Tomorrow, just before President Obama delivers a major speech on national security issues — including his policy on Guantánamo, still gripped by a prison-wide hunger strike by men in despair at ever being released or receiving justice — the European Parliament will be discussing and voting on a resolution reiterating previous calls for President Obama to close Guantánamo as he promised when he took office in January 2009.
Delayed from last month, this arrives at a perfect time, reminding President Obama that his obligations towards the men abandoned at Guantánamo — by all three branches of the US government over the last three years — are not just a domestic matter, but an international one, and that further delays in addressing the complaints of the hunger strikers are unconscionable.
In brief, 86 of the 166 men still held were cleared for release over three years ago by an inter-agency task force established by President Obama when he took office; 46 others were consigned to indefinite detention without charge or trial by President Obama in an executive order two years ago, when they were promised periodic reviews of their cases that have not taken place; and the rest were supposed to be put on trial, although only six have been charged. All the men, therefore, have legitimate reasons for feeling abandoned by their jailers, and for seeking immediate action to secure their release, a review of their cases, or fair trials.
As far as current action is concerned, involving European countries directly, the European Parliament resolution is noteworthy for its call for the coordination of “a joint EU Member States’ initiative” not only “to urge the US President to act” on revisiting his failed promise to close Guantánamo, but also to offer to “receive additional Guantánamo inmates on European soil, especially the approximately dozen men cleared for release who cannot return to their home countries.”
In my article last October examining the cases of the 86 prisoners cleared for release but still held, I estimated that as many as 15 of the 30 non-Yemenis cleared for release may need new homes, but whatever the exact number it is heartening that European Parliamentarians are calling for renewed engagement from Europe, where, in 2009 and 2010, dozens of prisoners unable to return to their home countries were resettled.
In April, when the motion was initially supposed to be debated, Cori Crider, the legal director of Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers represent prisoners held at Guantánamo, made a statement that is just as relevant now. She said: “Guantánamo is not just the US’s mess, but one for which Europe also bears great responsibility. European countries helped the US send men to the prison and provided interrogators. But all EU member states now have an opportunity to make this right. Many of those still detained grew up in, and feel a deep affinity with European countries. Whenever I talk with my client Nabil Hadjarab he speaks of the happiest time of his life: growing up in France. It is fantastic that the parliament is debating this issue at such a crucial time but they must pass the motion and help resettle cleared men to EU countries. My clients don’t want to die inside Guantánamo Bay; Europe can help to make sure this doesn’t happen.”
Below is the full text of the European Parliament resolution:
The European Parliament,
– having regard to its previous resolutions on the Guantánamo prison camp, notably the one of 9 June 2011;
– having regard to its resolution of 11 September 2012 on alleged transportation and illegal detention of prisoners in European countries by the CIA: follow-up of the European Parliament TDIP Committee report;
– having regard to President Obama’s Executive Orders of January 22, 2009 in which he ordered the closure of Guantánamo Bay detention facility by January 22, 2010;
– having regard to the Joint Statement of the EU and its Member States and the USA on the Closure of the Guantánamo Bay Detention Facility, 15 June 2009, as well as the Conclusions of the Justice and Home Affairs Council of 4 June 2009 and information exchange mechanism;
– having regard to the Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, on 5 April 2013 in which she declared that the Guantánamo detention regime is in “clear breach of international law” and should be closed;
– having regard to the declaration of the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer, on 11 April 2013 in which he expressed opposition to the force-feeding of prisoners staging a mass hunger strike at the Guantánamo prison camp and urging President Barack Obama to do more to resolve the “untenable” legal plight of inmates held there;
– having regard to the letter of 4 March 2013 by the Guantánamo prisoners’ defense, protesting over the new policy of the camp authorities to “confiscate detainees’ personal items, including blankets, sheets, towels, mats razors, toothbrushes, books, family photos, religious CDs, letters and legal mail”, “restricting their exercise” and “searching the men’s Qur’ans in ways that constitute desecration according to their religious beliefs”;
– having regard to the Emergency Petition by the attorneys of Prisoner Musa’ab Omar Al Madhwani of 26 March 2013 demanding to provide their client with drinking water and sufficient clothing to keep him warm;
– having regard to an Op-Ed published in the New York Times on 14 April 2013 by Prisoner Samir Mukbel in which he described the “painful and degrading” procedures he is undergoing in response to his decision to participate in the hunger strike;
– having regard to the 11th of April joint open letter signed by 26 international human rights NGOs urging the US President to fulfil his 2009 promise to close Guantánamo Bay;
– having regard to Rule 122 of its Rules of Procedure,
A. whereas since approximately the middle of February 2013 many of the remaining 166 inmates, still being held at Guantánamo Bay prison camp are participating in a hunger strike to protest their continued detention; whereas according to military authorities, 100 detainees are participating in the hunger strikes, 29 detainees are being force-fed and 5 are being treated in Hospital;
B. whereas according to testimony from the defense, since a new commander assumed control of the prison at the beginning of the year, conditions imposed on the inmates reverted back to the harsh treatment of the first years, and whereas there are credible allegations that the prison administration has been reacting to the hunger strike by denying proper drinking water and exposing the men to freezing;
C. whereas on 13 April 2013, shortly after a delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross had left the camp after completing a visit to examine the prisoners and study the circumstances of the growing hunger strike and criticized the force-feeding of some inmates, riots broke out when guards forced prisoners living in communal housing to move to individual cells; whereas some prisoners reportedly resisted with improvised weapons and the security personnel used shot guns though no serious injuries occurred;
D. whereas 86 prisoners of war being held at Guantánamo Bay have been cleared for release, a majority being from Yemen, and another 46 are being held “without enough evidence” to prosecute, but are supposedly still” too dangerous to transfer”, while only six people are facing formal charges;
E. whereas an important reason for the hunger strike brought forward by defense lawyers and the ICRC is the inmates’ desolation over the lack of any perspective to being released, notably after President Obama in January renewed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2013, which included provisions which preserved Guantánamo Bay into foreseeable future, while shortly thereafter closing the State Department Office tasked with finding suitable, lawful locations to transfer the Guantánamo detainees;
F. whereas the NDAA has made it virtually impossible for inmates to return home, stating detainees cannot return to a country where a “threat that is likely to substantially affect” the government’s ability to “exercise control” over the repatriated individual may exist;
G. whereas the US Congress has on the other hand enacted legislation blocking the transfer of detainees at Guantánamo to the United States;
H. whereas in the case of the five alleged “high value detainees” for whom proceedings are already underway, confidentiality of the defense has been completely compromised, with material and thousands of emails disappearing from computers and listening devices being disguised as smoke detectors; whereas — as a result — the proceedings have been postponed indefinitely by the responsible judge;
I. whereas there is now only one civilian flight into Guantánamo, which operates on a severely curtailed schedule, thus limiting the access of the press, lawyers, and human rights workers,
J. whereas President Obama and Vice-President Biden have both acknowledged that Guantánamo is the “greatest propaganda tool that exists for recruiting of terrorists around the world”;
1. re-iterates its position that all states should comply with the rule of law and respect the obligations under international human rights law, refugee law and humanitarian law;
2. deeply regrets that the US administration has not honored its decision of 2009 to close Guantánamo and that President Obama has not used his presidential powers to its fullest in order to end the indefinite, arbitrary detention without charge of over 160 prisoners of war;
3. expresses its grave concern over the mental and physical conditions of the detainees, most of whom — if not all — have been submitted to torture and inhumane and degrading treatment, while the majority, far from having any terror intentions happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and had been sold to the US forces for a bounty;
4. supports the position of the ICRC to reject force-feeding as a violation of basic freedoms of the individual, is dismayed to see that instead of showing serious intentions to improve the situation for the illegally detained, the authorities at Guantánamo are reacting with repression and imposing additional hardship and suffering;
5. calls on the US government to order the relevant authorities to react swiftly, lawfully and humanely in a manner consistent with international standards of medical ethics with the aim to remedy the immediate causes of the hunger strike before irreparable harm occurs to the prisoners;
6. calls on President Obama to put an end to the 11-year aberration from the rule of law in Guantánamo Bay and to start repatriating the remaining men to their home countries or other countries for resettlement or to charge them in a court that fulfils fair trial standards; requests President Obama to appoint an individual within his Administration who is specifically empowered to oversee the closing of Guantánamo, with practical authority;
7. recalls the EU Member States’ readiness to help the US close down the Guantánamo prison and calls on the VP/HR to coordinate a joint EU Member States’ initiative to urge the US President to act as well as offering to receive additional Guantánamo inmates on European soil, especially the approximately dozen men cleared for release who cannot return to their home countries;
8. calls on the EU to ensure that its Member States, associates and partners which have agreed to host former Guantánamo detainees actually afford them full support as regards living conditions, efforts to facilitate their integration into society, medical treatment including psychological recovery, access to identification and travel documents, the exercise of the right to family reunification and all other fundamental rights granted to people holding political asylum status;
9. welcomes the willingness of the United States to contribute to the costs incurred by EU Member States in relation to receiving ex-detainees as stipulated in the Joint EU-US statement of 15 June 2009 and calls on the American administration to live up to the responsibility to support former detainees not only during the resettlement phase but also thereafter;
10. calls on its Delegation with the United States to urge their Congressional counterparts to remove the restrictions on transfers from Guantánamo in the National Defense Authorization Act 2014;
11. calls on the EU Member States to ensure that full and independent investigation is carried out concerning violations of international and human rights law on European soil in the remit of the so-called war against terrorism;
12. calls on the US to secure accountability for any abuses it has practiced, to ensure that relevant domestic and international law is applied with a view to ending legal black holes, to end military trials, to apply criminal law fully to terrorist suspects and to restore review of detention, habeas corpus, due process, freedom from torture and non-discrimination between foreign and US citizens;
13. recalls the 2009 commitment of the United States to develop a new and more sustainable approach to security-related issues and expresses its great disappointment that President Obama who had promised to stop the rendition and secret detention programs of his predecessor is not only continuing the policy of arbitrary detentions but has combined it with an enhanced program of extrajudicial killings;
14. instructs its President to forward this resolution to HR/VP For Foreign and Security Policy, the Commission, the governments and parliaments of the member states, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, the President of the ICRC, and the Government and Congress of the United States of America.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and 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. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here – or here for the US).
