End 19 Years Of Injustice

"Guantánamo: 20 Years After" — Mohamedou Ould Salahi and Andy Worthington Are Keynote Speakers at Brighton University Online Conference on Nov. 12 and 13

The website for "Guantánamo: 20 Years After", an online conference on Nov. 12-13, 2021.

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By Andy Worthington, November 5, 2021

I'm delighted to announce a two-day online conference about Guantánamo — "Guantánamo: 20 Years After" — on Friday Nov. 12 and Saturday Nov. 13, hosted by the University of Brighton, which, as the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign, I've been organizing with Sara Birch, a lecturer in law at the university and, like me, a longtime advocate for the prison's closure.

Covid-19 has made the conference an online affair, but what it has also done is to allow us to bring together people who might not have been able to travel for a physical conference; in this case, in particular, former Guantánamo prisoners who, in common with everyone who has been released from the prison over the unforgivably long years of its existence, face restrictions on their ability to travel freely, either because they aren’t allowed to have passports, or because they face often insurmountable problems getting visas.

I'm honored to have been asked to open the conference on Friday as a keynote speaker, followed by former Guantánamo prisoner and best-selling author Mohamedou Ould Salahi, and on Saturday we're delighted to have former prisoner Mansoor Adayfi and his collaborator Antonio Aiello — on Adayfi’s recently published memoir "Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantánamo" — as guest speakers.

The conference also features eleven academic papers, delivered by, amongst others, the academics and activists Jeremy Varon and Maha Hilal, retired psychologist and investigator Jeffrey Kaye, and the academics William Hudon, Sam Raphael (of the U.K.’s Rendition Project) and Maureen Duffy.

There are also three panel discussions — on 'Military Commissions and Torture', 'Guantánamo: The Future' and 'Activism and Accountability', with panelists including Michel Paradis, a long-standing civilian defense attorney with the military commissions, Jonathan Hafetz of Seton Hall School of Law, Nancy Hollander, who represented Mohamedou, Daphne Eviatar of Amnesty International USA, and Shane Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights. I’ll be taking part in the final panel discussion, 'Activism and Accountability', when one of the topics I’ll be raising is the need for the restrictions on former prisoners — based on their apparently lifelong definition as "enemy combatants" — to be lifted.

With the 20th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo swiftly approaching (on Jan. 11, 2022), the conference could not be better timed. Although President Biden has indicated his desire to close the prison, he has done little to encourage us to believe that it ranks high in his priorities.

Only one prisoner has been freed since he took office, and currently, of the 39 men still held, 13 have been approved for release, but are still held. Six of these men have been approved for release under Biden (via the Periodic Review Boards, a parole-type process established under President Obama), but others have not been freed despite being approved for release back in 2010, and President Biden needs to be reminded, as loudly as possible, that approving men for release but then not releasing them is both cruel and unjust.

Of the 26 others, just 12 have been charged with crimes in the military commission trial system (or have been through that system), while the 14 others have been aptly described as "forever prisoners" — never charged with a crime, but historically considered too dangerous to release. Like most of the men approved for release but still held, they too have been through the Periodic Review Board process, but have repeatedly been found to still constitute some sort of threat, although the process itself is both opaque and not legally binding.

If they are not to be charged, they too must be released, as even U.S. lawmakers have finally realized that indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial is an abomination. However, President Biden is running out of time to deliver a major statement on his willingness to close Guantánamo by making sure that as many of these men as possible are released before that most ignominious of anniversaries — the 20th anniversary of the opening of the prison — arrives in just two months’ time.

We very much hope that the conference will help to maintain pressure on the Biden administration to move forward on the closure of Guantánamo by shining a light on the many reasons why, in the past, present and future, its existence has been, is and will continue to be intolerable.

Registration for the conference is £50 for those with institutional backing, but £10 for unaffiliated individuals. I hope it's of interest, and I hope to see you there.