curiosity about the ways of the world

Amnesty protest

Well, Tommy, Nick and I didn’t get arrested but just for a few seconds I felt a flicker of what it might be like to suffer the real humiliation of Guantanamo as we were ordered to kneel in a pose of submission by a young man in combat gear: “I don’t want to see your eyes, look down, look down.” Even though I knew this was just for the sake of the cameras flashing outside the US Consulate, even though we were all wearing orange boiler suits specially provided by Amnesty for the lunch hour demo, the mere act of kneeling, head down was a humbling act. When my glasses slipped down my nose I wondered if the guard would shout at me again for looking up to stop them falling.


I couldn’t take the next, more dramatic picture outside the Edinburgh US Consulate because I was kneeling on the cobblestones with my head down. None of us were arrested but according to Aljazeera 81 protesters were arrested outside the US Supreme Court and could face up to 60 days in jail.

Role playing acts of submission and oppression can reveal disquieting truths about human beings. The Milgram experiments at Yale in the early sixties showed how much pain perfectly ordinary people are prepared to inflict if they are ordered to do it by someone in a white coat.

Guantanamo also demonstrates Stanley Milgram’s ‘perils of obedience’. It occurs to me that there are layers of meaning in the Amnesty ‘Protect the Human’ placards we were carrying: the oppressor risks losing his or her humanity at least as much as the oppressed.

If there are had been an opportunity this morning I would like to have asked the friendly young man in the combat suit if he had felt another side of himself emerging as he ordered a couple of hundred people to kneel on the ground, first on the cobbled streets in front of the US Consulate, then again on the Mound next to the Royal Scottish Academy. Nick (click here to read his account), however, had the brass neck to quote what Princess Leah said to Luke in Star Wars, “Aren’t you a little small for a storm trooper?” Our trooper just flashed a smile in reply. For us this was only make believe.


Phil, in a smart day wear, turned up in time to photograph Nick and me on the Mound.

This is the sixth anniversary of Guantanamo. Amnesty held demonstrations in Edinburgh, London and Belfast today calling for an end to torture, ill treatment and the denial of fair trial by US authorities; an end to the failure of the UK Government to oppose this terrible travesty of justice, and renewed commitment to justice and human rights for all.

As we walk away, Tommy comments that almost all demos suffer from the support theyprotest.jpg attract (of course he doesn’t mean Nick and me). I say that might be unfair, under the orange boiler suits there were probably quite a few very ‘ordinary’ people (as ordinary as us anyway) but there is always a ‘rent a demo’ element which is why the silent and hidden majority who also oppose injustice need to become much more visible.

Unfortunately, apart from Green Robin Harper, I didn’t see any politicians there today (in orange boiler suits or otherwise) though my own parliamentary representatives Mark Lazarowicz (Westminster) and Malcolm Chishom (Scottish Parliament) have both signed the Amnesty petition calling for closure of Guantanamo.


  1. Administrator

    Nicks pictures taken by the Mound make the point well. The pictures on the Amnesty Flickr page are impressive too and there is a very powerful video where Kate Allen, the director, speaks from inside a Guantanamo cage. I am always impressed by the passion organisations like Amnesty, Oxfam, and Greenpeace can give to their cause – makes politicians look very dull in comparison. Is that the luxury of single issue campaigns?

  2. Jean Richards

    It’s hard to believe that Guantanamo still exists and that the world has not expressed more outrage.
    From the long picture with Nick’s piece one gets a sense of the atmosphere of the protest and how significant the orange boiler suits were.
    I’m pleased that you are still getting out and about since your big birthday and not spending all the day tea-drinking and drumming.
    Well done to you for making a stand (kneel) and to the young Eric Clapton for accompanying you.

  3. Administrator

    Think positive!

  4. Nick Gardner

    Don’t worry about not making it this year. You can get it in your diaires early for 2009.

  5. John

    Exactly, that’s the rule of law we’re supposed to be upholding and demonstrating to the rest of the world, pity about the plan to bang people up without charge for 42 days.

  6. Administrator

    I agree. There is something powerful about seeing numbers of people taking to the street for something they believe in. I was also impressed by how efficiently the police guided us through the crowds on Princes Street. They were keeping their eye on a couple of loud mouths who had tagged on to the demo but I also felt that they were there to protect the demonstrators from random abuse.

  7. Dougal

    Very striking. The boiler suits and the comment, that is. I wasn’t able to attend but I would like to have lent my support. Awareness-raising is important and taking to the streets in the orange boiler suits is a good way of attracting attention. Films like Rendition and the Channel 4 recreation of Guantanamo Bay a couple of years ago are great but nothing beats seeing the protest happen right in front of you.

    Well done. I hope it has some affect.

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