Last Friday, on Day 150 of the ongoing hunger strike at Guantánamo, I provided a round-up of the terrible situation at the prison for RT. Interviewed in a studio on a boat on the Thames, while lunchtime drinkers soaked up the sun on the lower decks, where there is a bar, I was asked why it was so hard for the US to release or transfer to the US mainland prisoners that it costs nearly a million dollars each, per year, to hold at Guantánamo.
I explained that, although opposition has been raised by Congress, President Obama has proven to be “unwilling to spend the political capital” to release any of the 86 men (out of 166 in total) who were cleared for release by his inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force three and a half years ago. I spoke about his “fine speech” on May 23 when he said he was going to resume releasing prisoners — but has not released anyone since — and reminded viewers of the “new tyranny” of the US, at a time when, ironically, the nation was celebrating its freedom, 237 years ago, from the tyranny of British rule.
Asked about the force-feeding in Guantánamo, where 45 of the 120 men who have been on a hunger strike for five months are being force-fed, I explained how “medical professionals all agree that it is wrong to force-feed a mentally competent prisoner, and that force-feeding is a form of torture,” but pointed out that allowing prisoners to die would be a PR disaster for the US. I stressed, however, that we always need to look at political issues behind the hunger strike and the force-feeding.
As I stated:
These men are endangering their lives, starving themselves in this way, to demonstrate to the world that a terrible injustice is taking place at Guantánamo, and the solution to that is not whatever the army has to do at Guantánamo; the solution to that is the political one — it’s President Obama and the United States Congress. They’re responsible for keeping people imprisoned at Guantánamo — either men they said they wanted to release or men that they say that they say that they want to put on trial [or hold indefinitely] — and we need to see action.
Asked about where the prisoners would go if Guantánamo were to be closed, I said:
First of all we have to get these 86 cleared men out of Guantánamo and back to their home countries or to other countries if that needs to be arranged. Now, two-thirds of these men are from Yemen and we’re still waiting for an arrangement that says, “Look, if you clear prisoners and say that they’re going to leave you can’t then turn around and say, ‘oh, but we think Yemen’s not safe.'” Send these people home.
Then we’re left with 80 prisoners. Now the United States has said that 46 of those people it wants to hold indefinitely because it believes they’re dangerous but it doesn’t have evidence that it says it can use in a court of law. That makes that evidence very suspicious to any rational person, I believe. They need to initiate reviews of these men’s cases to look again at what they claim is the evidence.
And they’ve a handful of people there that they say that they’re going to put on trial. They need to get on with those trials. That’s the story, really. According to the authorities, there are only 12 people in total who are going to go on trial, so as far as I can see everyone else needs to be released.
It’s nearly 12 years that this prison has been open. It will be 12 years in January. It’s always been an abomination — morally, legally, ethically. It’s harmful to America’s self-interest. It really is time that the place is closed down.
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).
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On Facebook, Pauline Kiernan wrote:
Thanks for sharing, Pauline. Friday was a busy day! I came back to London on the train after staying overnight in Leeds following the “Independence from America” protest at Menwith Hill, and then walked down to Blackfriars from King’s Cross in the blazing sun for this interview, and then got a train home for the interview with Michael Slate which I posted here: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2013/07/06/radio-on-day-150-of-the-hunger-strike-at-guantanamo-andy-worthington-talks-to-michael-slate/
Pauline Kiernan wrote:
Kept busy then?! Px
Yes, and I also had a TV interview by Skype scheduled to follow the Michael Slate interview, Pauline, but Skype updated itself without me asking, and then wouldn’t connect with my interviewer’s computer in the US! We rescheduled, and did the interview yesterday, which should be broadcast soon (“The Interview” with Susan Modaress, on Press TV). Susan interviewed me back in January 2011, and that’s available here: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2011/01/29/video-the-guantanamo-files-andy-worthington-on-press-tvs-the-autograph/
I read the 2010 task force report and I am not sure where your number of 86 detainees cleared for transfer comes from. Section VI (A) of the report states “126 detainees were unanimously approved for transfer…” and “44 of the 126 detainees have been transferred to date.” That leaves 82. I realize that is not a big difference but I wonder if I am missing something. Thanks.
Yes, 126 were cleared for release/approved for transfer by the task force, and 30 others – all Yemenis – were approved for transfer at some point in the future, and were to be held in “conditional detention.” Of these 156, 70 have now been released (or died), leaving 86.
