one small window…

on the world: a view on human rights

The London Guantánamo Campaign: The Bush Years (2006-2009)


Abbey Road & Close Guantánamo

The LGC’s signature ‘Abbey Road’ photograph taken by Richard Keith Wolff in November 2008.

This is the story of how ordinary everyday people make a difference to the world around them. I set up the London Guantánamo Campaign (LGC) in 2006 with the family of Jordanian British resident Jamil El-Banna, who was held at Guantánamo Bay from 2002 to 2007. My own professional work on the issue goes back even further.

The LGC is a grassroots, no-frills, non-hierarchical organisation open to everyone who shares our core values of a belief in the rule of law and justice for all. Having played a key organisational role in almost all the activities over the past decade, I consider myself the organiser; there is no ‘director’. In spite of the trend towards the professionalisation of activism and NGOs, the LGC has always rejected the notion that human rights are a 9 to 5 occupation; they should be everybody’s business. The campaign operates on a shoe-string budget. With the exception of two grants for larger events from the Lush Charity Pot and a crowd-funding initiative on our behalf by Mahfuja Ahmed in 2014, the LGC has been funded by the activists involved, small donations from individual supporters and some donations from organisations such as Brent Stop The War. The work we do would have been impossible without the kind help and cooperation of other, particularly grassroots, organisations.

While human rights abuses at Guantánamo Bay provide a generous meal ticket to a number of individuals and organisations, the drive to close Guantánamo and support the prisoners and their families worldwide has largely been a grassroots effort. Alongside work by lawyers to legally overcome this extralegal monstrosity, efforts by grassroots organisations in raising public awareness and pressurising governments to act cannot be undermined, even if they are ignored by the mainstream media.

The LGC has consistently kept its focus on human rights and has never sought to politicise the issues involved. Contrary to popular belief, supporting the human rights of terrorism suspects is not tantamount to supporting terrorism. By demanding justice for the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, we are simply asking that these prisoners, over 80% of whom were not the “enemy combatants” the US claimed but bought for a bounty, are granted the same rights anyone else has to a fair trial to determine their guilt, or otherwise, and to be released if no charges can be brought against them. These rights are guaranteed (on paper) under Articles 9 to 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The LGC has maintained three core aims throughout: 1 – Demanding the return to the UK of all the British residents imprisoned at Guantánamo; 2 -Supporting the families of the prisoners; and 3 – An end to the practice of extradition rendition and detention in illegal CIA prisons. The LGC does not replicate the work of other organisations and thus we have worked alongside and supported the work of larger NGOs. We have also worked with the families of the British residents we have campaigned for and have only ever carried out a particular campaign action for any individual with their permission or that of their family. Consent, humanity and dignity have always been essential to our work. As a testimony to our determination, it was only at the end of October 2015 that we finally achieved our first aim with the return of Shaker Aamer to his family in the UK, although not all the British residents we campaigned for have been released to the UK.

Our beginnings…

The plight of prisoners in the so-called war on terror – Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere, including Britain – has never quite captured the public and anti-war movement’s imagination. This may be due to the lack of imagery and information. The work of the London Guantánamo Campaign nonetheless falls within a positive tradition of grassroots work calling for the freedom of British nationals held at Guantánamo, such as the hard work carried out by the Guantánamo Human Rights Commission, co-founded by actor siblings Corin and Vanessa Redgrave, who worked with the families of British and European prisoners.

Through efforts by campaigners, lawyers and the Labour government at the time which was very much complicit in the ordeal of these prisoners, all the British nationals held at Guantánamo returned home by January 2005. Many considered this to be the end of British involvement and responsibility. Writing less than a month later, Corin Redgrave said:

But although all nine of the British citizens in Guantanamo have finally been freed, there still remain about 500 prisoners, including six British residents for whom the government refuses to take responsibility. And despite the Law Lords’ ruling, eleven prisoners are still in Belmarsh, Woodhill, and Broadmoor psychiatric hospital. Our government remains committed in principle and in practice to detention without trial. Furthermore it remains committed to the usefulness of torture.

Indeed, both regimes still exist – Guantánamo and indefinite detention without trial for terrorism suspects and immigration detainees in Britain – ; such policy connections to the broader implications of what Guantánamo symbolises can only be made at grassroots level, which the LGC consistently does.

