The Human Cost of Guantanamo

An interview with British journalist Andy Worthington about his latest film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo.”

Andy Worthington has spent the past several years exposing the stories of the hundreds of men who were taken to Guantanamo prison.

The British journalist, who is also a contributing reporter to Truthout, produced a groundbreaking book, “The Guantanamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison,” the only book published that meticulously pieced together the stories of all the men who have been detained in the US prison.

Now Worthington has released a new documentary, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo,” co-directed with filmmaker Polly Nash. The film provides intimate interviews with two former detainees, Omar Deghayes and Moazzam Begg, and their lawyers, Clive Stafford Smith and Tom Wilner. Deghayes and Begg describe how they ended up in US custody, the gruesome conditions they faced while being held by the US and the impact this experience has had on their personal lives.

In a gripping moment in the film, Deghayes speaks to the camera and expresses that the worst part of being captured and held in Guantanamo prison wasn’t the torture, but the years spent away from his child. “Not my eye, not my broken finger, not my broken ribs, not my broken nose, not the humiliation, not the sexual abuse, not all that transport and things; these things are bad enough,” said Deghayes, “but the worst thing,” he said, was being unable to witness the formative years of his son’s life.

Moazzam Begg, who was in Afghanistan doing humanitarian work when he was captured and sent eventually to Guantanamo, describes the difficulty in explaining why, as an innocent man, he was held for so long.

“It’s difficult to explain to people that places like Guantanamo exist where you don’t have to be good or bad. You just simply exist there because people take you there,” said Begg.

According to a press release, the film was created as a rebuke to the notion 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.”

Recently, Worthington held screenings for “Outside the Law” in the US, which garnered discussion about the future of Guantanamo detainees as President Barack Obama’s self-imposed deadline to close the prison fast approaches.

Worthington said that as he toured the US with the film, he noticed something he describes as the “Obama Effect.”

“There seems to be an enormous number of people who are still sitting and thinking that everything’s fine because President Obama’s in and he said he is going to close it and that there is nothing to worry about. Whereas it’s actually not very long until the prison’s supposed to close and there are going to be some real difficulties in achieving that.”

A main difficulty, said Worthington, is finding a place to go to for those who have been cleared of terrorist activities. Even though a handful of European countries have allowed former detainees to resettle, there remain dozens in Guantanamo with nowhere to go. The problem, said Worthington, is that members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are indulging in fearmongering and not allowing prisoners who have been found innocent to resettle in the US.

Worthington said that Congress is the main reason that there is still “no option available for finding new homes in the United States for people who were wrongly imprisoned by the United States, who are not terrorists, who have been cleared by both the Bush administration and the Obama administration of posing a threat.”

“Very simply put,” said Worthington, exasperated at the lack of responsibility by the very country that wrongly imprisoned them, “if something doesn’t happen on this front, I think these men stay and rot in Guantanamo forever.”