Assata Shakur’s autobiography, new book


This video is called Eyes Of The Rainbow – a documentary film with Assata Shakur.

By Carlos Martinez:

Inspiring account of a black activists struggle

Monday 1st August 2014

Assata: An Autobiograhy

by Assata Shakur

(Zed Books, £8.99)

ASSATA SHAKUR remains an essential text for understanding both the prison-industrial complex and the state of race relations in the US, as well as providing a profound insight into the successes and failures of the Black Power movement of the late 1960s and 1970s.

Born in 1947, Shakur — then Joanne Deborah Byron — grew up between North Carolina and New York, experiencing the intense racism that prevailed, and still prevails, on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line.

As a black, working-class woman she became acutely aware of the special oppression she and others like her faced. When a college student, she came across activists — especially from newly liberated Africa –— who challenged her anti-communist prejudices and her internalised stereotypes.

They encouraged her to get involved in the struggle for black power and against capitalism and imperialism. This led to her membership of the Black Panther Party and, later, the Black Liberation Army.

The larger part of the book is devoted to documenting Shakur’s experiences with the US “justice” system in courts and prisons between her arrest in 1971 and her escape eight years later.

Few readers would fail to be shocked at the extent to which this human being, whose real “crime” in the eyes of the state was to be a loud campaigner for justice and equality, was tortured and abused in prison — often at the hands of openly fascistic prison officers.

Her account also serves as a crucial reminder that there remain many political prisoners in the US, languishing behind bars for decades on trumped-up charges and that international pressure must be maintained and intensified until Mumia Abu-Jamal, Sundiata Acoli, Leonard Peltier, Oscar Lopez Rivera, Kenny “Zulu” Whitmore, Albert Woodfox and all political prisoners are freed.

As the book demonstrates, it’s a fight that must be maintained against a phenomenally unjust prison system which disproportionately targets poor and non-white people.

This is not restricted to the US — a recent study showed that black people in Britain are seven times more likely than their white counterparts to be imprisoned.

Shakur’s profound and thought-provoking reflections on the decline of the black power movement deserve to be studied and discussed, as they could help illuminate a path for the current generation of organisers and activists.

Apart from the FBI’s large-scale covert assault on the Panthers and others, she focuses too on subjective elements —adventurism, sectarianism, amateurishness, the failure to consistently raise levels of political consciousness and alienation from the masses — which hampered the movement.

Shakur’s continuing relevance is not lost on the FBI. Last year it added her to its list of “most wanted terrorists” and she is the first woman to enjoy this honour — good to see US imperialism doing its bit for gender equality.

Thankfully, she is safely in exile in Cuba, a country she describes as “one of the largest, most resistant and most courageous palenques (palisades) that has ever existed on the face of this planet.”

Essential reading.

See also here.

Ill-treatment at Guantanamo torture camp continuing


This music video is called PJ Harvey – Shaker Aamer.

About this song:

3 August 2013

PJ Harvey has released a song to highlight the ongoing detention of the last British resident held inside the US prison at Guantánamo Bay.

The track, called Shaker Aamer was recorded by the Mercury prizewinning songwriter to help maintain pressure to have the 46-year-old, whose family live in south London, released back to Britain.

Aamer has been detained in Guantánamo for more than 11 years, despite being cleared for release in 2007, and remains imprisoned without charge or trial. He has a British wife and his four children — the youngest of whom he has never met — were all born in Britain. They live in Tooting, south London.

The British government has stated repeatedly that it wants him back in the UK and last week, under escalating international pressure, the US announced it is to restart transfers from the prison. Concerns remain, however, that Aamer might be forcibly sent to Saudi Arabia and imprisoned there instead of being reunited with his family in the UK.

Shaker Aamer

No water for three days.
I cannot sleep, or stay awake.

Four months hunger strike.
Am I dead, or am I alive?

With metal tubes we are force fed.
I honestly wish I was dead.

