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Review: The Reunion – Guantanemo Bay (Radio 4)

I listen to a lot of speech radio over the summer, because it is so quiet at work it can feel a bit lonely.

I heard an amazing programme last week – The Reunion, which is on Radio 4 at 9am on Fridays.

The programme brings together various people who were affected by historical and political events and they are interviewed, very sensitively by Sue MacGregor, about their version of events.  The topics are as diverse as Wallace and Gromit, the creation of New Labour, but also covers different tragic events.

On Friday, a production team had somehow managed to gather together Clive Stafford-Smith (human rights lawyer), Colonel Mike Bumgarner, who was head of the guard force at Guantanemo Bay, and two former inmates, Moazzem Begg, a British national, and Sami al Hajj, who was a Sudanese cameraman with Al-Jazeera.  Not only did they not kill each other on air, the whole interview took place with thoughtfulness and dignity.

It must be everyone’s worst Kafka-esque nightmare to imagine themselves caught up in a prison system where there is no chance of answering charges, indeed, of there not even being charges to answer.  Sami al Hajj very calmly described how the US dropped leaflets promising bounty for any terrorists turned in, and it was as a result of this that he said someone denounced him to the authorities.  He also described the tortures that he underwent when having his “confession” extracted, which included hearing a woman screaming and being told that it was his wife, who would also be tortured until he confessed.

On the other side, Colonel Mike Bumgarner described his attempts to clean up and humanise treatment of the prisoners, and conversations he had had with hardened terrorists in Guantanemo, who would argue with fervour about the righteousness of their actions.

Sometimes the accounts of what happened would conflict, but this was allowed to hang in the air.  This was not a confrontational programme, but one that made you think of the awful complexities of how this prison came to exist, and why it remained in existence for such a long time.

The only slight quibble was that it resulted in the worst segue, worse than any weird item combination on Woman’s Hour, that I have ever heard on the radio.  “And next week, Mary Berry and Prue Leith!”

Listen to The Reunion.

I also listened to Miles Jupp in In and Out of the Kitchen.  I always listen to this comedy about slightly neurotic cookery writer Damian Trench, but it was especially funny last week and/or the situation struck a chord.  Damian and his partner Anthony went on a narrowboat holiday with their builder, parents and friends and the cramped conditions and random mix of people was hilarious.  It also reminded me of a holiday my friend went on this summer, which resulted in her walking off a canal boat and going home, leaving a furious ex-friend behind her shouting, “But how are we going to manage the locks without you?”

Listen to In and Out of the Kitchen here.



  1. It does sound like a strange list of people to put together but it, from your account of it, worked. I admit sadly, that I don’t listen to much radio. Often it is only during a twenty minute journey home late at night that I will listen to the talk shows. Perhaps it is time to change that and pay attention to radio and ditch tv every now and then.

  2. I always listen to ‘The Reunion’ even if it means that I have to catch up on it through iPlayer. I think Sue MacGregor is extraordinary in the way in which she manages to get people to discuss what are often very painful and divisive topics in rational and intelligent ways. Having said that, one of my favourite editions was one in which she brought back together people who had been involved in the televised version of ‘Brideshead Revisited’ including the Bear who played Aloysius. Surely no one could be divisive about a Bear?

    • I didn’t hear the Bear episode 🙂
      We need more Sue Macgregors in the media, and in life. Such a skill to make the interview very much *not* about yourself and your own intrusions, but to draw people out. Jenni Murray is the same.

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