GTMO Clock Launched, 75 Days Since Obama’s Promise to Resume Releasing Prisoners from Guantánamo, and Six Months Since Hunger Strike Started

7.8.13

Please click on the “GTMO Clock” image to visit the website and see how many days it has been since President Obama promised to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, and how many men have been freed.

Today, the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, Witness Against Torture and the Center for Constitutional Rights are launching the “GTMO Clock,” to show how long it is since President Obama promised to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, and how many men have been freed. This article is published simultaneously here and on the “Close Guantánamo” website.

It’s six months since the prisoners at Guantánamo embarked on a prison-wide hunger strike to protest about their seemingly endless detention. Although President Obama promised to close the prison within a year when he took office in January 2009, he failed to do so, and in February this year, the majority of the 166 men still held began refusing food, in the hope of attracting the world’s attention to their plight, and forcing President Obama to act.

In May, after the world’s media had picked up on the hunger strike, and international bodies including the UN, the EU and the International Committee of the Red Cross had put pressure on President Obama, he responded with a major speech on national security, in which he promised to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo. Today, however, it’s 75 days since that speech, and no prisoners have yet been released. The “GTMO Clock” will be keeping track of how many days it has been since President Obama made his promise, and how many men have been released.

The ongoing imprisonment of the 166 men in Guantánamo, for the most part without charge or trial, is particularly distressing for the 86 men who were cleared for release in January 2010, in the final report of the inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, featuring representatives from the main government departments and the intelligence agencies, which was established by President Obama when he took office and made his promise to close the prison.

These men are still held for two particular reasons. 56 of them are Yemenis, and, in January 2010, President Obama issued a ban on releasing any of them, after it was discovered that a failed bomb plot on Christmas Day 2009 had been hatched in Yemen. In his speech in May, President Obama dropped his ban on releasing Yemenis, but none have so far been freed.

In addition, in the National Defense Authorization Acts for 2012 and 2013, Congress banned the release of any prisoners unless the president and defense secretary certified to Congress that they would be unable to engage in any terrorist activities against the US — a certification that is, of course, almost impossible to make.

The result of all these obstacles is that, in the last three years, just seven prisoners have been released from Guantánamo, and it is no wonder that, by February this year, the prisoners were in despair, having concluded that they were never going to be released. Last week, President Obama notified Congress of his intention to release two Algerian prisoners, but their release will be of little comfort to the 84 other cleared prisoners.

Nor is the situation any better for the 80 other prisoners, as, with just a few exceptions, they are held without charge or trial, and with no indication of when, if ever, they will be delivered anything resembling justice.

46 of them were recommended for ongoing detention without charge or trial by the task force, on the basis that they were too dangerous to release, but that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial — which, of course, suggests that the supposed evidence is in fact profoundly unreliable. However, in March 2011 President Obama issued an executive order authorizing their detention, although he also promised that they would receive periodic reviews of their cases. These, however, had not materialized by the time the prisoners began their hunger strike, making their despair understandable.

Similarly, despair on the part of the majority of the rest of the prisoners, who were recommended for prosecution by the task force, is also understandable because the majority of them have not even been put forward for trials, and it is unlikely that they ever will be, as Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor of the military commissions, conceded in June.

We hope you have time to look at the “GTMO Clock,” and to share it if you find it useful. It also includes details of how you can write to President Obama and the Department of Defense to demand the immediate release of prisoners.

Note: Huge thanks to Justin Norman (Shrieking Tree) for taking this idea, which I proposed back in June, and creating the site.

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.

Please also consider joining the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

16 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    If you’re on Twitter, can you help get #GTMOClock trending?

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Waris Ali wrote:

    Saw your tweets and have retweeted from the save shaker account, (i keep an eye on your twitter and retweet the guantanamo/shaker aamer related stuff when i can) But do you have a pastebin of tweets that people can use to get the hashtag trending? Preferably a few dozen, with a mix of powerful quotes, short videos, images and relevant links? Would also be best to advertise in advance, maybe ask a couple of pages/twitter accounts to share it and then have a big old twitter event that hopefully catches on and spreads.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Waris Ali wrote:

    Oh and please do a specific post with the starving for justice video, when possible. I think if this can go viral in the USA, it can really help to open people’s eyes and educate them, in a way that an article or a talk can’t (for some) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AONNMwej8Yk

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Waris, if only I had your Tweeting experience, my friend. Your ideas sound wonderful, but I have nothing prepared and no time to do anything. I’m glad to see that people are taking an interest though.
    As for the video, by our friend Sara SN, that’s a good idea. I was so busy in May, when it came out, that I didn’t have time to promote it via a post, so I’ll try and remedy that oversight in the next few days. I’m very glad to see that it’s had over 10,000 views!