To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
On Facebook, George Kenneth Berger wrote:
Sharing this, Andy.
Thanks, George. My friend Anna let me know about it on Saturday, when I was away for the weekend. It took me until now to find the time to post it. Better late than never, I thought, as it’s received very little media coverage.
Linda, Blakeney, the wife of Herbert J.Blakeney, wrote:
Prisoners in American prisons are being treated like those prisoners in Guantanamo every day and yet nothing is done about it. My Husband is a wrongfully convicted prisoner and is on day 13 of a hungerstrike to gain justice and better care and prison conditions for mentally ill prisoners who can’t protect themselves. He is being force fed exactly like the prisoners in Guantanamo. Guess the Government and press are only interested in publicity. What about the every day prisoners who are being ignored?
Thanks, Linda, for mentioning your husband’s case, and that of other prisoners held in US domestic prisons. I wouldn’t say that Guantanamo normally steals the headlines, although it appears to be rather fashionable right now, but the plight of domestic prisoners is also generally overlooked. I have written about it previously, and I hope to do so again, but for anyone interested in knowing more, I wholeheartedly recommend the website Solitary Watch: http://solitarywatch.com/
And Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity for the hunger strikers in California’s prisons: http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/
Linda Blakeney wrote:
Thanks Andy for the links. I’m also from the U.K.!
Thanks again, Linda. Good to hear from you.
Rosie Much wrote:
thanks again Andy
Sylvia P. Coley wrote:
He needs to act on this, it’s going to come back and bite him badly!
Thanks, Rosie and Sylvia. Good to hear from you both. I agree, Sylvia. Obama tried to put Guantanamo in the closet, but it wouldn’t stay there. It really is no good whining permanently that it’s Congress’s fault (when it isn’t just Congress’s fault), and pretending that the wretched Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed the week after 9/11, actually provides a legal justification for holding prisoners at Guantanamo.
Have you ever spoken before a EU committee or been cited in any of their reports, comments, etc. re: Guantanamo?
I have spoken to EU representatives, but mainly, I believe, my work has been useful to them through the 2010 UN report on secret detention on which I was the lead writer: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/13session/A-HRC-13-42.pdf
The resolution has been adopted, which is great, but unfortunately quite a few points have been deleted, such as (among others) European countries accepting released prisoners. This was to be expected, such voices had been raised already during the April debates.
I suppose though, that this compromise is better than having the whole resolution abandoned …
Thanks, Anna. Do you have a link of any kind? I’ve Googled and can’t find anything about it. Sometimes the level of indifference is a little startling, even after years of supposedly having to get used to it.
It sure is a long and winding road from link to link to get to the adopted text from the European Parliament’s site:
http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/pressroom/content/20130521IPR08710/html/Human-rights-hunger-strike-in-Guantanamo-India-Rwanda -> ->
http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-%2f%2fEP%2f%2fTEXT%2bTA%2b20130523%2bTOC%2bDOC%2bXML%2bV0%2f%2fEN&language=EN (provisional edition of all three HR resolutions).
It will be interesting to analyze the transscripts of the debates (the one in April is available, the May one not yet as far as I know), to see which parliamentarians we should target in future :-).
Thanks, Anna, for your diligent detective work. A transcript of the debate would be interesting, as you say, to see who is interested in the issue.
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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