See the entire event on C-SPAN here (and also via UStream below, from the website of the New America Foundation, where it was later replaced by a YouTube version, made available at the foot of this article).
On the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Bush administration’s prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which belonged to George W. Bush for seven of those ten years, but has belonged to Barack Obama for the last three, there is no reason for anyone with a heart, a conscience or a respect for America and the rule of law to be cheerful.
On Tuesday lunchtime, however, as part of my ongoing US tour, when I met up, at the New America Foundation in Washington D.C. with Tom Wilner, Counsel of Record in the Guantánamo prisoners’ habeas corpus cases in the Supreme Court in 2004 and 2008, and Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor of the Military Commissions at Guantánamo, who resigned in 2007 in protest at the use of torture, Col. Davis found it impossible not to crack a joke about it. “We must stop meeting like this,” he said, referring to the fact that, exactly a year ago, he and Tom and I were on a panel discussing Guantánamo on the 9th anniversary of its opening.
As an infrequent visitor to the US, it is, of course, wonderful to meet up with friends I have established throughout my long years of work on Guantánamo, and not just Tom and Moe, and the moderator of the panel discussion, Peter Bergen, who is an old college friend. Nevertheless, the serious intent remains, overshadowing everything else — our efforts to bring to an end the continued existence of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, which unremittingly serves as a reminder that, under George W. Bush, America lost its way, shredding the rule of law and introducing torture as official policy, and that, under Barack Obama, this toxic legacy remains.
For this year’s panel discussion, which, on my fourth visit to the New America Foundation, was a full house as usual, with a mix of journalists, think-tankers, veteran antiwar and anti-Guantánamo activists, and members of the Occupy movement, I was delighted that Congressman Jim Moran, one of a troublingly small number of lawmakers to have opposed the brutal excesses of the “war on terror,” including Guantánamo, agreed to join the panel.
Congressman Moran delivered a powerful analysis of all that was wrong with Guantánamo, past, present and future, as well as severely criticizing his fellow lawmakers for, almost unanimously, passing the National Defense Authorization Act last month, with its provision demanding the mandatory military custody, and indefinite detention without charge or trial, of anyone accused of involvement with al-Qaeda.
It remains to be seen if this will ever be used, either on foreigners or Americans, but the very fact that it was dreamt up and passed overturns the very principles on which the United States was founded — and, of course, it should not be forgotten that it would not have been possible for lawmakers to take this step if Guantánamo, a place where foreigners have been held in indefinite military custody without charge or trial for ten years, was no longer open.
My commentary starts at about 21 minutes into the video, and, after Congressman Moran’s presentation, which covered almost everything that needed mentioning, I took the opportunity to expand on a few issues – the 89 men cleared for release who are still held, the obstacles imposed by the President and Congress on the release of any Yemenis, even though they make up 58 of those 89 cleared prisoners, lawmakers’ imposition of a prohibition on releasing any prisoner to a country where it is alleged that even a single released prisoner has engaged in anti-US activities, and the D.C. Circuit Court’s cynical and ideological elimination of habeas corpus as a remedy for any of the Guantánamo prisoners.
I also took the opportunity to launch the new campaign and website, “Close Guantánamo” on which I have been working with Tom Wilner and Gary A. Isaac, an attorney in Chicago who has worked on the Guantánamo litigation. The three of us form the steering committee, and Col. Davis is one of the many high-profile signatories to our mission statement, along with Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Chief of Staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell; the Hon. John J. Gibbons, former Chief Judge, US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit; Gen. David M. Brahms (Ret.); Rear Adm. Donald J. Guter (Ret.); and Rear Adm. John D. Hutson (Ret.).
I encouraged those attending the event — as I do now through this article — to sign up to the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, to be on the mailing list and to be counted as an opponent of the prison’s continued existence, to help us to secure as many supporters as possible, and to sign the petition on the White House’s “We the People” website urging the President to fulfill his promise to close the prison as he promised three years ago. 25,000 signatures are needed by February 6, so please do all you can to help!
Following my contribution, Col. Davis delivered a powerful presentation, starting around 31 minutes in, asking why principles had been sacrificed for political expediency, and lamenting the continuing coarseness of the self-image sold to Americans by Republican candidates, who continue to confuse robustness with brutality and torture, even though that road leads not only to Guantánamo, but also to Abu Ghraib, Bagram and the CIA “black sites,” as well as being illegal, counterproductive and — largely overlooked, it seems to me — morally corrosive, infecting American society like a virus.
