Thursday, October 22, 2009

Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo.

I attended a screening last night of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo”, a new film directed by Polly Nash with Andy Worthington, which sets out in chronological order the story of how the camp at Guantánamo came into being and the stories of some of the people who ended up in that dreadful place.

Answering questions afterwards were Moazzam Begg and Omar Deghayes, two of the people who suffered dreadfully under the Bush administration's foray into complete illegality and war crimes.

The film was intense and powerful, mostly because it did not attempt in any way to emotionalise the story it was laying out before us. Worthington, Clive Stafford Smith and others simply told the story of how the US abandoned Habeas Corpus and found itself in a kind of war with it's own legal system, whilst Begg and Deghayes told the tale of what it was like to be on the receiving end of this historic abberation of justice.

Afterwards, during the question and answer session, Begg and Deghayes spoke of Shaker Aamer, who is still incarcerated in that dreadful place, and of how we need to continue to put pressure on David Miliband to ensure that he is released.

What struck me most during the question and answer session was how funny both men could be, despite the ordeal they had endured. And Begg especially highlighted how, even when one felt that all hope was lost, the occasional word of kindness from an unnamed US guard gave him a belief that one day normality would return and that the nightmare would be over.

Both men are obviously most concerned that the remaining prisoners held in Guantanamo should be tried or released. It's not a novel concept. Indeed, it's the cornerstone of our legal system. We put together evidence against people who we think have committed crimes and we prosecute them.

The way in which the evidence against both these men, and Shaker Aamer, was compiled is shocking to witness. It begins with a presumption of guilt, or at the very least the notion that it is for the accused to prove his innocence rather than for his jailer to make a case against him.

It ends in torture and abuse and with prisoners admitting to meetings with people who were already in US custody at the time when the meeting is alleged to have taken place.

One thing struck me as I watched. This is a film about some of the darkest days in the history of the United States. Days that future generations will look back on with both shame and puzzlement. How, they will ask, was it possible for the Constitution to be set aside in this way? Why did no-one stop them? Where was Congress?

However, even as we speak, this nightmare is still ongoing for more than 200 others.

In one of the most moving sections of the evening, Omar Deghayes spoke of what he felt that he had lost. He didn't lament the loss of his eye, nor did he list the torture he had suffered as the worst thing which happened to him, rather he spoke of missing out on the growth of his young son, of missing those formative years when his son changed from a baby into a young boy.

It's a loss which can never be undone. And it's a price which each person locked up in that dreadful place continues to pay with each day that passes.

Write to someone to put pressure for the release of Shaker Aamer and the closing of this disgraceful chapter in American history. And remember, closing Guantanamo Bay alone will never be enough. Bagram continues to operate. The principle here must be that detention without trial is simply unacceptable. What needs to be restored is the principle of Habeas Corpus. Who could believe that it would be necessary to fight for such a thing at the start of the 21st century?

Write to:

Prime Minister Gordon Brown
10 Downing Street,
London SW1A 2AG


Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs David Miliband
King Charles Street,
London SW1A 2AA


For clips and showings please click here.

1 comment:

Mark Saunders Spectacle said...

Please can you correct the credit details of this film to:

Directed by Polly Nash, with Andy Worthington

Please also link to the film site where you can find out about screenings, order copies, watch extracts and extras: