It’s four days since I came back from a ten-day trip to the US to join other campaigners, on the 11th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, in calling for President Obama to revisit the promise to close Guantánamo that he made when he took office exactly four years ago, and this time to fulfill his promise, and not cave in to criticism, failing the prisoners as thoroughly as they have also been failed by the other branches of the US government.
As well as being failed by the President, the 166 men still in Guantánamo have been failed by Congress, where opportunistic lawmakers, bent on selling a message of fear to the US public, have imposed onerous restrictions on the President’s ability to release prisoners, and the courts, where pro-Guantánamo ideologues in the Court of Appeals in Washington D.C., who have gutted habeas corpus of all meaning for the Guantánamo prisoners, and have discovered that they are able to dictate detainee policy to the Supreme Court, which has refused to consider a single appeal from the prisoners.
As a result, on the 11th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, on January 11, those of us protesting the prison’s ongoing existence — and the inertia and indifference towards it that is more marked than ever before — found ourselves bound together closely by our concern for those still held, and for the system of indefinite detention without charge or trial that Guantánamo has become. We also discovered new levels of righteous indignation — see, for example, my speech outside the White House here (on the anniversary), and, earlier that day, the panel discussion I was part of, with the attorney Tom Wilner and Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor of the military commissions at Guantánamo, at the New America Foundation. Also check out my photos here and here.
I’m pleased to report that, as a result of several productive meetings during my visit, new initiatives aimed at securing the closure of Guantánamo will be forthcoming during 2013, to keep alive an issue that was shamefully ignored or downplayed in most of the mainstream media last week. Fortunately, the videos mentioned above continue to do the work the media missed, as does the dedication of a handful of principled independent radio hosts — in particular, Peter B. Collins in San Francisco and Scott Horton in Texas. Peter B. and Scott are both old friends and colleagues in the war on cruelty, illegality and indifference that is a constant undertaking for those who care about the bitter legacy of Guantánamo, inherited by President Obama from George W. Bush, but now fully owned — in all its undimmed injustice — by the Democratic President who promised to close it but then failed to do so, and has now, with the help of Congress and the courts, enshrined a form of indefinite detention at Guantánamo that is unforgivable.
My half-hour interview with Peter B. Collins is here, and begins at 55:23, after Peter’s interview with Nick Turse, the author of Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam. The interview came at the end of a busy evening, in which I spoke to a gathering of Witness Against Torture activists, fasting for a week in solidarity with the Guantánamo prisoners, in the church where they were all staying — and where, I should note, the collective spirit of reflection, on the prisoners, and on the significance of the anniversary, was noticeable, and very powerful. I spoke along with Maj. Todd Pierce, a recently retired military defense attorney for prisoners at Guantánamo facing trials by military commission, who delivered a fascinating history lesson about the origins of the commissions, and troubling analogies with the Nazis, and afterwards, prior to speaking to Peter, I took a conference call with supporters of World Can’t Wait, one of the organizations supporting my visit, along with Witness Against Torture and “Close Guantánamo.”
This is how Peter described our interview, which was a pleasure as ever, although it was the first time I had been interviewed while sitting in the foyer of a church:
[Andy] Worthington returns to update the status of our illegal offshore penal colony in Cuba, and tells how the administration, the Congress and the courts have all lined up to continue to hold 166 prisoners there, even though 86 have been cleared for release. Obama said he would close the camp, and did release a number of prisoners in 2009 [and 2010]; but he buckled to opposition, and Congress has placed severe restrictions on the president’s ability to release any inmates from the camp, while the courts have been blocking all habeas corpus actions. This leaves the 86 entombed with no indication of if and when they might be released, with dozens more, who may never be charged or released, just left in a legal limbo.
That seems to be to be a fair summing-up of the issues, as Guantánamo begins its 12th year of operations.
After my return to New York, on the afternoon of January 12, following a protest against drones, torture and the ongoing existence of Guantánamo outside the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, which I’ll be writing about soon — and also posting photos — I was delighted to speak to Scott Horton, formerly of Antiwar Radio, with whom I have been speaking regularly for over five years, on January 15, the day before my return to the UK. I spoke to Scott from the office of World Can’t Wait, in midtown Manhattan, after a short stroll along 7th Avenue, and prior to a walk in Central Park with Debra Sweet, the director of World Can’t Wait, and Nancy Vining Van Ness, a passionate opponent of the existence of Guantánamo and the director of American Creative Dance.
I’ll be posting photos taken on these walks soon, but in the meantime my half-hour interview with Scott Horton is here, which, I believe, very effectively captured the outrage that is the appropriate response of everyone who has not lost touch with their humanity to the realization that Guantánamo may never close, and cleared men will continue to die there, like Adnan Latif, who died in September, unless concerted action is taken by those who care.
This is how Scott described the show:
Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files, discusses the campaign to pressure President Obama to finally close Guantánamo and “End 11 Years of Injustice;” how national security is endangered by leaving Guantánamo open; and the dozens of innocent men (cleared by a government task force for release) imprisoned indefinitely because of Obama’s political cowardice.
Note: The photo at the top of this article is by Palina Prasasouk, an activist with Witness Against Torture. See more photos here, on Palina’s Flickr account — and see Witness Against Torture on Flickr here.
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.
What are your thoughts about Obama’s Inauguration Speech (everybody else is commenting. So why not join in)? The reaction from many is frankly a cynical what-else-did-you-expect (collective change. Make me do all of this stuff). The other underlying trends are “blame it on the Other Side” and hyping personalities instead of dealing w/actual facts and then solutions. Obama and Boehner smile during photo ops. But they really hate each other. Some Tea Partiers want to secede from the States. Right. Who’s going to take you seriously as a independent country?
Many are still desperate to stick to an out-of-sight-out-of-mind mindset. As long as I’m safe, I literally could care less about Guantanamo, drone attacks and all the rest of it.
Hey Tom, I must admit that I can’t muster up the enthusiasm to respond to such a transparent and unconvincing PR event, my boycott being primarily based on President Obama’s failure to honor the promise to closure Guantanamo that he made exactly four years ago. I simply can’t be bothered with these charades. I heard from my correspondent friends on Twitter that he said “a decade of war is now ending,” while still bombing like crazy in Yemen, Pakistan and elsewhere. Very sad.
I agree. As I mentioned, at times it was almost funny how the various pundits were struggling to not endlessly recycle the same old talking points. On the other hand, if you can literally guess the rundown of soundbites and order of stories, that can be a tremendous timesaver :)?
I suppose my interest in US politics in general has taken a backseat to the parlous state of politics here in the UK, Tom. On my particular areas of interest – finding ways to actually close Guantanamo, accountability for torture, and tackling the excessive overreach of the military-industrial complex – no one has anything significant to say. What needs to happen this year, and for the rest of Obama’s second term, is for ways to be found to engage with the administration behind the headlines.
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