President Obama, It’s Time to Fulfill Your Promise to Close Guantánamo


I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email. 

Now that the dust has settled on last week’s Presidential election, we at “Close Guantánamo” pledge that we will continue to demand that President Obama fulfills his promise to close the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which he made on his second day in office in January 2009.

Although we acknowledge that the President has released 71 prisoners since that time, and we accept that Congress has been monstrously obstructive, this is not sufficient to excuse Barack Obama for his failure to fulfill his promise. 166 men still languish in Guantánamo, almost all abandoned by the justice system on which America prides itself.

Particularly galling is the fact that 86 of the men still held were cleared for release by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, a sober and responsible collection of officials from the major government departments and the intelligence agencies, who analyzed the cases of all the prisoners throughout 2009. The Task Force concluded that 56 of those men should be released, and 30 others — all Yemenis — should be held in “conditional detention” (a category of detention invented by the Task Force) until it was decided that the security situation in Yemen had improved.

After 66 prisoners were released by the Obama administration — many given new homes in third countries, because it was unsafe for them to return home — Congress intervened to impose onerous restrictions on the President’s ability to release prisoners, with the result that just five prisoners have been freed in the last two years.

Further complicating matters, half of the 56 cleared prisoners — as well as the 30 in “conditional detention” — are Yemenis, and the President himself issued a moratorium on releasing any cleared Yemenis in January 2010, in response to a failed bomb plot by a Nigerian man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who had been recruited in Yemen, and a wave of hysteria that followed his capture, even though holding these men responsible, in any sense, for what happened to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in Yemen is the most outrageous form of “guilt by nationality,” for which the President should be ashamed.

We believe it is time for all the cleared prisoners to be freed, as swiftly as possible, and that the President has all the tools he needs to do so, as a waiver in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act allows him to bypass Congress in matters relating to the release of prisoners if he regards it as being in America’s national security interests.

The first release should be of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who could be returned home today. An end to the moratorium on the Yemenis should follow swiftly so that they too can be freed, and, for the other cleared prisoners, if they cannot be repatriated, and third countries cannot be found that will take them in, they should be freed in the US.

The fact that other countries have given new homes to men who could not be safely repatriated, while every branch of the US government — the executive branch, Congress and the courts — have all declared America to be off-limits, is another source of shame that needs remedying.

In just two months’ time, on January 11, 2013, the 11th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, concerned citizens will gather in Washington D.C., as they do on January 11 every year, to call for the closure of Guantánamo.

Let this be the last year that the US government needs reminding, by its people, that Guantánamo remains an abomination, and that its closure is necessary to bring to an end 11 years of horrendous injustice.

Let this be the last year that the US government needs reminding, by its people, of the disgraceful reality that, over 11 years after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, which prompted the Bush administration to declare a brutal and il-advised “war on terror,” the remaining prisoners at Guantánamo are subjected to indefinite detention.

This is a situation that remains unacceptable, and every day that men are held indefinitely, outside of the normal rules of detention (whether through the US criminal code, or the Geneva Conventions), brings great shame on the United States of America.

Before 9/11, indefinite detention used to be associated only with regimes that prided themselves on their disdain for the rule of law; dictatorships, in other words. Nearly eleven years after the prison at Guantánamo opened, two successive US administrations — that of George W. Bush, and, since 2009, that of Barack Obama — have demonstrated that America is no better than these dictatorships.

Let this be the last year that Guantánamo remains open.

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, Flickr (my photos) 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.

24 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Sabyasachi Chatterjee shared this, and Monique D’hooghe wrote:

    thanks for reposting, sab :o)

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Sabyasachi Chatterjee wrote:

    I am almost regular in posting Andy’s writings. According to me, he is the most authentic authority on the Gitmo issue till date.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you. I am honored.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    Sharing this.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, George. Much appreciated. The drip-drip of pressure continues. Hoping to build up pressure for the 11th anniversary of the opening of the wretched Guantanamo on January 11, 2013.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    Keep it up. A friend criticised this, but he hadn’t read it carefully. He said exactly what you wrote. I corrected him.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    How easily we are misunderstood …