Rounding up, at around 42 minutes, Tom Wilner urged those attending to take the message out to their fellow countrymen and women, and, in particular, to educate them about the shame of Guantánamo, and, primarily, the largely unknown fact that 89 prisoners — over half of the 171 men still held — have been cleared for release.
Afterwards, we had a lively Q&A session for over half an hour, including a powerful and provocative response by Congressman Moran to a comment about the extent of Obama’s perceived crimes on national security issues (including, as just one example, the use of drone attacks), in which he urged those in the room not to confine themselves in their own echo chamber, and to recall that other echo chambers — in Congress and the Republican Party, for example — constitute a particular danger that should not be overlooked.
It left me with a feeling that he had just defined the battleground for the election year — not just between the Democrats and Republicans, but also between those liberals, progressives and others on the left and their legitimate opposition to the Obama Presidency, those who don’t want to be told that they have to blindly vote for Barack Obama, when it is possible for them not to vote at all, unless he can provide an absolute guarantee that he will give something back in return, and that, if he did win a second term, he would finally repay those who believed his soaring rhetoric before he became President, and who worked tirelessly to get him elected on the understanding that, amongst other things, he would follow through on his promise to close Guantánamo.
After all, as was demonstrated last year in the Arab Spring, in protest movements in Greece, Spain and the UK, and in American movements from the occupation of Madison, Wisconsin to Occupy Wall Street and the wider Occupy movement, there is a growing thirst, around the world, for new political movements that are for the people, and not for the bankers and the corporations, and that are not part of the political machinery that maintains the military-industrial complex at the expense of justice, and at such ruinous cost, both morally and economically, as typified by Guantánamo.
Note: The YouTube version of the event is below:
Andy Worthington is 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. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
On the CSPAN! Not bad, eh? I look forward to watching this.
I went to the Omar Khadr film on Wednesday night in Minneapolis.. Talk about the banality of evil. I wanted to strangle the Canadian interrogator. I couldn’t believe he actually knew what he wanted to hear and didn’t like anything else. I mean, we all knew that’s what happens, but seeing it so transparently done was surprising. Begg’s comment on the interrogator’s checklist and incentives was right on the money.
The film was put on by Amenesty Intl. and the local Center for Victims of Torture, an amazing organization. As for AI – unimpressed. The guy didn’t know Omar’s current status, so I had to tell the group. And he had a letter to sign for Shaker Aamer, but didn’t know anything about him either, even pronouncing his name.
Thanks, Mark. Yes, the Omar Khadr film is very powerful, isn’t it? Something everyone should see — at least in the US and Canada. I’m in Chicago now, on the last leg of my US tour, with a good crowd watching “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo.”
On Facebook, Cyndy Tyler wrote:
Brendan Horstead wrote:
Thanks for the posting Andy, very interesting and informative – and extremely worrying to hear about the new act passed in the USA entitling the military to detain an individual for an indefinite period on suspicion of illegal intentions. With the whole financial meltdown issue dominating the media you continue a fantastic effort to keep the illegal and abhorrent detentions at Guantanamo in the public eye. Good on you mate!
Brendan Horstead wrote:
Oh and thanks for a fantastic New Years Eve bash! We all had a great time. Hope to see you all soon and hear more about your adventures States side.
Thanks, Cyndy — and Bren, very good to hear from you. I’m also looking forward to catching up with you. I’m in Chicago now, after being in New York, Washington D.C. and San Francisco, and I fly back to NYC tomorrow, and then London on Monday.
At a later appearance that same day at Busboy and Poets, Tom Wilner mentioned that you and he believed that Obama could release prisoners under a waiver provision in the NDAA and therefore Obama cannot claim that the NDAA has tied his hands. Can you comment further on this waiver provision?
Good to hear from you, Josie. I intend to be writing more about this very soon, if you can bear with me for now.
Josie Setzler also wrote:
I was there and am grateful for all the analysis and moral fiber the four of you provided us! You strengthened my resolve to go back home to Ohio and give talks that will “humanize the prisoners” as you said so well. I’m also spreading the word to sign the petition at http://www.closeguantanamo.org
Thank you, Josie. That’s great to hear.
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