On Friday, the 11th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, myself and the attorney Tom Wilner, the steering committee of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, held our annual reunion at the New America Foundation in Washington D.C. with Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor of the military commissions, who resigned in 2007, the day after he was placed in a chain of command under William J. Haynes II, the Pentagon’s senior lawyer and one of the Bush administration officials most involved in developing the administration’s notorious torture program. The event was moderated by Peter Bergen, the director of the National Security Studies Program at the New America Foundation.
For three years now, we have gathered on the anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo to call on President Obama to fulfill the promise to close the prison that he made on taking office in January 2009.
This year our call was more passionate, intense, and driven by righteous indignation than ever before.
I’m very pleased to report that the event, “America’s indefinitely detained,” was broadcast by C-SPAN, so that it could reach as wide an audience as possible (and will remain available on C-SPAN’s website), and also that it was made available on YouTube, via the New America Foundation’s YouTube page. I have posted it below, and I do hope that, if you have an hour and half to spare, you will be able to watch the event.
The three us provided a detailed explanation of the particular horrors of Guantánamo today: the outrageous and completely unjustifiable detention of 86 prisoners (out of 166 in total), who were cleared for release by an interagency Task Force created by President Obama in 2009, and the outrageous and completely unjustifiable detention of 46 others, who were designated for indefinite detention without charge or trial in an executive order issued by President Obama two years ago. And hovering above these specific categories of failure, of course, is the failure of the President to fulfill his promise to close the prison in its entirety.
Although there have been significant obstacles raised by Congress, and the courts have also contributed to the problems, the ultimate responsibility for these failures lies with President Obama. To prevent him being regarded as a President defined by cowardice and laziness, who failed to fulfill his promise to shut down this monstrous prison because it was politically inconvenient, he needs to take the fight back to Congress, and to make the case that indefinitely holding men cleared for release is an affront to all notions of justice, and must be brought to an end. The clock is now ticking on his legacy, and if he fails to act the history books will show no sympathy for his lack of leadership on this issue.
This means overturning the ban on releasing any cleared Yemenis, which he himself put in place after the failed underwear bomb plot in 2009, and resuming the search for new homes — including in the US, if necessary — for other cleared prisoners who cannot be safely repatriated. Two-thirds of those cleared are Yemenis, so lifting the ban needs urgent attention, especially as one cleared Yemeni, Adnan Latif, died at Guantánamo last September.
Crucially, there must be no further excuses that it is acceptable to hold people, possibly forever, for being Yemeni, as though all Yemenis constitute a serious security threat, when Obama’s own Task Force of sober and serious government officials — including representatives of the intelligence agencies — concluded in 2009 that they do not constitute a serious security threat.
So twisted is the current situation that the word Kafkaesque fails even to do justice to it. Fair trials for the 30 or so prisoners designated for trials need to proceed, and a thorough and objective review of the cases of the 46 men officially designated for indefinite detention also needs to take place, for which we at “Close Guantánamo” — Tom and I — are both willing and able to meet with government officials to discuss the fundamental problems with the supposed evidence.
Immediately, however, something positive needs to happen, and that must be the release of cleared prisoners, some of whom — beginning with Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison — can be freed immediately.
Note: After this event, the speakers traveled to the Supreme Court for a rally and march to the White House. See here for my photos, and see here for the video of my 4-minute speech outside the White House.
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.
Apologies for posting so late, my friends. Another busy day. I had a walk from 14th to 27th Street this morning, then was interviewed by Scott Horton, and then took a walk in Central Park – my first ever visit! – with Debra Sweet, the director of the World Can’t Wait, and our friend Nancy Vining Van Ness. The park was beautiful!
I then headed downtown to meet up with the journalist Anand Gopal, and then walked around the village and downtown to the Brooklyn Bridge, over the bridge and back to where I’m staying with friends. Then dinner and chat, as I head back to London tomorrow/today, depending on where you are. This has been a very important visit – hugely inspiring from a personal point of view, spending time with my US family of activists and lawyers, and also from the point of view of the mission to close Guantanamo, as we have energized each other to take the campaign forward this year, with determination and the bright light of righteous indignation!
When I first posted a link to this event on Facebook, on Jan. 12, Tangerine Bolen wrote:
Hey, awesome Andy Worthington! Didn’t know you were here doing this! Good for you.
Yes, sorry you hadn’t realized I was here, Tangerine. Seven years of blogging, and I still don’t have mailing list! Today was very powerful and inspiring. A peerless collection of activists, lawyers and concerned citizens, determined not to let the Guantanamo story die, and just as determined to make sure that President Obama understands that we want to work with him to help him fulfill the promise to close Guantanamo that he made four years ago and then failed to keep.
