As Guantánamo Prisoners Send Pleas to President Obama, Media Reports Plans To Free 86 Men Long Cleared for Release

23.5.13

As President Obama prepares to make a major speech on national security issues at the National Defense University — including his plans for Guantánamo, where a prison-wide hunger strike has been raging for over three months — the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, whose lawyers represent 15 of the remaining 166 prisoners at Guantánamo, has today publicized messages for the President from three of the men calling for urgent action to release prisoners and take steps towards the necessary closure of the prison, in unclassified notes of meetings and phone calls with their lawyers. The three are amongst the 86 prisoners cleared for release at least three years ago by an inter-agency task force established by President Obama when he took office in January 2009 but still held because of Obama’s own inertia, and obstruction by Congress and the courts.

Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, whose reports from the hunger strike are here, here, here and here, said to the President, “You need to hand over the 86 people who have been cleared,” adding, “In the end this place has no solution except close it down.”

Reprieve added that Aamer is “among the approximately 140 detainees in the prison on hunger strike” — a higher count than the 130 regularly cited by lawyers for the prisoners — and also pointed out that the UK government “has repeatedly said that they want [him] returned to his family in London.”

Reprieve also noted, “Under his existing powers, Obama could order an authorization to be signed immediately that would allow prisoners cleared for release to be transferred out of the prison at once,” adding, “President Obama claims that the annually-renewed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is the reason he has been unable to close the prison — as he promised to do. Yet the NDAA allows Obama to waive the restrictions on transferring men out of the prison if it is in the US’s national security interests to do so. Obama has said before that transferring men out of the prison camp is in the interests of national security, saying that “[Guantánamo] is inefficient, it hurts us in terms of our international standing, it lessens co-operation with our allies on counter-terrorism efforts, it is a recruitment tool for extremists, it needs to be closed.”

Another prisoner represented by Reprieve, Nabil Hadjarab — cleared for release since 2007 — “takes issue with the President’s claims that Congress prevents him from taking action.” As Nabil asks, plaintively, “You say that Congress gives you no power? Are you not the President? In the end, the last word is yours.”

The third man quoted is Samir Mokbel, whose commentary about the hunger strike was published in the New York Times in April. Samir is one of 56 Yemenis (out of the 86 cleared prisoners) who are held because of an unreasonable ban imposed by President Obama in January 2010, following a failed bomb plot hatched in Yemen. During a phone call, Samir said, “For more than two months we have heard no suggestions or initiatives put forward by the American government to solve the issues of the prisoners nor have they given any instructions to solve the problem of the strike. We have only heard a statement from the [Department] of Defense that the number of strikers has increased and that there is a possibility of deaths in the future.”

Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve’s director, said, “How can Obama refuse a waiver for Shaker? He can hardly say the UK is a terrorist state, and as we have long made clear Shaker agrees to any arrangements the US or UK wants to impose, as all he wants is to be back with his children. Obama can only refuse us if he is insincere.”

Ahead of the speech, the Wall Street Journal suggested that some of the men’s demands would be met. The newspaper reported that officials told them that the Obama administration “is set to restart transfers of detainees from Guantánamo … kick-starting a long-stalled drive to close the prison,” adding, “While he isn’t planning to detail how to speed up transfers from the prison, officials said the president in coming weeks plans to lift the administration’s prohibition on sending detainees to Yemen.”

The Wall Street Journal added that current and former officials said that the resumption of transfers “is likely to begin with some of the non-Yemeni detainees, which will give that nation’s government time to build up its rehabilitation and oversight program,” and one particular official added that the transfers to Yemen “would begin slowly, starting with two or three detainees, to ensure Yemen can keep track of the detainees and prevent them from joining militant groups.” The beginning of this process, the official said, “could still be months away.”

The Wall Street Journal also noted that the Obama administration “has been in talks with the Afghan government about transferring Afghan detainees from Guantánamo” (of whom 17 remain), adding, “Human-rights advocates believe these detainees could be among the first transferred.”

However, breaking the Yemen deadlock is clearly the most crucial component of any plans to move forward with closing the prison. This, the Wall Street Journal reported, “would be a multistep process. First the White House must issue orders rescinding its prohibition on transfers to the country. Next, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel must sign a national-security waiver asserting that the transfer is in the interests of the country and that the risk of recidivism has been mitigated. After the U.S. waiver is signed, the administration must notify Congress of its intent to transfer the detainees 30 days in advance.”

Fortunately, recent steps taken by the Yemeni government “may make it easier for the Pentagon to sign the waiver,” the article continued, explaining, “President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s government, which has increased counterterrorism cooperation with the US, has pledged to monitor the detainees closely and put them through an intensive rehabilitation program.”

The Wall Street Journal also noted, “US and Yemeni officials have held negotiations in recent weeks about restarting the transfers, including promising to share information about former detainees. The Yemeni government has said multiple ministries will monitor the ex-detainees to guard against activities that are potentially threatening to the US and to ensure they receive counseling, job training and other aid to help their reintegration into society.”

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.

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7 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Sonia Chaisson wrote:

    Thank you for your attention to this.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Sonia.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Please note that the recently launched Avaaz petition now has 460,339 signatures. At this rate, we can have a million signatures by tomorrow! http://www.avaaz.org/en/obama_shut_down_gitmo_us/

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Connie Julian wrote:

    Check out FULL-PAGE AD in New York Times today. CLOSE GUANTANAMO NOW, organized by World Can’t Wait and signed by… an incredible roster of people.. http://www.worldcantwait.net/index.php/calls-to-action/8236-world-can-t-wait-to-place-new-ad-against-guantanamo-in-the-new-york-times

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Emily Clement wrote:

    signed petition and called the whitehouse thanks for the link

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Connie, for the link. Glad to have helped with research for the background on the prisoners included in the ad. Thanks also, Emily. The petition now has 529,324 signatures!

  7. Two Guantánamo Prisoners Released in Mauritania | freedetainees.org says...

    [...] have turned out to be. It also follows hints, in the Wall Street Journal (which I wrote about here), indicating that he would begin not with any of the 56 Yemeni prisoners out of the 86 prisoners [...]

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