Strapped in the restraining chair.
Shaker Aamer, your friend.

In camp 5, eleven years.
Never Charged. Six years cleared.

They took awat my one note pad,
and they refused to give it back.

I can’t think straight, I write, then stop.
Your friend, Shaker Aamer. Lost.

The guards just do what they’re told,
the doctors just do what they’re told.

Like an old car I’m rusting away.
Your friend, Shaker, Guantanamo Bay.

Don’t forget.

© 2013 Hothead Music Ltd.

By Will Stone in Britain:

Shaker Aamer ‘beaten at Guantanamo

Thursday 28th August 2014

SHAKER AAMER has reportedly been brutally beaten at Guantanamo Bay in a savage new crackdown by US troops on inmates protesting against their incarceration without charge.

Legal action charity Reprieve said yesterday that prisoners had revealed a shocking new “standard procedure.”

Emad Hassan, a Yemeni man detained without charge since 2002, wrote that a “forcible cell extraction team has been brought in to beat the detainees.”

On Sunday Mr Aamer, the last British resident locked up in the US prison, was “beaten when the medical people wanted to draw blood,” Mr Hassan said.

Guards also severely beat another detainee in an ordeal lasting nearly two hours, he added.

In a forcible cell extraction armed guards burst into a prisoner’s room and savagely drag him out — often to take hunger-strikers to be force-fed, which the UN says is a form of torture.

At one point Mr Aamer, who has been locked up without trial or charge for 12-and-a-half years, was said to have been beaten by troops eight times a day.

Reprieve strategic director Cori Crider, who is one of Mr Aamer’s lawyers, said: “Just weeks ago, the UK government dismissed our concerns about Shaker Aamer’s wellbeing, relying on US assurances about a so-called Guantanamo ‘welfare package.’

“Now we hear that Shaker, already a seriously ill man, has been beaten.

Foreign Secretary “Phillip Hammond should seek answers from the US without delay about why, instead of simply releasing Shaker, it prefers to detain and abuse him.”

Mr Aamer remains locked up in the torture camp despite being cleared for release by both the Bush and Obama administrations, spending long periods of that time shut away in solitary confinement.

An independent medical examination conducted earlier this year showed that Mr Aamer was in extremely poor health, with severe post-traumatic stress and in dire need of psychiatric care and to return to his family.

In June, former foreign secretary William Hague told Reprieve that officials were confident Mr Aamer had access to a “detainee welfare package” and that his health “remained stable.”

In a letter sent this week, Reprieve director Clive Stafford Smith urged Mr Hague’s successor Mr Hammond to interrogate the US about the latest reports of beatings.

See also here.

Military officials at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility are attempting to make force-feeding a little more fun for detainees. Some longterm hunger strikers can now kick back in a plush recliner — well, not literally, since their ankles are restrained by shackles — and play video games or watch TV while being tube fed a liquid nutritional supplement: here.

Music for peace, all over the world


This music video is called Stand By Me | Playing For Change | Song Around the World.

By Richard Maunders in Britain:

Globally harmonised

Tuesday 22nd July 2014

RICHARD MAUNDERS reports on a unique international music project which promotes peaceful global change

MARRYING Rolling Stone Keith Richards with Aztec Indian percussionists, Mexican horns, an Australian didgeridoo, a Congolese bassist and an array of other talented international musicians may come across as a bit off the wall.

But in the case of the remarkable eight-track album Making The World A Better Place, the experiment is something of a triumph. Hundreds of musicians from 31 countries across six continents have been brought together by Playing For Change, a movement formed in California to inspire, connect and bring peace to the world through music.

This album is the third such collection recorded in a quest to enhance the cause. In 2005, co-founders Mark Johnson and Whitney Kroenke committed to the ideal that through music change can be made and that all races, cultures and societies should be able to live in peace and harmony together.

They created the concept of Songs Around The World by uniting together musicians from many different countries, races and cultures to perform together on the same number.