Campaigns were already underway for the British residents, such as the vibrant ‘Save Omar’ campaign from Brighton for Libyan resident Omar Deghayes, with whom we worked closely. The LGC’s work largely picked up on the individual work by dedicated human rights activist Mark Jennings, who died in 2005, in close collaboration with the families of Iraqi resident Bisher Al-Rawi and Jamil El-Banna, who were rendered to Afghanistan and then Guantánamo, following kidnap in Gambia in 2002.

2006

Setting Up: the LGC held its inaugural meeting on 16 March 2006 in north London at the Gladstone Park Primary School in Dollis Hill, the school then attended by all of Jamil El-Banna’s five children. His wife and children played an active role in organising the very well-attended meeting and all consequent activism on his case. Supporting the families, especially where children are involved, is incredibly important: the experience can be very isolating and difficult to cope with. The four older children spoke at the meeting, with one of his sons reading out a poem he had written about his father.

DSC02206

The LGCs’s inaugural meeting

Other speakers included local MP Sarah Teather (Lib Dem for Brent East, 2003-2015), actor Vanessa Redgrave, a friend of the El-Banna family, Jamil El-Banna’s British lawyer Gareth Peirce, lawyer Zachary Katznelson from the NGO Reprieve, Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen, Asim Qureshi from the NGO Cageprisoners (now known as Cage) and representatives from other residents’ families and similar campaigns in other parts of the country. Former British prisoner and local resident Martin Mubanga, who was rendered from Zambia, also spoke at the meeting.

The purpose of the meeting, using a model we adopted for most of our individual prisoner campaigns, was to get the local community involved and to raise awareness. The north London borough of Brent was a good place to start the campaign for several reasons. The local MP, Sarah Teather, and the local newspaper, which launched the award-winning ‘Justice for Dad’ campaign for Jamil El-Banna, were very supportive. There was broad support from all the political parties in Brent for the closure of Guantánamo. Another British resident, Algerian Abdel Nour Sameur, was also from Brent, and the area neighbours the west London area in which another British national and a resident lived.

Brent is also one of the most multicultural areas in the UK with a strong activist community. While the mainstream media focuses on cases of community disharmony, violence and division, initiatives such as the LGC that bring together such a diverse range of people from different ethnic, religious and social backgrounds for a common cause are quickly overlooked. Brent is also home to a large community of Irish origin that readily made the connections between internment in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and at Guantánamo since 2002.

National Coalition: around the same time as the LGC was set up, a national coalition of organisations against Guantánamo was set up. Along with larger NGOs like Reprieve and Cage, this included local groups in Birmingham and Manchester who had worked on the release of British nationals from those cities, the Save Omar campaign from Brighton, Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) and local Amnesty groups focusing on Guantánamo, such as in Sheffield. In addition to individual local actions, this made planning larger events and work on raising awareness about Guantánamo easier. The coalition remained active until 2008.

DSC02416

National Coalition demonstration, July 2006

By the time the coalition and the LGC were set up, one British resident had already slipped through the net. Jamal Kiyemba, a Ugandan national, was released in February 2006 but the plane returning him to his family in the UK, where he had grown up, was refused entry and his residence status was revoked. He was instead sent to Uganda where he was initially imprisoned. The focus turned to the eight other individuals with ties to the UK.

Down to Work: the LGC got to work immediately. On 21-23 March 2006, a judicial review hearing was held at the High Court in London to try to compel the British government to take action in the cases of Omar Deghayes, Jamil El-Banna and Bisher Al-Rawi and bring them back to the UK, as all three had asylum seeker status. The LGC supported the Save Omar campaign’s protest outside the court during this hearing, and the appeal hearing in the same case in July 2007. The March application was rejected. The government agreed only to seek the release of Bisher Al-Rawi; this was after MI5 cables emerged showing that the British government was complicit in the kidnapping of Al-Rawi, El-Banna and a third man in Gambia during a business trip there, but no representations were made at this point for Jamil El-Banna.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Appeal hearing protest in July 2006

Local Brent organisations helped to set up regular stalls at different locations in Brent to raise awareness, particularly of the plight of local resident Jamil El-Banna. Many local people were stunned to learn they were practically neighbours with a person being held without charge or trial at Guantánamo. Jamil’s wife and children would also join the stalls at time.