Michael Cheneywatch McCollum wrote:
Thank you Andy. See if I can catch the rebroadcast
Mark Erickson wrote:
I watched it online. The schedule says Cspan2 around 6am EST Saturday. I’ve trailed off these last six months or so, mainly because a lack of news I think, but this got me fired up again. I agree with the already cleared angle, Andy. That’s a good foothold, but the cliff is so steep, I despair of making progress there. Have all habeas cases given up because the lawyers know they’ll lose due to the fifth circuit? Isn’t it worth trying anyway? (Not a criticism of the lawyers at all, they are all heroic). That’s the only way I see gitmo rising to newsworthy. And prisoners dying, but even that isn’t worth much press sadly. I have no hope in Obama. On national security he is utterly craven. And he’s spineless in general. That fact is his legacy will suffer a death blow if someone is released and then kills an American. I know, very long odds, but thats the way it is. It’s strictly CYA.
Thanks, Michael and Mark. Great to hear from you both – veteran Gitmo-watchers both. Mark, I agree with your gloomy prognosis, except to say that we have to believe that it’s worth trying to get into the administration, to hammer away at their knowledge that it is wrong to keep Guantanamo open, and to keep cleared prisoners forever, even if there appear to be compelling political reasons to do nothing. There are officials who are vulnerable on this, and we have to try to get to talk to them in as many ways as possible, and then to offer to work with them. Really.
It’s my last day in the US – for now. It’s been wonderful meeting so many great people, and being reunited with my friends in the long struggle against indefinite detention and torture. The campaign for justice, and the end of this phoney “global war” and all the horrors it brings with it, continues …
Hi Andy. Just a positive post to say hope all’s well.
Thanks, Tom. Yes, all is well. I’m safely back at home with my family, and arrived back just in time for a winter wonderland of snow. I now need to follow up on all the contacts and meetings during my visit, which was very productive, as well as providing me with a great opportunity to meet with my many friends in the community of human rights activists and lawyers.
Andy, when you were passing through customs, did you detect any extra scrutiny? There is a Canadian writer, very famous here, and we always assume he is known the rest of the World — a curmudgeon named Farley Mowat. His most famous work is probably “Never Cry Wolf”. There was a pretty good film made from it.
Well, he was not a fan of the US. And, in his book, “My discovery of America”, he describes how, around 1984, he was at the airport in Toronto, going through US customs and border control, when he learned he was barred from entering the USA. His trip wasn’t a vacation. He was on a book tour. Disney had helped organize it. He had interviews booked by the publicists hired by Disney and his publisher. His being barred from the USA inconvenienced a lot more people than himself.
Did I say he was a curmudgeon? Being barred made him angry enough to go on record that he no longer wanted a visa to enter the USA.
He said, “the only way I will ever enter the USA is if Ronald Reagan flies to my door in Air Force One with a personal apology”. Disney and his publishers bent heaven and earth to get him a temporary, one time visa, just long enough for the remainder of his book tour. Mowat stuck to is guns. The head of the publishing company, and old friend, and an important person in Canada in his own right, pleaded with him to compromise. So, he agreed to a compromise.
The compromise he suggested was he would agree to enter the USA if George Bush (Reagan’s Vice President) flew in Air Force Two to meet him at the border in Buffalo with a personal apology.
As I recall, Mowat never did go on that speaking tour. But he did undertake steps to try to see his security file.
As with Maher Arar, Abdullah Almaki, Amer Elmaati — and Pierre Elliot Trudeau, his American security file was full of vague rumors and innuendo supplied by Canadian Security officials at the RCMP.
He described what he found, and tried to figure out which item formed the flimsy pretext for barring him. I think he decided it might have been an op-ed he had written that reflected local resentment in very sparsely populated Labrador, or the USAF squadron that trained there. In the op-ed he described how when he was duck-hunting with locals, and some US planes flew overhead, they had considered aiming their shotguns — which would of course only have been filled with bird-shot — at the planes.
Anyhow, I think it is very likely that they maintain a dossier on you and Tom — and maybe on some of the rest of us. So, I’d be curious if you noticed extra scrutiny at Customs, or if there was any moment when you thought you were under surveillance?
I mentioned Trudeau — who would eventually become one of Canada’s most well known Prime Ministers. But before he formally entered politics he did some traveling. Around 1960 or so he visited both Communist China and Communist Cuba. When he became Prime Minister (1967) he tried to clean up the mess the RCMP made of Canadian Civil Liberties, and get the Americans to destroy the dossiers the RCMP had provided them on ordinary Canadians. Mowat’s book said the RCMP had provided almost 500,000 dossiers.
500,000 dossiers! It is a shocking number, considering this was in the days when computers were room-sized hulking behemoths, and most input was via punched cards. That would have been one in 40 Canadians.
Apparently the Americans told Trudeau they would destroy the Canadian dossiers. And, apparently, this was a major exagerration, and they were able to simply dust them off, when chicken-hawk Reagan came to power.
Nice story about Farley Mowat, arcticredriver. I can honestly say, though, that there wasn’t a single flicker of anything unusual when my passport was checked at JFK – and there hasn’t been on any other occasion either.
Honestly, what bothers me the most is not the possibility of surveillance, but the realisation that it’s not necessary to scrutinise Western nationals (unless, of course, they’re Muslims, the current “enemy within”), because there’s so little interest in what’s going on amongst the populace as a whole. While people are content to be sedated and ignorant, there’s no threat to the powers-that-be.
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