Although most are well known and the music is superb, the achievement of this album is the clever knitting together of so many talents — young and old, with different beliefs and backgrounds — to join in what is a festival of humanity and respect.

Their conviction — that we are all together, inhabiting one world, for peace and humanity — is a message few would disagree with, even though there may be differences as to how best to achieve such noble ideals.

The performances are brilliantly conceived, beautifully photographed and expertly recorded even though in some instances the “recording studio” sometimes includes the open air, city streets, backyards, bars and the countryside.

The Playing For Change team recorded artists in countries including the Congo, South Africa, Mali, Jamaica, Mexico, Serbia, Portugal, Brazil, Cuba and more over a two-year period.

The result is an infectious set in this musical odyssey around the planet.

Household names such as Keith Richards, Los Lobos, bluesmen Keb Mo and Taj Mahal, Toots Hibbert — of the legendary Toots And The Maytals — and others rub shoulders with street musicians, African choirs and instrumentalists, Cuban guitarists and even a fabulous female Japanese honky-tonk pianist. It’s a cocktail of effervescent music that stirs the senses.

Two pieces of an outstanding collection stand out. There’s a spirited version of the anti-war anthem Down By The Riverside, led by Granpa Elliott, a New Orleans street musician for more than 60 years. He’s joined by Choeur la Grace, a Congolese choir singing the chorus in their own language, with the brilliant Preservation Hall Jazz Band adding a rousing finale.

This music video is called Playing For Change – Down by the Riverside/A Better Place.

The best, however, is saved for the last performance. More than 75 Cubans around the world from Havana and Santiago to Miami and Tokyo came together to sing Jose Marti’s patriotic verses on a passionate rendition of Guantanamera.

This music video is called Guantanamera | Playing For Change | Song Around The World.

US singer Jackson Browne was so impressed with Cuba that he writes in the sleeve notes: “Travelling with playing for change to Havana and Santiago de Cuba was one of the most rewarding and inspiring musical experiences of my life.”

If there is a criticism it has to be the lack of “revolutionary” edge. There is no Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger material here, for example, and maybe in future the Playing For Change Foundation might consider tackling poverty and hunger in its remit. Yet this is a vibrant and inspirational journey across the musical spectrum and one for all to enjoy.

The CD/DVD on Timeless Media is available at www.playingforchange.com, along with updates of Playing For Change’s British tour next month.

Nelson Mandela, eulogy by Barack Obama


This video from the USA says about itself:

The Right Wing Vs Nelson Mandela

6 Dec 2013

“The world is celebrating Nelson Mandela as a selfless visionary who led his country out of the grips of apartheid into democracy and freedom. But some of the very people lavishing praise on South Africa’s first black president worked tirelessly to undermine his cause and portray the African National Congress he lead as pawns of the Soviet Union.

In fact, American conservatives have long been willing to overlook South Africa’s racist apartheid government in service of fighting communism abroad…”.* The timeline of efforts and propaganda against Mandela is broken down by Cenk Uygur, Ana Kasparian, John Iadarola (host, TYT University and Common Room) and comedian Jimmy Dore on The Young Turks.

*Read more here.

Today, the big commemoration for Nelson Mandela in Soweto, Johannesburg in South Africa.

Though the rain poured down mercilessly, ten thousands of people in the stadium kept singing and dancing to celebrate the life of, and to honour this deceased freedom fighter.

There were various speeches by politicians. Namibia was the only African country apart from South Africa with its own speaker.

One of the speeches was by Barack Obama, president of the United States. Before speaking, he shook hands with Raul Castro, president of Cuba; also an orator today, announced as “a speaker from a tiny island which helped to liberate us”.

This video, recorded in Soweto today, is called Raul Castro Speech at Nelson Mandela Memorial.

After Castro had finished his speech, he got a special thank you, again for Cuban help in the anti-Apartheid struggle, and for Cuban help today, in health care and other areas.