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Jennifer Benitez wrote:

    Thanks for posting

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re welcome, Jennifer. I’m just trying to keep interest in the men’s plight alive after six months of the hunger strike – and to remind President Obama that some people continue to pay attention to Guantanamo, even when most of the media moves on.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Waris Ali wrote:

    Around 15 months ago, i didn’t even have a twitter. The social media of things has become a bit of a specialty for me, with the shaker aamer campaign. Hmm give me a couple days and i’ll see about maybe creating a pastebin for you. We did at least 3 for Shaker Aamer, (before that we used to just post 1 or 2 dozen example tweets in the first comment below the post once the twitter event started) lol. Anywayzz what would you want the tweets to be focused on? Do you want specific sites highlighted?

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Waris Ali wrote:

    Yes i am in touch with Sara, she is happy to see the rise in views for it. I want hundreds of thousands though.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Waris. I hadn’t been thinking about specific actions beyond getting people to call on President Obama to release the 86 cleared prisoners, and to make sure that reviews for the other 80 are fair and objective, and also to call the Defense Department too. I always want people to be as well educated as possible,so perhaps some of the links in the article are worth highlighting?
    As for the video, and the number of viewers you seek, I admire your ambition!

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    And of course it’s always good to highlight Close Guantanamo, Witness Against Torture, the Center for Constitutional Rights – and Reprieve, of course.

  11. arcticredriver says...

    The #GTMOclock is a great idea.

    Did you see this bizarre comment, from Benjamin Wittes, criticizing David Rose for saying William Lietzau made a ““jaw-dropping U-turn” when he acknowledged that the Guantanamo captives should always have been treated according to the Geneva Conventions?
    http://www.lawfareblog.com/2013/08/a-jaw-dropping-u-turn-story-that-isnt/

    Of course Lietzau’s comment is big news, as so many commentators and members of the public still repeat the claims the captives had never been entitled to Geneva Convention protection.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the comments, arcticredriver. I had seen Rose’s article, but had happily missed Wittes’ response. However, I’m trying to follow your comments about the Geneva Conventions, as they seem to imply that the prisoners were entitled to GC protections, when they weren’t – or at least, weren’t until the Supreme Court pointed out to Bush, in Hamdan in June 2006, that Common Article 3 applies to all prisoners.

  13. arcticredriver says...

    Well, as they say “I am not a lawyer” (IANAL). My reading of the Geneva Conventions is that the USA should have initially accorded all its captives the protections of Prisoner of War status. My reading is that even Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah should have been initially accorded the protections of POW status.

    It is not just the Third Geneva Convention that says ALL captives have to be treated as if they qualify for the protections of POW status. More importantly, for those serving the USA, Army Regulation 190-8 says so too. AR-190-8 is a 150 page manual, whose full title is “Military Police: Enemy Prisoners of War, Retained Personnel, Civilian Internees and Other Detainees”

    IANAL, but, it seems to me its definition of “combatant” is essentially identical to that in the 3rd Geneva Convention. In contrast to the 3rd Geneva Convention, which says the captor has to convene a “competent tribunal” if there is any doubt as to whether a captive qualifies for POW status, before that captive can be stripped of the protections of POW status, AR-190-8 goes into great detail as to how tribunals should operate.

    It is my interpretation that AR-190-8 lays out how the USA should conduct and has conducted the “competent tribunals” described in the 3rd Geneva Convention.

    In Rasul v. Bush the DoD is instructed it has to convene Tribunals similar to the AR-190–8 tribunals to determine the Guantanamo captives’ status.

    In retrospect it is unfortunate from both a human rights, fundamental justice perspective, and from a public safety perspective, that the SCOTUS didn’t order the DoD to hold AR-190-8 tribunals, and instead allowed them the wiggle room. The CSR Tribunals and ARB hearings are similar to the AR-190-8 tribunals — with just one enormous difference. That enormous difference is that AR-190-8 tribunals would use the definition of combatant used in the Geneva Conventions — not the wildly overbroad definition dreamed up by the Cheney crowd.