The LGC then held a public meeting in May 2006 at the Islamic Cultural Heritage Centre in Ladbroke Grove, west London, focusing on the case of Binyam Mohamed. However, making contact with his local community proved quite difficult, and would become our focus later, in 2008. Nonetheless, following the meeting, regular stalls were set up in Ladbroke Grove too, which continued until Binyam Mohamed returned to the UK in 2009.

The LGC has always shared the latest information, reports and actions by other organisations, and supported meetings by others, given information briefings and presentation to various organisations, including Amnesty groups, universities and even a briefing for journalists at the National Union of Journalists (NUJ). Following news of alleged ‘suicides’ by three prisoners at Guantánamo in June 2006, the LGC launched an urgent action letter writing campaign and on 15 July 2006, the national coalition held a national demonstration marching from the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square to the Home Office, to demand the release of the British residents. The families of Omar Deghayes and Jamil El-Banna joined the demonstration. In November 2006, a further public meeting was held to mark the fourth anniversary of the extraordinary rendition and detention of Bisher Al-Rawi and Jamil El-Banna.

2007

10janprotest1

vigil outside parliament

Fifth anniversary: on 11 January, the national coalition held a musical demonstration outside the Hiatt & Company factory in Birmingham, which provided shackles for both renditions to Guantánamo and the slave trade. The company refused to engage with the protesters outside and even accept a birthday cake! The evening before, the LGC worked with the office of Sarah Teather MP to organise a candlelight vigil opposite the Houses of Parliament to mark the anniversary. This vigil was attended by a number of Liberal Democrat MPs.

US Embassy demonstrations: on 9 February 2007, the LGC started regular demonstrations outside the US Embassy every Friday evening between 6 and 7pm. More than 20 people attended the first demonstration. This action, which is still ongoing, was inspired by Brian Haw’s vigil at the time in Parliament Square against the Iraq War. The purpose is to provide a regular reminder to the US Embassy that the prisoners in Guantánamo are not forgotten.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

first Shut Guantánamo demo on 9 February 200

With dwindling numbers on a weekly basis, from August 2008 the action has instead been held on a monthly basis, currently on the first Thursday lunchtime of each month (except January). February 2016 will mark the ninth year of this action. This regular action has also provided an opportunity for solidarity actions with other causes, for example marking the anniversary of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and solidarity with US prisoners on hunger strike. At one point, the demonstration was briefly extended to protests outside Starbucks, McDonalds and other fast food outlets found at Guantánamo. These protests were very well received by passers-by, many of whom were disgusted to learn that fast food franchises are an essential part of US foreign military bases. We were joined at the September demonstration that year by US politician Cynthia McKinney who ran as the Green candidate in the 2008 presidential election.

DSCN5930 resized

Protest outside Starbucks, 2008

 

 

Releases: in March, two British residents, Ahmed Errachidi and Ahmed Belbacha, were cleared for release by the Pentagon. The following month Errachidi was repatriated to his native Morocco, where he briefly “disappeared” before being released by the authorities. In the same month, Bisher Al-Rawi was released to the UK, disproving the government’s argument during the judicial review application that it could not make representations on behalf of foreign nationals to the US government.

There were then six British residents to campaign for. The LGC continued to raise awareness of their plight. In July, a stall was held for the first time for Shaker Aamer in south London by Wandsworth Stop The War. Politically, campaigning for the British residents was facilitated by the setup of an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Guantánamo Bay in February 2007 by Sarah Teather MP, which continued to operate until she became a minister under the Coalition government in 2010.

2000 Days: in July, the national coalition marked 2000 days of Guantánamo Bay’s current incarnation with an exhibition launch of pop art paintings of the British residents. Launched in the House of Commons with a public meeting with lawyers, NGOs and activists, this was the first exhibition on Guantánamo Bay in the country. The exhibition later visited several towns and particularly while campaigning for Binyam Mohamed, his pop art image proved to be a useful campaigning tool. The exhibition was largely the idea and work of Birmingham activist Musurut Dar.