The Secret History of How Cuba Helped End Apartheid in South Africa: here.

Oops – John McCain Blasts Obama-Raul Castro Handshake, Forgets He Met With Al-Qaeda Fighters: here.

John McCain admits Castro-Hitler comparison was “gross exaggeration”: here.

This video, recorded in South Africa, says about itself:

Obama’s Complete Nelson Mandela Memorial Speech

10 Dec 2013

President Barack Obama‘s full speech at memorial service today for Nelson Mandela.

Let us take a closer look at the eulogy for Mandela by Obama. We know he is a very good orator. Now, from form to content. What were the strong points and the weak points in his speech? What did he say; what did he not say?

A strong point was comparing Nelson Mandela to other famous freedom fighters: Mahatma Gandhi; Dr Martin Luther King; and Abraham Lincoln. Three individuals, when they were still alive, loved by millions all over the world. But also with bitter enemies among powerful privileged people. Three individuals with an extreme Right fringe still hating them today. Like with Mandela.

Obama, deservedly, got much applause when he mentioned Mandela‘s fellow fighters against Apartheid: Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu. People, who, together with Nelson Mandela, had been put on a list of “terrorists” by previous United States governments. Oliver Tambo died in 1993; still on the US government list of “terrorists”. Walter Sisulu died in 2003; still on the US government list of “terrorists”.

Here, Obama might have said: “Nelson Mandela was only removed from the United States list of terrorists in 2011. What a shame that he was ever put on it. And what a shame that Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo and others died while still being on that hateful list. I apologize”. Obama did not say that. Maybe, he looked at the stadium bleachers, and saw George W Bush sitting there. And Obama did not want to dissociate himself too much from his predecessor’s policies. What a pity.

Dutch NOS TV, reporting on the Mandela farewell ceremony, mentioned briefly that in 1962, the Apartheid regime probably had been able to arrest Mandela because the United States CIA had tipped the racist South African government off.

A point which Raul Castro did mention briefly was Nelson Mandela’s pro-peace views. Obama might have said: “Mandela was a strong opponent of the Iraq war. I opposed that war then as well. So, I have no trouble admitting that Nelson Mandela was right in this”. Obama did not say that. A missed chance. Oh yes, briefly, in passing, Obama mentioned the word “peace”. Without connecting it to any speech or action by Nelson Mandela. Without connecting it to Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia or elsewhere where United Stsates armed forces recently, or still today, waged or still wage war.

Correctly, Obama implied that some of the politicians now joining in the mourning for Mandela are insincere, as, contrary to the spirit of the African liberation fighter, they oppress their people. However, he did not mention that so many of these hypocritical politicians are close allies of the United States government: like the British Conservatives and the Spanish Partido Popular. And Obama did not mention how often United States government policies; in Guantanamo Bay torture prison, which Obama promised to close but which is still open; in CIA secret prisons in many countries; in drone attacks killing civilians; in NSA spying on billions of people all over the world; are at variance with Mandela’s ideals of democracy.

When President Obama denounced world leaders who praised Nelson Mandela while crushing dissent and resisting reform in their own countries, he should have had a look in the mirror: here.

Mandela’s fight against nuclear weapons – by @VincentIntondi: here.

Nelson Mandela, Feminist: here.

The Nelson Mandela of the 21st century is right here, right now. We just can’t see it. We’re too busy spitting on him and calling him a terrorist: here.

Singer Esperanza Spalding against Guantánamo torture prison


This music video is the song We Are America by Esperanza Spalding from the USA.

From Andy Worthington’s blog:

Award-Winning Soul Singer Esperanza Spalding Calls for Closure of Guantánamo in New Song, “We Are America”

19.11.13

In the long and ignoble history of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, those who have fought to secure its closure have generally labored without the kind of celebrity endorsement that tends to secure mass appeal for political causes. This year, however, celebrities began to take notice when the majority of the 164 prisoners still held embarked on a hunger strike to draw the world’s attention to their ongoing plight, and to remind people that over half of them — 84 men in total — had been cleared for release by an inter-agency task force that President Obama established shortly after taking office In January 2009.