    One key difference between the two definitions is that the Geneva Conventions consider a demobilized soldier a civilian, and, if he stays home, and doesn’t take pot-shots at an invader’s army, he remains a civilian. It doesn’t matter if he had earned his country’s equivalent of the Victoria Cross, when in uniform, after his discharge he is a civilian. But in CSRT after CSRT we see the Recorder assert that participation in earlier conflicts was enough to make a captive an enemy combatant.

    Nasrullah, ISN 951, was a veteran — of the King of Afghanistan’s army in the 1960s. Under the Bush-Cheney definition, being a veteran made him an “enemy combatant”, whereas using the Geneva Convention definition he had been a civilian for decades.

    There were foreigners, captured in Afghanistan, who weren’t accused of participating in hostilities there, but who were considered “enemy combatants”, nonetheless because they came from countries that practiced universal conscription, and they had spent a year in the peacetime military there. Allegations a captive had served as a volunteer in Bosnia, Palestine, Chechnya were used as justifications to class a captive as an “enemy combatant”.

    I think I may have mentioned some efforts I made to look into that incident in 2004 where an embedded journalist captured video of a Marine shooting an unarmed captive in cold blood.

    Apologists for the Marine — who was never formally identified — had a lot of excuses. One conservative columnist, named Thomas Sowell, claimed that US GIs had always had the authority to perform summary battlefield executions of captives they thought had committed war crimes, just as they had done when English speaking Germans donned US uniforms taken from captured GIs to infiltrate behind the US lines during the Battle of the Bulge.

    The famous blockbuster film “Battle of the Bulge” does depict these German infiltrators, and there is a grain of truth to the story. Other WW2 films depict infiltrators in captured uniforms, based on the grain of truth in this incident.

    The Germans did form a half-company of 48 men in captured American uniforms, to infiltrate behind American lines. These volunteers all spoke English. The limit to the size of this unit is that they wanted to break it up into 4 man squads, each with their own jeep, and they only had 12 serviceable captured jeeps.

    So, what this story has to do with the Geneva Conventions, and competent tribunals, and summary battlefield executions, is that Otto Skorzeny, the famous commando leader in overall command of the infiltrators, was charged, and acquitted, over the use of the captured US uniforms, after WW2.

    However, one of the squads was charged, convicted, and executed, shortly after their capture. One squad made it back behind German lines, and survived. The other 40 men disappeared. There is no record of their death. Conservative columnist Sowell may very well be correct that they were the targets of summary battlefield executions.

    A guy named Don Holloway wrote a book about this incident, and he had a website to supplement his book, in 2004, when I looked into it. I exchanged some emails with him.

    He described the experienced German commando leader being reassured by German military lawyers that wearing captured uniforms was a legitimate ruse de guerre, not a war-crime. He was reassured that if Americans detected the subterfuge, and started firing at the Germans, all they had to do was take off the American uniforms before they fired back. His website described Skorzeny being extremely skeptical that this legal argument would make any difference to the GIs who captured them. And the fact that only one squad was sent to HQ confirms this.

    IANAL, but the 3rd Geneva Convention was signed in 1939, and it outlawed summary battlefield execution, so any GI who killed a disarmed captive should have been considered a war-criminal.

    IANAL, but my reading of these documents is that both the Geneva Conventions and AR-190-8 bar ordinary soldiers from making the decision a captive is a war criminal, and should not be protected by POW status.

    If the war crimes tribunal that acquitted Skorzeny, the commando leader in overall command of the infiltrators, on the grounds that merely wearing an enemy uniform was a legitimate ruse de guerre, then his subordinates should not have been convicted in 1944, and none of those other men should have received summary battlefield executions.

    I think the example of Skorzeny and the infiltrators shows how important it is for the determination that a captive was not a lawful combatant has to be taken out of the hands of ordinary soldiers and ordinary officers. I think the purpose of the requirement that the determination be made by a tribunal is to guarantee a paper trail, afterwards.

    Prior to Moazzam Begg’s CSRT his Personal Representative asked him whether their were documents he wanted assembled. He requested the POW card that had been issued to him by a representative of the ICRC. Both the unnamed President of Begg’s Tribunal and James Crisfield, a legal advisor to the OARDEC commander, commented on Begg’s request.

