overwhelming public interest value.”
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.
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