The fact that these men were still held — and that justice appeared to have gone AWOL in the cases of the majority other prisoners still held — encouraged the best-selling novelist John Grisham to write an op-ed about Guantánamo for the New York Times on August (which I wrote about here), focusing on the case of Nabil Hadjarab, an Algerian national, who, Grisham discovered, had been prevented from reading his books. Nabil was freed soon after, although sadly the decision by the British singer-songwriter P.J. Harvey to record a song about Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, did not lead to his release, although nearly 100,000 people have listened to the song.

The latest celebrity to call for the closure of Guantánamo is Esperanza Spalding, a singer, songwriter and bassist who won a Grammy for Best New Artist in 2011. Her song, “We Are America,” with its accompanying video that features cameos by Stevie Wonder, Harry Belafonte and Janelle Monáe, is posted below, and is excellent — a soulful call for justice that ought to be rallying cry for all Americans who believe in the law, and who ought to be appalled that men are being held indefinitely without charge or trial at Guantánamo.

This is the chorus of “We Are America”:

I am America
And my America
It don’t stand for this
We are America
In our America
We take a stand for this

In addition, noticeable amongst the lyrics is Esperanza’s call, “Let them out,” which refers to the 84 prisoners cleared for release but still held, and her call for “justice for the men who should be free.” Also featured in the video are quotes from significant figures — including President Obama and Sen. John McCain, speaking about the need for Guantánamo to be closed.

I do hope you have time to watch the video, and that you will share it as widely as possible.

The video is accompanied by the following message, urging US listeners to tell their Senators to support the version of the National Defense Authorization Act that the Senate is voting on this week, which will help President Obama to close Guantánamo, and which I wrote about in detail here:

Take a stand. Call the US Capitol Switchboard (1-202-224-3121) to connect you to your two US Senators and your Congressional Representative. Tell them:

  • I am your constituent and I want you to support closing Guantánamo.
  • Indefinite detention and unfair trials are illegal, un-American and unnecessary.

Below I’m posting an op-ed that Esperanza Spalding wrote for the Los Angeles Times, and also an interview conducted for Amnesty International by Josefina Salomon.

I was also pleased to note that the Wall Street Journal covered the story, in which Esperanza said (by phone from Spain, where she was on tour), “I don’t have any prison experience, but it’s really hard to fathom being imprisoned in a place against your will and not to be charged with anything, not to have the ability to defend yourself, and to be there indefinitely. It’s hard to wrap your mind around it.”

She also said, “My wish is that the information in the video will pique people’s interest enough to go, ‘Hmm, I didn’t know all that,’” and, as the Wall Street Journal put it, “prompt them to learn more.”

I was also interested in the response to the song from the authorities at Guantánamo, as reported in the Miami Herald. Although Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale called it “an evocative performance,” he added, “the artists involved in this particular song and video leave out this crucially important piece of information: Until Congress changes the law regarding the transfer requirements for detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, the department will continue to humanely safeguard those in its charge there.”

Whilst it was predictable that “humane” treatment of the prisoners was stressed — despite medical professionals agreeing that force-feeding is abusive and unacceptable — it was interesting that Lt. Col. Breasseale specifically blamed Congress for the fact that Guantánamo is still open, even though the blame also lies with President Obama, who has largely lacked the political will to challenge lawmakers, or to use a veto in the existing legislation to bypass them completely. However, it was also interesting to see that Lt. Col. Breasseale also followed the White House line about why the prison’s continued existence is unacceptable, when he said, “To be completely clear: We agree with the President. The facility is wildly expensive, it lessens cooperation with our allies, and keeping it open is outside of America’s best interests as it serves as a continued recruiting tool for extremists.”

