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‘Ten Hours For Ten Years’: Demonstration For Shaker Aamer, Last British Prisoner In Guantánamo – OpEd

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On Saturday October 8, 2011, to mark the 10th anniversary of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, the Stop the War Coalition is holding a Mass Assemblyin Trafalgar Square, from 12 noon to 4 pm, to call for an end to the war, which continues to haemorrhage lives and money at an alarming rate, despite the arrogance and futility of trying to save Afghanistan from its own people, fuelled by the obvious lies of politicians, who insist on claiming — in defiance of all logic — that the presence of British soldiers is keeping al-Qaeda off the streets of Britain, when what the “insurgents” actually want is for us to get out of their country.

With the latest UK poll showing 71 percent of respondents agreeing that the war in “unwinnable,” and 57 percent calling for the immediate withdrawal of British troops, the Coalition is noticeably in tune with a majority of the British public, and has secured significant support from opponents of the war for the following statement of intent for Saturday’s protest:

I pledge that if British Troops are still in Afghanistan on the tenth anniversary of the invasion I will join the mass assembly in Trafalgar Square on Saturday 8 October to make it clear to the government that they must not continue this brutal and pointless war in defiance of the will of the people.

The Stop the War Coalition also provides “10 reasons to sign“:

  • 1. We were told the war was won at the end of 2001, but today the fighting, casualties and air strikes are all worse than ever.
  • 2. Record numbers of NATO troops, including 100,000 Americans, have not brought security, but ever rising levels of death and destruction.
  • 3. There are three times as many air strikes on Afghanistan today compared to a year ago.
  • 4. The war was launched to capture Osama bin Laden — “wanted dead or alive.” He is now dead but the war continues.
  • 5. Life expectancy in Afghanistan is 43, the lowest in the world.
  • 6. Afghanistan under occupation is one of the worst places in the world to be a woman or a child.
  • 7. Millions of Afghans have become refugees as a result of the war.
  • 8. The war in Afghanistan is costing £5 billion a year, at the same time welfare spending, housing and pensions are under attack.
  • 9. Politicians talk of withdrawal, but have no credible exit strategy.
  • 10. Parliament is ignoring public opinion, which opposes the war. A mass turnout in Trafalgar Square on 8 October will send a message to MPs and the government that it’s time to go.

At 12 noon, the rally will be opened by Joe Glenton (also see here), the former Lance Corporal who was jailed for nine months for refusing to return to Afghanistan after a tour of duty (and gagged by the MoD to prevent him speaking out about the abuses he saw), and Grace McCann, who, in 2010, attempted a citizen’s arrest on Tony Blair.

Explaining his support for the 10th anniversary protests, Joe Glenton said, “I’m pledging to attend the assembly because, unlike Cameron, Obama and their lackeys, I actually know some of the people sent out to die in these wars. I shared cigarettes and food with them, I spoke to them about our ambitions in life. For me they are real people, not cannon-fodder or political capital to string out a dodgy war. Likewise, I have more in common with those innocent people in Afghanistan then I’ll ever have with the ones who started all of this ten years ago.”

After the opening of the rally, the main stage will feature speeches, music, films and performances, and musicians, actors, writers, filmmakers and artists will join MPs, trade union leaders and activists from across the anti-war movement. Performers and speakers include John Pilger, Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, composer Howard Blake, Billy Bragg, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Brian Eno, Jemima Khan, Lowkey, actor Simon McBurney, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, actor Mark Rylance, novelist Ahdaf Soueif, and comedian Mark Steel.

There will also be a marquee stage, featuring meetings, stalls, displays, installations and “open mic” sessions, and the event in Trafalgar Square will close with a “Naming the Dead Ceremony,” led by Joan Humphries, who lost her grandson in Afghanistan, and Rose Gentle, who lost her son in Iraq.

At 4 pm, there will be an End of Assembly March to Downing Street, led by ex-soldiers and their families, to demand that no more lives are wasted in Afghanistan.

Throughout the day, campaigners from the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign will also be present in Trafalgar Square, calling for the immediate return from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (whose British wife and four children live in Battersea), and who, it was reported in August, has resumed a hunger strike to protest about his seemingly indefinite detention without charge or trial under President Obama. As the SSAC notes, “The news that Shaker is once more on hunger strike can only lead us to suspect that his health is deteriorating and his life may be in danger. We urge the UK Government to insist on access to Shaker Aamer by an independent medical team with a view to his fitness to travel back to the UK. Shaker’s health has suffered from the long years of physical and mental abuse both in Guantánamo and in Afghanistan.”

The SSAC action, “Ten Hours for Ten Years,” will run from 10am to 8 pm, and features a “Guantánamo Cage,” which the organizers are hoping will be occupied by volunteers throughout the day. They also ask people to wear orange if possible, and there will be speakers and “open mic” sessions throughout the day, as well as a stall with letters, cards and petitions to sign, and balloons printed with the message, “Shaker Aamer, last Londoner in Guantánamo, cleared for release in 2007 but still not back. Bring him home now.”

For further information please contact Ray Silk on 07756 493877 or email. Also, please sign the London Guantánamo Campaign’s e-petition to the US ambassador to be delivered to the US Embassy on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo on January 11, 2012, asking for the return to the UK of Shaker Aamer and former resident Ahmed Belbacha, who fears being returned to Algeria, and calling for the closure of the prison.



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Andy Worthington

Andy Worthington

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 his RSS feed (he can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see his definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, and, if you appreciate his work, feel free to make a donation.

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