New PM: the purpose of the exhibition was also to encourage recently appointed Prime Minister Gordon Brown to take action on behalf of the British residents, which he did in August that year. He wrote to the US government seeking the release of five British residents: Jamil El-Banna, Omar Deghayes, Abdel Nour Sameur, Binyam Mohamed and Shaker Aamer. All had been cleared for release. This signalled a major change in policy by both the British government and the Labour Party. The LGC continued to campaign for Ahmed Belbacha, who was excluded from this request letter. His return to the UK was never sought as his asylum application had been rejected and was pending appeal in 2002, when he was held at Bagram in Afghanistan; consequently, he was unable to attend the appeal hearing.

In July, the LGC issued urgent letter writing campaigns for both Jamil El-Banna and Ahmed Belbacha for them to be returned to the UK and not their countries of origin, where they would be at risk. In 2009, Ahmed was convicted and sentenced in absentia to 20 years in prison in Algeria, while he was still held at Guantánamo Bay. He returned to Algeria in March 2014, where he was initially imprisoned. The judge ordered a retrial and in September 2015, the judge reduced the sentence to a 3-year suspended sentence.

More releases: On 19 December, Jamil El-Banna, Omar Deghayes and Abdel Nour Sameur returned to the UK. It was a difficult homecoming and a particularly emotional time for their families and campaigners who had worked closely with the El-Banna and Deghayes families. Like the British nationals before them, the men were arrested upon their return. Abdel Nour Sameur was released shortly thereafter without charge, but Jamil El-Banna and Omar Deghayes were remanded pending an extradition hearing the next day on charges they faced in Spain. An emergency protest was organised and was very well attended. The public gallery and hallway of the court were packed with supporters. The families saw the two men for the first time in several years from behind bars. Bail was set for both men at £50,000. In the case of Jamil El-Banna, that day was the first time he met his youngest daughter who was just 4 at the time.

In spite of their return, the campaign for Jamil El-Banna and Omar Deghayes continued. Along with the Save Omar campaign, LGC activists continued to attend court hearings and protests, as well as the LGC holding a joint protest with the Muslim Prisoner Support Group outside the Spanish Embassy in February, until the charges and extradition request were eventually dropped by the Spanish prosecuting judge in March 2008.

2008

Sixth anniversary: on 11 January, the LGC marked this anniversary with an elaborate day-long action, with a number of other groups, across London, inspired by sculptor Antony Gormley’s ‘Event Horizon’ project. Combining areas where British residents live in north, west and south London (as well as groups covering east and central London), small groups set out dressed in Guantánamo orange jumpsuits and black hoods stopping off and posing as Guantánamo ‘statues’ at strategic and tourist locations.

11gitmo3

A statue on the Millennium Bridge

The north London group was joined by Liberal Democrat councillors outside Brent Town Hall in north London and also visited Paddington Green police station where the three residents who had returned the previous month had been detained. I joined the west London group, which involved standing outside the office of Binyam Mohamed’s MP Karen Buck (Labour: North Kensington), who refused to meet us even though we had asked for a meeting in advance. The central London group took pictures at well-known tourist locations, prior to converging for a demonstration in Parliament Square. Over 100 people joined a wet protest opposite the Houses of Parliament that was addressed by former prisoner Moazzam Begg and lawyer Gareth Peirce, among others.

 

Since 2008, the LGC has organised the main, and often only, action in the UK to mark the anniversary of Guantánamo opening each January. Given the low media profile Guantánamo receives and the relatively small number of demonstrators attending, we have always taken a creative, innovative and often unconventional approach to marking the anniversary and at our other events to raise awareness. The ability to engage and interact with the public has always been an important aspect of our protest actions.

Rendition: 21 February 2008 would see an admission in parliament by then Foreign Secretary David Miliband which would help to shape our campaigning work for much of the following year: for the first time, following years of denial and evasion, the government admitted that it knew that CIA torture flights has passed through and refuelled in British-administered territories and had been used in the rendition of so-called ‘ghost’ prisoners. This led for calls for an inquiry into Britain’s role in extraordinary rendition.

