Please note that the screening has been postponed until Friday evening (February 24) at 10:30 pm.
Greetings from Kuwait, where the weather is fresh and warm, and the people are very friendly. Although I have been studying Guantánamo and the “war on terror” for the last six years, this is my first visit to the Middle East, and I’m here to play whatever part I can to secure the return from Guantánamo of Fayiz al-Kandari and Fawzi al-Odah, the last two Kuwaitis in the prison.
I’m here with Lt. Col. Barry Wingard, the Pentagon-appointed military defense attorney for Fayiz al-Kandari, and his colleagues Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Bogucki and Sgt. Chad Darby, and also with the civilian attorney Tom Wilner, my colleague in the new “Close Guantánamo” campaign. I am also grateful for the support of Adel Abdulhadi of the Al-Oula law firm, and am delighted to have finally met the journalist Jenifer Fenton, who has recently been focusing on the stories of the Kuwaiti prisoners. The centerpiece of my visit is the screening, at 9.30 pm on Thursday (February 23), on Alrai TV, of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” which I co-directed with Polly Nash, followed by a studio discussion with Tom Wilner and myself. Both Tom and I feature in the film, and we had a very productive question and answer session today, when we pre-recorded the studio talk to accompany the broadcast of the film tomorrow evening.
This is a great occasion, as it is not only the biggest audience by far for the film, but also its first screening in Arabic, following a heroic mission by Polly and a number of Arabic speakers in the UK and Canada to complete the sub-titling of the film in the days before my flight to Kuwait on Monday. I hope — and anticipate — that the film’s comprehensive analysis of the many crimes and failures of the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” and the compelling human stories of the men affected by America’s journey to the “dark side,” will be as informative for the Kuwaiti audience as they have been for the Western audiences who have seen the film in screenings in the US, the UK and Europe over the last two years.
Although the film focuses specifically on the stories of three British prisoners — including Shaker Aamer, the last UK resident in Guantánamo, for whom a new e-petition to the British government has just been launched — Tom’s experience representing the 12 Kuwaiti prisoners initially held at Guantánamo, including Fayiz and Fawzi, will provide a very specific resonance for a Kuwaiti audience, as he talks of meeting them for the first time back in 2005, and explains how nice they were, and — alarmingly — how thin they were, “as though they had almost been starved.” Tom also explains how Fayiz had a long history of charitable activity dating back to his childhood, up to and including the time of his capture, when he, like Fawzi, was involved in charitable work in Afghanistan.
As well as showing the film, I am involved in meetings with lawyers, with the men’s families, and with young activists, to work out how to keep pushing for the release of Fayiz and Fawzi. Outrageously, both men had their habeas corpus petitions denied by a US court, in a horribly gray area of dubious legality in which, because of decisions made by certain judges in the US appeals court in Washington D.C., unreliable hearsay has come to be regarded as evidence.
However, ten years after Guantánamo opened, it is disgraceful that dark forces in the US, motivated almost entirely by cynical fearmongering designed to keep the electorate scared, have conspired to keep Guantánamo open, thwarting President Obama’s promise to close the prison — which, sadly, has also come to pass with the help of the President’s own inaction at decisive moments.
Neither Fayiz al-Kandari nor Fawzi al-Odah poses a threat to the United States, and it has not been demonstrated that either man raised arms against US forces at any point in Afghanistan ten years ago, and yet they are still held. Like all but 36 of the remaining 171 prisoners (who have been recommended for trials by the President’s advisors), their ongoing detention, as part of the 89 prisoners still held despite being cleared for release, and the 46 others designated for indefinite detention without charge or trial, is a stain on America’s reputation for justice and fairness, and an insult to Kuwait, America’s staunchest ally in the Gulf.
In addition, back in 2009, when just four Kuwaitis were still held in Guantánamo, the Kuwaiti government spent a small fortune building a rehabilitation center for these men, following the largely successful model established in Saudi Arabia. As a US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks explained, in June 2009 the Kuwaiti government revealed its plans “to detain, interrogate, and rehabilitate its four remaining GTMO detainees in this facility, asserting that based on the Saudi model, such rehabilitation can take place within a six month detention period that can be accommodated within existing Kuwaiti laws and state security procedures.”
Nevertheless, the center has not been used. Two of the four Kuwaitis still in Guantánamo when President Obama took office were freed because judges granted their habeas corpus petitions, including the notorious case of Fouad al-Rabiah, who had been subjected to torture and threats until he invented a self-incriminating story, even though a CIA Arabic expert had concluded in the summer of 2002 that he was an innocent man seized by mistake.
As a result, this hugely expensive testament to the Kuwaiti government’s desire to please its US allies and secure the return of its last two prisoners in Guantánamo can finally be put to good use if the Kuwaiti government exerts pressure on the Obama administration to show respect for the long-standing alliance between the two countries — most recently cemented during Iraq’s Invasion of Kuwait 21 years ago, in which Fawzi al-Odah’s father, Khalid, provided invaluable military assistance to the US — by sending Fayiz and Fawzi home.
Along the way, this will also help to break the cynical deadlock at Guantánamo, whereby no living prisoner has left since January 2011, and the last two prisoners to leave died at the prison and were repatriated in coffins. It is time for the Kuwait people to tell the Obama administration that enough is enough, and that the terrible ten-year history of Guantánamo must be brought to an end.
“Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” will be shown on Alrai TV at 9.30 pm on Thursday February 23, 2012.
About the film
“‘Outside the Law’ is a powerful film that has helped ensure that Guantánamo and the men unlawfully held there have not been forgotten.”
Kate Allen, Director, Amnesty International UK
“[T]his is a strong movie examining the imprisonment and subsequent torture of those falsely accused of anti-American conspiracy.”
Joe Burnham, Time Out
“Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” is a documentary film, directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, telling the story of Guantánamo (and including sections on extraordinary rendition and secret prisons) with a particular focus on 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).
The film is based around interviews with former prisoners (Moazzam Begg and, in his first major interview, Omar Deghayes, who was released in December 2007), lawyers for the prisoners (Clive Stafford Smith in the UK and Tom Wilner in the US), and journalist and author Andy Worthington, and also includes appearances from Guantánamo’s former Muslim chaplain James Yee, Shakeel Begg, a London-based Imam, and the British human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce.
Focusing on the stories of three particular prisoners – Shaker Aamer (who is still held, despite being cleared for release), Binyam Mohamed (who was released in February 2009) and Omar Deghayes — “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.
For further information, interviews, or to inquire about broadcasting, distributing or showing “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” anywhere in the world, including the Middle East, where the new subtitled Arabic version is now available, please contact Andy Worthington or Polly Nash, and please see below for the first five minutes of the film: