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On Monday, in an editorial entitled, “Close Guantánamo,” which, I am pleased to note, drew on my recent report, Guantánamo Scandal: The 40 Prisoners Still Held But Cleared for Release At Least Five Years Ago, the Saudi Gazette called for President Obama to honor his promise to close Guantánamo, which, of course, he made on his second day in office in January 2009, issuing an executive order promising that the prison would be closed within a year. As the editors urged, “This is no time for Obama to be indecisive. He still has six months in office and can right a wrong and set out to close Guantánamo which he pledged to do even before he became president.”
The Saudi Gazette also took unerring aim at the recent decision by the Supreme Court not to accept appeals by seven prisoners whose cases had been dismissed by politically motivated judges in the court of appeals in Washington D.C., which I wrote about here and here (and discussed on TV here and here). The judges, led by Judge A. Raymond Randolph, who supported every piece of Guantánamo-related legislation under George W. Bush that was subsequently overturned by the Supreme Court, have been rewriting the rules governing the prisoners’ habeas corpus petitions to such an alarming extent that judges are now obliged to believe any dubious submission put forward as evidence by the government unless it can specifically be refuted, and, as a result, no prisoner has had his petition granted since July 2010.
The Saudi Gazette also claimed that defense secretary Robert Gates had “asked Obama to keep a little more than 100 detainees in indefinite detention … because they constituted an immediate danger to the security of the US but could not be put on trial” — a statement that requires some additional observations, and some corrections. The advice almost certainly came not from Gates but from the interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force, established by President Obama to review the cases of all the prisoners, whose final report recommended that 84 prisoners should either be tried or held indefinitely.
The Task Force indicated that 36 prisoners should be tried, and 48 should be held indefinitely — a disgraceful continuation of the specific policies introduced by President Bush, which President Obama shamefully adopted as official policy in March 2011, when he issued an executive order authorizing the indefinite detention of these 48 men — two of whom have now died at Guantánamo — because the supposed evidence against them is too weak or tainted to be used in a courtroom. That is a disgraceful concession to the damage wrought by George W. Bush on notions of justice and fairness, and it must one day be challenged, but first of all calls must be renewed — from the international community, as well as from within the US — for the 87 men who have been cleared for release to finally be freed from their otherwise unending and deeply disturbing legal limbo.
In the hope of contributing, however humbly, to this international awareness, I am cross-posting the Saudi Gazette‘s editorial below:
The US Supreme Court’s recent decision not to take a new look at the rights of foreign prisoners held for the past decade at the Guantánamo Bay naval base in Cuba effectively seals the fate of the 169 foreigners remaining in the notorious prison. Of those still stuck behind bars, 87 have been long-approved for release, some as far back as during the George W. Bush administration. The figure means that almost half of the prisoners still held at Guantánamo – men that the US government acknowledges it does not want to continue holding or to put on trial — have been waiting for their freedom for between four and eight years, a period which is as shocking as it is perplexing. And it appears they will have to wait even longer.
If President Obama was to be believed, today there would be no Guantánamo. After his inauguration in 2009 Obama announced the closure of Guantánamo within a year. The decision was received with much fanfare by human rights organizations in the US and abroad. But it appears that Robert Gates, who served as secretary of defense in Bush’s second term and who was kept in his post by Obama, had a different opinion about closing Guantánamo. Gates is reported to have asked Obama to keep a little more than 100 detainees in indefinite detention there because they constituted an immediate danger to the security of the US but could not be put on trial since any court would dismiss whatever evidence had been secured against them on the grounds that it was extracted under duress. If these detainees were released, Gates said, they would rejoin Al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups and attack the US again.
So Obama never kept his promise of closing Guantánamo, and in fact the White House hasn’t even tried. The US executive branch is allowed to abduct prisoners, detain them indefinitely, and decide unilaterally whether or not they are prisoners of war and whether or not the Geneva Conventions apply to them — which is not a decision to be taken by individual countries.
Four years after pronouncing that Guantánamo detainees who face no charges have a right to challenge their ongoing confinement, the justices recently rejected appeals which argued that the federal appeals court in Washington has largely ignored the high court’s command. But by refusing to hear these cases, the Supreme Court abandons the promise of its own ruling guaranteeing detainees a constitutional right to a review of the legality of their detention.
This is no time for Obama to be indecisive. He still has six months in office and can right a wrong and set out to close Guantánamo which he pledged to do even before he became president. Perhaps Guantánamo is no longer in the news as when Obama was on the campaign trail. Still, Guantánamo must be closed and the remaining prisoners must be tried in US courts or repatriated. It is disappointing that Obama has not ended this failed experiment, for there is no detainee at Guantánamo who cannot be tried and should not be tried in the regular US federal courts system.
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 April 2012, “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 please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
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