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    Indeed. He misread the sentences with “promise,” as meaning that the President wasn’t sincere. I said he promised but couldn’t fulfill it. Nothing wrong with that.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Some would say he wasn’t, but actually I think there were factions arguing about the viability of the promise. The insincerity came later, but not much later, in May 2009 when he accepted indefinite detention for some and military commissions for others.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    Yes. That was clearly insincere. Actually, I was giving Obama the benefit of the doubt. I never trusted him on foreign policy, and as for internal policy all I was interested in was his use of private insurers to help devise the Affordable Care Act, and the strangely phrased paragraphs of the NDAA. I was too drugged up to follow anything else.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Some might say that the minutiae of American politics would have that effect on you without being on heavy-duty pharmaceutical drugs, George! I’m glad that’s all behind you now …

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Sabyasachi Chatterjee wrote, in response to 3, above:

    And we are proud enough to get you in your splendid contribution for humanity, Andy!

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks again, Sabyasachi!

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Idrees Amin Shah wrote:

    86 cleared but stil in prison. Y ?

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Patricia Sheerin-Richman wrote:

    Why? Because in Guantanamo they have witnessed many atrocities and the US do not want them free to speak out.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Good question, Idrees, and a good answer, Patricia, although it’s also because certain parties, primarily Republicans, want to keep Guantanamo open, because they love the idea of indefinite detention for Muslims labeled as terrorists whether or not there’s any truth to those allegations, and/or because they are cynically preying on the American people’s fears of terrorism by showing how tough they are.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Idrees Amin Shah wrote:

    then wht is the purpose of being president if his orders r not implemented. But one thing gvs me plzure that judiciary has shwn justice and president cleared thm for release… Hw long will liers escape .

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Actually, Idrees, the judiciary has done very little of late. Recently, a panel of appeals court judges overturned the guilty verdict against Salim Hamdan, who had been tried and convicted of providing material support for terrorism in a military commission trial in 2008, and released that same year. That’s an important victory, but the same appeals court has prevented prisoners from having their habeas corpus petitions granted by ordering lower court judges to regard everything the government presents as evidence as presumptively accurate, which is both wrong and impossible to argue against. And in June the Supreme Court refused to tackle the appeals court for its position and to take back control of the laws governing the detention of prisoners in Guantanamo.
    As for the President … words mean nothing, sadly. We need actions! Release the 86, and start with Shaker Aamer! Today!

  19. Andy Worthington says...

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    It’s all the more shocking if you actually read, as I have, the 2009 directive President Obama wrote. It’s explicit and unambiguous and sounded like it was not screwing about. As well as it being a complete tragedy for the men involved and their loved ones, it will be interesting to see who historians finger for this miscarriage of justice… certainly any number of cowardly members of Congress will have their reputations forever sullied.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Idrees Amin Shah wrote:

    least obama cleared them for release…liers will hv to bent before truth otherwise their bk bones will break…no matter hw strong they pretend…those who lie are weak ..i wish my brothers are free sooner..they saw too much…

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Patricia Sheerin-Richman wrote:

    Unfortunately “cleared for release” does not mean what you think it means. It’s all a bit Lewis Carroll: “When I use a word, Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” There is a vigil this Saturday for Shaker Aamer: Trafalgar Square 5-7pm (unless it is eclipsed by the Gaza march).

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    Patricia – In this case, I think Obama probably did mean what he said, just as he did with all his other bold civil rights declarations he’s not honoured, but then he met his Generals, the Pentagon, the special interests lobby, and a bought Congress and things got more difficult. It is a Humpty Dumpty state of affairs and it’s a hell of a mess. If I were head of the military there I might be inclined just to unlock the gates at GITMO and let events take their course. I hope the vigil is well attended.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, David. Good to hear from you. And thanks again, Idrees and Patricia. Lewis Carroll is apt, sadly.
    And David, your list is very good, but it should also include Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s Chief of Staff, who evidently wasn’t at all interested in closing Guantanamo, as it wasn’t important to voters.
    Sadly, the Shaker Aamer demo not only has competition from Gaza; in Lewisham a huge march and rally is taking place to oppose the recently announced plans to close Lewisham Hospital’s A&E Department and transfer it to Woolwich, so that there will one A&E Department for the 750,000 people in three London boroughs – Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley:

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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