This tied in perfectly with a new emphasis on looking beyond Guantánamo Bay that year and at the broader use of extraordinary rendition and torture in the war on terror, particularly as we focused almost exclusively and were at the forefront of the campaign for the release of Binyam Mohamed, who was subject to horrific torture in Morocco and Afghanistan before being taken to Guantánamo. At the time he was also facing charges on alleged involvement in a ‘dirty bomb’ plot. The charges were dropped later that year.

Binyam Mohamed: the LGC continued its regular stalls on a monthly basis near the entrance to the world-famous Portobello Market. Although initially local residents would ignore the stall, eventually some would stop by regularly to see if there were any developments in Binyam’s case.

DSC00055

Stall for Binyam Mohamed outside Portobello Market

On 31 May, the LGC held a major awareness-raising public meeting in North Kensington on Binyam Mohamed’s case, along with a showing of the film Outlawed, about extraordinary rendition. His MP Karen Buck, who was not very cooperative in efforts for her constituents held at Guantánamo, only attended when informed another MP had been invited instead and addressed the meeting reluctantly. Other speakers included a speaker from Reprieve, his legal representatives, a speaker from Amnesty International and a rare public talk by Bisher Al-Rawi. He described Binyam’s ordeal as one of the worst any prisoner has been through.

The previous day, the US brought new charges against Binyam, who was potentially facing the death penalty, and his lawyers delivered a letter he had written to Gordon Brown asking for him to make urgent representations, stating that he was contemplating suicide as “that would be one way to end it I suppose”. Earlier that month, Reprieve had started legal proceedings against the British government to force it to disclose what it knew about Binyam’s torture and rendition in Afghanistan and Morocco. The case was allowed and would become one of the most important recent English public law cases on disclosure.

Long, hot summer: the successful, packed out public meeting on Binyam Mohamed’s case was followed by a period of intense activism for his freedom led by the LGC. With Binyam Mohamed turning 30 in July, the LGC used the meeting to launch an action for the public to send birthday cards to Gordon Brown asking him to demand Binyam’s release before his 30th birthday. An urgent letter writing action was launched a few days later.

The LGC has always been accommodating in the variety of its actions to suit different abilities and interests, but taking the word out onto the streets is where we are usually found. In addition to the weekly demonstrations and monthly stall in Ladbroke Grove, as the urgent disclosure application went to the High Court, the LGC stepped up its actions with a showing of the Hollywood film Rendition, and a ground-breaking and forward-thinking legal event Extraordinary Rendition on Trial at Garden Court Chambers. Framed around the case of Binyam Mohamed, this event brought together his British lawyer Gareth Peirce, who represented all the other British nationals and residents too, one of his US lawyers Zachary Katznelson from Reprieve and Phil Shiner from Public Interest Lawyers, who spoke about the ongoing cases against the British army of prisoner abuse in Iraq. This event, rather uniquely, shifted the emphasis from US responsibility for torture and prisoner abuse in the war on terror to British complicity and responsibility, an issue that remains largely ignored to date. This event was later shown on the Islam Channel’s Legal Forum programme.

The pièce de résistance of this campaign was a unique and ground-breaking 24/7 Six Days for Six Years protest outside the US Embassy, whereby in the run up to Binyam Mohamed’s 30th birthday on 24 July, a six-day continuous protest was held outside the US Embassy to demand his release, with each day representing one year of his detention. The protest also called for an end to military commissions. Several organisations were involved. The continuous protest, with at least two people camping outside the embassy each evening, drew a lot of interest from the public and passers-by and annoyed the embassy.

This week of protest was capped with a 30th birthday party opposite Downing Street, complete with music, cake and balloons, held with Brighton Against Guantánamo and Reprieve. The US were not wholly responsible for Binyam’s ordeal, and if Gordon Brown was not prepared to make serious representations for Binyam Mohamed to be able to celebrate his 30th birthday with us, then we would take the party to Gordon Brown. Over 100 people attended a powerful and upbeat protest party with signatures collected on a petition to the British government.

From August, the weekly demonstrations became monthly, and an orange jumpsuit awareness-raising action was held at the Notting Hill Carnival to raise awareness about local man Binyam Mohamed. That same month the High Court ruled positively in his case, ordering disclosure by the Foreign Office, which rolled out its usual excuse of damage US-UK relations in its defence; the decision would be appealed.