Below is Esperanza Spalding’s op-ed and the interview:

Music to shine a light on Guantánamo Bay

By Esperanza Spalding, Los Angeles Times, November 18, 2013

I finally read all of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail” this spring while I was on tour for my album “Radio Music Society.” At about the same time, the hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay detention center hit the headlines. Soon, scores of men were being force-fed. The more I learned about what was going on at Guantánamo, the more I realized that the truths King expressed in his famous letter were back in our faces: “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

I vowed to do something. When I got home, I called my representative and senators and expressed my support for a just closure of Guantánamo. Then I called my friends and asked them to do the same. But that wasn’t enough: 84 men cleared for release by our national security agencies years ago were still sitting at Guantánamo. I left to go back on tour, but the burning question remained: What else can I do?

At a “Radio Music Society” band dinner, we talked about Guantánamo and realized we shared a deep concern about the issues it raises. Those talks inspired a song, and then a music video — “We Are America” — that we hope will mobilize support for closing the facility. As the project crystallized, I reached out to more friends — some who happen to be quite well known — and they agreed to support our effort by making cameo appearances in the video.

Throughout the process, and after consulting with the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Human Rights First and Human Rights Watch, our resolve kept growing. We believe that the blatant injustice of detention without charge at Guantánamo violates not just U.S. human rights obligations but also our basic values and principles.

Of the 779 men who have been held at the facility since it was opened in 2002, only seven have ever been convicted of any charges in military tribunals. Two of those convictions have been overturned on appeal. Another six men are on trial now, and the government says it will only prosecute seven more. That means that of the 164 men being held (many of whom have been there for almost 12 years), about 150 are being held without charges, and they will never be charged.

King’s Birmingham letter emphasizes that concern for justice and equality is not enough to remedy the systematic violation of human rights: “[I am] compelled to carry the gospel of freedom far beyond my own home town…,” he wrote. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

With the release of “We Are America,” we hope to shine a light for our fellow Americans on these nitty-gritty facts:

The Obama administration has the ability to transfer the 84 detainees who have already been cleared for release out of Guantánamo, and other detainees could soon be cleared by newly established review boards. However, current law needlessly places obstacles in the way of accomplishing that.

Now, the Senate has begun to change that. Provisions in the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act passed out of the Senate Arms Services Committee will break down some of these obstacles and give the president more flexibility to make transfers out of the detention facility. The full Senate will begin debate on the act, and those provisions, in the coming days.

Specifically, Sections 1031 to 1034 of the Senate’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act would permit the transfer of “detainees who have been ordered released by a competent U.S. court” and “would permit transfers for the purpose of detention and trial.” Since 9/11, federal courts have prosecuted hundreds of terrorism cases, and those convicted are currently serving long sentences in high-security federal prisons.

If the Senate and the House of Representatives agree to the Guantánamo provisions in the defense act, the few prisoners in the detention center who face charges could be prosecuted where it makes the most sense, in federal courts.

Radio Music Society (and friends) made “We Are America” because we believe that, while not all of us are called to the front lines like Martin Luther King Jr., we can all support our elected officials in doing the right thing.

Why did Esperanza Spalding record a song about Guantánamo?

By Josefina Salomon, Amnesty International, November 18, 2013

Q: What motivated you to start this whole project to begin with, what was the spark?

Esperanza Spalding: It was the first time I heard about the hunger strike. I was touring in Europe and I was appalled and embarrassed about what was happening. I remember I started researching online to see what I could do about it and I saw that I could download this action pack. With that you had some important info to use to call your representative. And I did, I did call my representative and Senators. In fact, I got a letter back from one Senator who basically said that she was not going to proactively deal with it but that they would ‘keep my comments in mind’, or something like that.  But I really wanted to do more. And my band actually came to me first and said they wanted to do something too.

Q: And why do you think this particular issue is important to you — I mean there are a lot of causes you could latch on to — why this one?