    Part of Crisfield’s specious justification for ignoring this request was that CSRT did not have a mandate to determine whether captives were entitled to POW status. It is my interpretation that when the SCOTUS ruled in 2004, that the captives each get a Tribunal like an AR-190-8 tribunal they were ruling that those tribunals chose one from the same three statuses an AR-190-8 tribunal would choose. AR-190-8 tribunals, like the competent tribunals described in the Geneva Conventions, were authorized to conclude there was sufficient evidence to strip a captive of the protections of POW status, in particular stripping them of the protections against prosecution for hostile acts. They were also authorized to confirm that a captive was entitled to POW status, after all. Finally, AR-190-8 tribunals are authorized to determine that captives were not combatants after all — not lawful combatants, and not unlawful combatants — but rather that they had been innocent civilian bystanders.

    One of the habeas documents I read had a footnote, that offered the exact figures, for how many AR-190-8 tribunals the USA convened during the 1991 Gulf War. It was just under 1300. Those tribunals determined 400 of those men were lawful combatants who should continue to be treated as POWs. They determined that just under 900 captives were innocent civilian bystanders, who were then released. Even though there were broad accusations that Saddam’s men had committed war crimes, the 1991 AR-190-8 tribunals did not find a single captive who merited being stripped of POW status so he could be tried as a war criminal

    James Crisfield, the OARDEC legal advisor, also noted that Moazzam Begg wasn’t even claiming he qualified for POW status. I puzzled over this comment. One of my correspondents asserted this proved Begg had tacitly confessed to being a war criminal. But I decided what Crisfield really meant was that Begg claimed to be an innocent civilian bystander.

    So, my reading of Lietzau’s comments is that he now acknowledges that the USA should have stuck with the traditional, tried and true, Geneva Conventions compliant, AR-190-8 procedures.

    My interpretation is that the Guantanamo, Bagram and CIA black sites captives should always, initially, have been accorded the protections of POW status — at least until a competent tribunal left a paper trail of the justifications for stripping them of those protections.

    And, shamefully, the Bush administration got away with acting like the USA had never signed the Fourth Geneva Convention in 1949.

    The Third Geneva Convention had strong protections against torture, humiliation, religious discrimination — for POWs. But WW2 exposed a shocking oversight. The Geneva Conventions had no formal protections for civilians in war zones. And so the Fourth Geneva Convention fixed that — defining the term “protected person”. Shortly after his capture the DoD released footage of a disheveled Saddam Hussein sitting meekly while a US medic examined his head for lice. This was a humiliating act, and a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Prior to the USA signing the Fourth Geneva Convention it could have been argued that captives who had been stripped of POW status weren’t protected against torture, coercion, and humiliation like being made to wear women’s lingerie. After 1949 even suspected war criminals, even convicted war criminals, were protected from torture and humiliation.

    You probably saw that the yearly cost of keeping Guantanmo open is now acknowledged to have been more like 500 million dollars a year? If we were to count the lost opportunity costs, and the follow-on costs of taking coerced confessions and denunciations at face value that cost should really be much higher.

    Using Lietzau’s 20-20 hindsight the USA would not have pinned down a whole brigade worth of GIs to serve as the guards, interrogators, etc. During the Bush “surge” he scraped the available personnel, and was able to send three more brigades to Iraq. If they hadn’t opened the Guantanamo camp, and swelled the GI population there to 8,000 men he would have had one more whole brigade worth of GIs.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi arcticredriver,
    What a fascinating analysis. Thanks you very much.
    I agree, of course, as you know, that everything that happened – and is still happening, in terms of the men’s ongoing detention, with no clear mechanism for their release – could and should have been avoided by sticking to all the laws and treaties that existed prior to 9/11. As we know, Bush made torture possible between Feb. 7, 2002, when he issued his order stating that the prisoners of the “war on terror” were not protected by the Geneva Conventions, and June 2006, when, in Hamdan, the Supreme Court reminded Bush and his administration that Common Article 3, prohibiting torture and abuse, applied to all prisoners.
    There are still those who want new mechanisms for indefinite detention to be introduced, who fool themselves – or perhaps pretend – that you can have such a thing without it being fundamentally abusive. Their delusions are profoundly troubling. Once people have no rights, not only can they be abused, but you can bet that they will be.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Waris Ali wrote:

    RT gave this coverage on Friday, they included a screenshot of the page, mentioning the site too of course. Good stuff > http://rt.com/usa/guantanamo-clock-obama-release-276/

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Oh, that’s great news about RT, Waris. I hadn’t seen that. Thanks for picking up on it.

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