DSCN7931

Campaigning for Binyam Mohamed at the Notting Hill Festival, 2008

Ladbroke Grove: in spite of regular stalls and having worked on his case for two years, getting access to people who knew Binyam Mohamed, especially at the Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre in Ladbroke Grove, where he had worked, proved far more difficult than in the case of any of the other British residents. In September, the LGC attempted, through its many efforts with the mosque, to overcome that important hurdle by holding a Ramadan meal, iftar, and talk there about Binyam’s case. Although well attended, it did not lead to many new contacts. On other occasions, the mosque was hostile to leaflets being handed out outside about Binyam’s case. The breakthrough would come later that year through the women in the community, who made a useful and welcome contribution to the campaign.

Bye bye, Bush? As well as the ongoing court case and campaign for Binyam Mohamed, which involved various other actions, another focus of hope and action was the US presidential elections that took place on 4 November 2008. The LGC held a demonstration near the US Embassy, as a huge security cordon had been placed around the embassy during the election. Dozens of people joined the demonstration on a cold evening with candles lit. Although the election of Barack Obama was very welcome after 8 years of George Bush Jr, the past seven years have shown that Guantánamo, more often associated with the former, is as much part of the legacy of Barack Obama, who has made it his own.

As well as the election of a US president who claimed that he would close Guantánamo, by the end of that year the charges against Binyam Mohamed had been dropped. Nonetheless, he remained at Guantánamo, more than two years after the British government had sought his release, which meant that in spite of previous charges it did not believe he posed a security risk.

2009

Seventh anniversary: the LGC kicked off another busy year with a week of activity. On 9 January, the Westbourne Grove Church facilitated an evening telling the Binyam Mohamed Story in film and performance with a special adaptation of Binyam’s own account of his military commission, or Con-mission, put together by the LGC’s David Harrold.

DSC00211

11 January protest outside the US Embassy

Information stalls about Guantánamo were held in various parts of London on Sunday 11 January (and one on Saturday) along with a demonstration outside the US Embassy in the afternoon. The demonstration was addressed by veteran peace activists Walter Wolfgang and Bruce Kent, Jean Lambert MEP, Martin Linton MP (former MP for Battersea and Shaker Aamer), and journalist Andy Worthington, among others.

Yes, we can? On 22 January, the LGC marked the inauguration of President Obama by delivering a petition with Sarah Teather MP to the US Embassy calling on the new president to close Guantánamo. Later that same day, the LGC held a protest outside the US Embassy demanding an end to extraordinary rendition. Although Obama has been vocal over Guantánamo, he has been mute over this practice and although he claims that all foreign CIA prisons are now closed, there is sufficient evidence to show that the kidnap and torture of suspects by the US is still ongoing worldwide.

Binyam’s return: Binyam Mohamed went on hunger strike at the beginning of 2009 to demand his freedom. The disclosure court case continued, with the media entering the fray in November 2008. Binyam Mohamed became the first prisoner whose case was reviewed by the new president and was cleared for immediate release on 17 February. On the same day, the LGC and Brighton Against Guantánamo held an emergency lunchtime demo demanding his release. That happened on 23 February, with immigration officials releasing him a few hours after his return.

Partial disclosure was eventually made in the Binyam Mohamed case with the Foreign Office being forced into the unusual position of admitting and disclosing what it knew about the torture and extralegal detention he faced. The ramifications of this would become clearer in laws and measures taken by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government that came to power in 2010.

A space to talk: with growing calls for an inquiry into British complicity into CIA torture, the LGC held a parliamentary meeting with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Guantánamo Bay on 25 February, to mark the anniversary of the first admission a year earlier by the British government

Guantánamo former detainees

L-R: Bisher Al-Rawi, Jamil El-Banna, Omar Deghayes

of its complicity. The meeting was attended by MPs from the group, representatives from various NGOs and survivors Bisher Al-Rawi, Omar Deghayes and Jamil El-Banna. Most importantly, this was one of the few public occasions on which the three men spoke and gave public statements about the ordeal they faced. During this meeting, Omar Deghayes stated,

There hasn’t actually been any change at Guantánamo Bay under Obama. There were over 800 people held at Guantánamo and by releasing over 600 of them, the Bush administration has admitted that it was wrong about them. That’s proof that the Guantánamo system has nothing to do with terrorism or intelligence gathering. The interrogators there, who are among some of the most skilled people in America, would say to us that we were held there for retribution: we believe that you’re terrorists and we will only release you as wretches, when you are physically and psychologically broken and your mothers and sisters have to do everything for you.