Esperanza Spalding: Well, I guess from seeing my mom stick her neck out for other people many times over the years. She is someone who can’t stand injustice anytime. I think her example has affected me, but I’m usually not as brave as her to speak up. At some point in our lives, we’ve all been a silent witness to someone getting screwed over and it can be really confusing and scary to stand up for them. Particularly when they may be part of an unpopular or stigmatized group. I guess in this particular case, I was thinking of the man who has been picked up in his country or a country he was visiting, minding his own business, thrown into this detention center where he is degraded and humiliated; his holy book, his holy text that he sees as sacred, is desecrated, is disrespected; he doesn’t even have access to a fair opportunity to defend his own innocence. I see that and I think: “Oh my god!” He needs a champion.

Q: And what exactly do you mean by champion — what kind of champion are you talking about?

Esperanza Spalding: Well, I know that he has a champion in his lawyer. He has a champion in his family. He has a champion in the human rights community, in these organizations who are working tirelessly for his freedom. But I think he needs a public champion. They need a public champion that helps make it clear that, it’s not about him as an individual, it’s about him as a representative of humanity. That you, him and I have equal rights on this planet. That we’re entitled to those rights just by being a member of our collective humanity and that while I may not identify with or relate to or agree with someone — I could even hate someone — that person is still equally entitled to their own God-given, whoever-given, whatever force-given rights. Intrinsic basic human rights which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that my country ratified, protects.

So, in manifesting that belief, somebody’s got to be a public champion for these men. And I always thought that if I ever got well known in music, that I would want to use my “celebrity” to be a champion for people. So with this particular issue, I noticed the lack of a public champion, a well-known figure anyway. For example, when you think environmental degradation, you think of Leonardo DiCaprio or Matt Damon who have been very vocal about it. Or when you think of child malnutrition or poverty, you may think of Angelina Jolie. But when you think about the human rights violations happening at Guantánamo , you think of people in orange jumpsuits tying themselves to the fence in DC — they are the most public figures connected to Guantánamo . And I thought that’s not fair. So I thought if … if my star is bright enough, I can be their champion for this — I want to be that.

Q: And you mentioned your mother just a bit ago — what about her or your background do you think has had an impact on your motivations with this project?

Esperanza Spalding: I remember in elementary school, there was this little bratty, annoying and destructive little boy in my class that the teacher had a hard time with because he was such a pain in the butt! He was acting out and really just behaving terribly. He didn’t do homework, and would never behave. I remember distinctly my mom seeing past all of that and one day noticing he was squinting in the direction of the teacher. My mother asked him if he could see the chalkboard. I don’t know how she had the insight to do that. He didn’t really answer. She just had a feeling, so she convinced the school nurse to give him an eye exam, and it turned out he was nearly blind. This kid was nearly blind. And he was in a home situation where his parents didn’t really care that he was nearly blind, and so she, my mother, became his surrogate advocate at school. She made sure this kid got glasses. Not that it changed his behavior immediately because there were much deeper issues happening. But, what she was championing for was his ability to participate in education.

Q: So she recognized that there might be something else behind what was going on there?

Esperanza Spalding: Right! And she was his champion even though it wasn’t her “duty” — she just proactively did it. That was not out of character for her, but once I could grasp that he was suffering, on some level, I felt embarrassed because I had always joined in with the general dislike of this kid. Then, there goes my mom patiently talking to him, the only one who thought of taking this kid to get his eyes checked. That really had an impact on me — on my mind. And now I think, “Wow, go Mom … that was great!” you know? So, something in that experience is related to my concern for this issue. We have to see past all of the stereotypes, all the negativity, the stigma, the culture of resistance and fear, and go straight to the basic intrinsic rights of all people and fight for that. So that it’s not for any individual person, it’s about the basic human rights of all people.

The Guantanamo FilesAndy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and 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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here – or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.