Hope that helps.
Joyce McCloy wrote:
How is it, or IS it legal what we are doing? Where’s the UN, where are the other countries voices on this shaming the US?
The international bodies you mentioned have been trying, Joyce. They helped put pressure on Obama so he had to respond with his promises in his major speech on may 23. But since then, of course, we’ve had the appointment of an envoy at the State Department to help with prisoner releases, but nothing more. No action. No release of prisoners. Obama is paralyzed by caution and political pragmatism.
Vikki G. Hufnagel wrote:
It may be a reality that those in charge are not capable of making a real choice. They fear that some they release are going to act out from the abuses they have lived with and they are terrorists actually…so they fear if they release them …blood will be on their hands..so they are holding to this limbo they created. Some they are aware were not terrorists and they should of been sent home long ago…what mental damage have they done to them…have they planted a seed to react..We have those in authority holding to limbo from their own fears and inability to act is in part reality of no action that has continued. They have not made any system to deal with the problems….so they hold on to what they have…
David Knopfler wrote:
Vikki, by this kind of logic they ducked witches and if they drowned it proved their innocence
Actually, David, Vikki’s correct to point out what is driving Obama more than anything is the fear that a released prisoner might do something to harm America, whether because they harbored serious ill-will towards the US before their capture, or because their horrendous treatment has radicalized them. Politics is driving it, not justice, and Obama and his administration and lawmakers and judges all need to get over it, and recognize that holding people forever on this basis is completely unacceptable.
Amy Phillips wrote:
thank you for your continued work, Andy. “morally, legally, ethically” just about covers the entirety of this evil perpetrated by us Americans.thank you also for juxtaposing our holiday of freedom and liberty with this current practice that must be stopped. you are a great hope to the prisoners, I am sure.
Thanks, Amy. Very good to hear from you.
David Knopfler wrote:
Andy – I wasn’t disagreeing with Vikki so much as saying that this kind of lack of political resolve generates a Catch 22 situation for the interns. I don’t disagree that it’s politics – the politics of cowardice, across the board. Either we operate within the rule of law or we don’t however. Even Tony Blair, over a decade ago, called it an “anomaly” that needed to be brought into a recognized legal framework. Where there is a will there is a way… and these people in Washington have been shameless in their unwillingness to engage to resolve this. Leaving the damn doors unlocked and looking the other way, would have been a better solution than a decade of limbo
Thanks, David. Sorry, didn’t mean to imply that you were being critical of Vikki’s comment. It is political cowardice, and anything that makes Tony Blair sound reasonable has got to be completely off the spectrum of decency. Furthermore, the gulf between words and actions only reminds me of how, when Bush was hit by major criticism, he just got on with releasing prisoners. C’mon, Obama, it’s not difficult. This is the plan:
1. Release prisoners.
2. Er, that’s it.
Vikki G. Hufnagel wrote:
I am trying to look at the pyschology of people to help one try and figure out ..how to get through or around …looking at why and fears sometimes can help ..the issue is what do we have to give someone to get them to change.. be ethical..to see ….to hear..I truly know there are EVIL people…I likely have had more of them in my life than anyone…Evil is battle…but others there are others and how do we give them a view that they can find comfort in….move them ..worse is how apathetic Americans have become..no one connects that dots that what we do is the reflection of who we are….
Yes, Vikki, the search for the right tools to combat apathy is in many ways the most urgent one. Those who have been misled at least have some passion. The apathetic seem to believe that ignoring politics isn’t a political action, when – c’mon, wakey-wakey, people – everything is political!
Something you should be aware of. You Tube seems to be cracking down on comments all thru their system. Practically every day “comments are disabled” for some reason. Is it just normal maintenance, or something else?
I don’t know , Tom, but YouTube has been plagued by idiotic, offensive commenters for years, so I don’t plan on losing any sleep over that one just yet!
Well said. Neither do I. Just mentioning it for anyone here who’s using it.
Yes, thanks again, Tom.
Rachel Raub wrote:
A national shame… Take them all to George Bush’s ranch and let them go…
Great comment, Rachel. Thanks.
Andy – thanks for the clarification. Keep up the good work.
You’re welcome, Doug.
Writer, campaigner, investigative journalist and commentator. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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