Executive power: in one of his very first actions as president, Barack Obama signed an executive order to close Guantánamo Bay within one year: 21 January 2010. It remains open to date. He also called for a moratorium on military commissions but the first person to be tried under his restructured regime was Omar Khadr, the only person since World War II tried as an adult for offences allegedly committed as a minor. The practice of extraordinary rendition continues and during his first term, the prisoner population at Bagram continued to swell. As I wrote in the monthly newsletter I produce for the LGC in February 2009: “The election of President Obama and his written pledge to close Guantánamo Bay is not a guarantee that Guantánamo Bay will close or that the US will not move detainees to other similar prisons”, which is exactly what is happening now.

Upon his inauguration, over 50 prisoners were on hunger strike (around 20%) and were force fed by feeding tube. Hunger strikes at Guantánamo are another common feature of Barack Obama’s presidency.

Inquiry: following Binyam Mohamed’s return to the UK, a parliamentary investigation and a criminal investigation were called for into his rendition and the UK’s complicity. The Daily Telegraph newspaper launched a campaign against Binyam Mohamed with some Conservative Party members calling for his deportation and an inquiry not to be held into his torture claims.

The LGC supported efforts by larger NGOs for a torture inquiry and launched its own letter writing campaign to the government for this purpose. The campaign continued for Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha as well.

Shaker Aamer: In June, the LGC started local weekly stalls in Clapham with Wandsworth Stop The War ahead of a joint meeting about Shaker’s case with Cageprisoners in July. This meeting, addressed by local MP Martin Linton, former prisoner Moazzam Begg and Shaker’s British lawyer Gareth Peirce, held at the Battersea Arts Centre, a venue for many future meetings about Shaker Aamer, was attended by a number of former prisoners and Shaker’s wife and children. Following the pattern adopted by the LGC of using a public meeting to launch a local campaign, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign (SSAC), led by Ray Silk from Wandsworth Stop The War, was formed at this meeting to lead the local campaign. The LGC has worked closely alongside the SSAC, which took the lead in campaigning for Shaker’s release. The LGC, however, did organise some of its own actions for Shaker Aamer, such as a Ramadan iftar meal and talk about Shaker Aamer’s case with the Islamic Culture & Education Centre in Battersea, the mosque he used to worship at, in September 2009.

Trust me, I’m a politician… In spite of initial optimism over Barack Obama’s plans to close Guantánamo, these were quickly rejected by the US Senate, and military commissions were reinstated by May 2009. Political and practical shifts after the election of Barack Obama would see a shift in our style of campaigning. With many lulled into a false sense of security by Obama’s claims to close Guantánamo, the focus of NGOs and the media shifted away from Guantánamo and maintaining public interest and awareness has since been a major challenge. Many believe Obama closed Guantánamo in 2010 and ask us why we still protest.

It is in that context that the work of the LGC becomes all the more relevant and important. Most of the work done by the LGC has been by professionals and individuals donating their skills and time. The LGC has also connected with activists with the same aims in other parts of the UK, Europe and elsewhere in the world. During that period, Guantánamo has not just been an extralegal monster for NGOs and lawyers to grapple with, but has become a cultural mindset with the normalisation and acceptance of detention without trial and torture worldwide. The LGC does not consider this a lost battle. Not a campaign that rests on its laurels (or at all!), we kept up the fight for justice and freedom throughout Obama’s presidency and will continue after that, if necessary!

Thank you for reading. The next instalment of the LGC’s history – the Obama years – will be published in March 2016 to coincide with the LGC’s tenth anniversary.

The photographs were taken by Richard Keith Wolff, activists and the author. The London Guantánamo Campaign holds the copyright to all the images.

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: