GTMO Clock Marks 250 Days Since President Obama’s Promise to Resume Releasing Prisoners from Guantánamo; 77 Cleared Men Still Held

30.1.14

Today the GTMO Clock, an initiative launched last August by the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, which I established two years ago with the US attorney Tom Wilner, marks a particular anniversary. It is 250 days since, stung by criticism caused by the Guantánamo prisoners embarking on a prison-wide hunger strike, President Obama delivered a major speech on national security issues in which he promised to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo. This came after two and a half years in which the release of prisoners had almost ground to halt as a result of Congressional opposition, and the president’s own refusal to spend political capital overcoming those obstacles.

At the time of his promise, 86 of the remaining 166 prisoners had been cleared for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that he appointed when he took office in 2009. in the last 250 days, eleven prisoners have been freed, which is progress, but 77 cleared prisoners remain (including the first prisoner to have his case reviewed by a Periodic Review Board), and at this rate it will take another 1,750 days — or nearly five years — for the remaining cleared prisoners to be freed.

The GTMO Clock was set up to mark how many days it has been since President Obama’s promise, and how many men have been freed, so please visit the GTMO Clock, like it, share it and tweet it if you regard the painfully slow release of prisoners as unacceptable.

In his State of the Union address just two days ago, President Obama made a point of mentioning Guantánamo. This was the first time he has mentioned the prison in a State of the Union address, although, notoriously, he issued an executive order promising to close Guantánamo on his second day in office, in January 2009, a promise that, of course, he failed to keep.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama said, “With the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantánamo Bay — because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action, but by remaining true to our Constitutional ideals, and setting an example for the rest of the world.”

It is certainly true that closing Guantánamo will be made easier if lawmakers — primarily in the House of Representatives — can be persuaded to drop their ban on bringing prisoners to the US mainland for any reason — to be put on trial, to be detained (at least until new legal challenges are raised) so that the prison can be closed, or for urgent medical treatment. These provisions were put forward by the Senate Armed Services Committee last year, under the leadership of Sen. Carl Levin, but although they were passed by the Senate, the House refused to back them.

They need to be brought back to the table this year, but President Obama must be prepared to bypass Congress, before his Presidency ends in two years’ time, if lawmakers continue to thwart him in his plans to close Guantánamo. In the meantime, however, the ball is in his court when it comes to releasing prisoners.

What he didn’t mention in his State of the Union address is that, in the negotiations between the Senate and the House regarding Guantánamo, the trade-off for the House maintaining a ban on bringing prisoners to the US mainland was Representatives’ acceptance of other provisions easing restrictions on the release of prisoners imposed in the previous two years.

These restrictions had required the president to certify that released prisoners would be unable to engage in terrorist activities against the US (an impossible promise to make), and had led to the number of released prisoners almost grinding to a halt. President Obama could have bypassed Congress, using a waiver in the legislation that allowed him to do so if he regarded it as being “in the national security interests of the United States,” but he chose not to do so to avoid conflict with Republicans.

Now, however, with those restrictions eased, he has no more excuses, and he needs to immediately release as many of the 77 cleared prisoners as possible, including, in particular, the 56 Yemenis whose release continues to be put off because of endless murmurings about unrest in their home country.

President Obama needs to realize that he only has two courses of action: continuing to hold men who have been cleared for release but have not been freed — as is the case with 76 of the cleared prisoners, who were told four years ago that the US no longer wanted to hold them — or letting them go.

Anyone not blinded by the cruel rhetoric of the “war on terror” knows that the damage to the US’s reputation in continuing to hold these men is worse than anything that can happen if they are freed, and at “Close Guantánamo” we believe, from a close examination of his words, that President Obama knows this too.

It is time to free the Yemenis.

What you can do now

Call the White House and ask President Obama to release all the men cleared for release. Call 202-456-1111 or 202-456-1414 or submit a comment online.

Please also feel free to write to the prisoners at Guantánamo.

Note: This article was published simultaneously here and on the “Close Guantánamo” website.

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, and “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.

13 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Yes, just two days after President Obama spoke – again – about closing Guantanamo (in his State of the Union address), the GTMO Clock I launched last summer marks 250 days since his promise to resume releasing prisoners. The verdict? The president needs less talk and more action. 11 men have been released, but 77 cleared prisoners remain. Free them now!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    More talk and less action seems to have been his motto these last years on everything not just closing gitmo

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I think we someone should do a cut-up of Obama’s rhetoric set to Elvis’s “A Little Less Conversation,” David. Good to hear from you, and glad to hear your tour’s going well.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Beth Cioffoletti wrote:

    Exactly. Free them now.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Beth. I’m glad that rallying cry makes sense. C’mon, Mr. President, just get on with it!

  6. Brian Scott says...

    .
    Andy,
    yer the kinda guy that might find this innerestin’:
    a list of equipment they buy for Gitmo guards.
    https://acquisition.army.mil/asfi/sol_attachment_viewer.cfm?psolicitationnbr=W91WRZ14T0006&FILE_NAME=Attachment%5F01%2DPrice%5FList%2Exlsx&ext=%20(.xlsx)&isXML=N

    I was particularly interested to read that the guards wear gloves with steel shot laced into them, to ensure Detainees understand that they mean business.
    And how ’bout those spiked vests ?
    .

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the info, Brian. Unpleasant, but not surprising, of course, because this is the kind of kit you’d expect the military to have at a prison. However, it’s pretty grim seeing the details of it all laid out, as you note.

  8. arcticredriver says...

    Andy, thanks another important update.

    As to why so many Americans are blind to the damage holding innocent men, for years, without charge, you wrote:

    “Anyone not blinded by the cruel rhetoric of the “war on terror” knows that the damage to the US’s reputation in continuing to hold these men is worse than anything that can happen if they are freed, and at “Close Guantánamo” we believe, from a close examination of his words, that President Obama knows this too.”

    I too am disturbed by this on-going blindness. I am not sure I agree as to the cause of the blindness. I see al Qaeda’s attacks of 9-11 as triggering a national trauma, a national hysteria.

    The surviving brother of the pair who launched a terror attack during the Boston Marathon is in the news again, as it’s official — he faces the death penalty. But cast your mind back to the days when he was still at large. Boston was locked down, to an extent one doesn’t even find in totalitarian countries. Citizens were told to remain in their homes — for days. The entire Boston economy was ground to a halt. Shut-ins, frail elderly individuals who needed daily food deliveries, daily visits from public health staff, went without. Were any deaths due to the shutdown? The terrorist was hiding under the tarpaulin covering the hull of a sailboat in someone’s backyard — and he would have been caught days earlier, if the homeowners had not been compliant with the order for them to stay in their homes.

    The way I see it, that order for millions of Boston residents to hide in their homes, for days, was a hysterical over-reaction — but one that Americans didn’t recognize as a hysterical over-reaction at the time. It seems to me Americans still don’t recognize it as a hysterical over-reaction.

    If the brothers had not been ruthless terrorists, with no regard for the lives of innocent civilians, but had instead been totally ruthless bank-robbers, who had already killed several bank patrons, bank staff, and police officers, during a bank robbery, and who remained at large, there is no way the entire city of Boston would have been shut down. The shutdown was a disproportional response.

    I think it is worthwhile to compare the American response to the killing of 3,000 innocent civilians on 2001-9-11, under George W. Bush with what we know of the British response to the Luftwaffe killing 70,000 innocent civilians during the London Blitz. Didn’t London residents cope without a hysterical over-reaction? They didn’t shut down London’s economy. The Royal Family continued to live there, as did Churchill and his cabinet, and the rest of Parliament.

    The sudden death of 3,000 innocent people was a terrible tragedy. The hysterical over-reaction from that event however has triggered many Americans to be prepared to make huge, unnecessary and wasteful sacrifices to achieve an unachievable goal.

    That unachievable goal — “America can’t afford to have one more death due to terrorism on American soil.” This is what justified the enormously costly Boston shutdown.

    I think Americans should start putting the sudden shocking deaths of 2001-9-11 in perspective. The “War On Terror” has cost the USA something like 6,000-10,000 soldiers, killed in Iraq or Afghanistan — twice as amny or more as died on 2001-9-11. Those wars have cost the USA trillions of dollars.

    That portion of the US populace willing to let the NSA monitor their phones, their internet, is the same portion willing to ignore Benjamin Franklin, and hold possibly innocent men, for the rest of their lives, on hearsay, and innuendo they aren’t even allowed to hear or challenge. I know that technically “rhetoric” includes appeals to the emotions, but I think it is also supposed to appeal to reason. The national hysteria however is an almost pure appeal to Americans’ emotions — one that cannot withstand a rational, dispassionate analysis.

    The USA has had tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of innocent civilians, die unnecessary and preventable deaths, since 2001-9-11. I suggest Americans should consider the cost of those unnecessary preventable deaths, when they start to feel the hysterical over-reaction to the deaths of 2001-9-11. I suggest that clever and strategic spending of a small fraction of the trillions spent in Iraq could have cut deaths due to drunk driving in half. I suggest the same holds true for deaths due to accidental fire-arm discharge. I suggest the same holds true for the lack of preventive health care in the messed up US health care system.

    I suggest the USA’s professional alarmists, guys like Evan Kohlmann, with his SITE institute, Thomas Joscelyn of the Long War Journal, and our own friend, Commander Gordon, pose a more serious threat to public safety than that terrorists pose in the USA. Professional alarmists, who keep beating the drum, who seize on and magnify and distort every fevered scrap of disinformation issued by the professional alarmists who are still in uniform encourage the squandering of precious counter-terrorism resources on wild-goose chases.

    Public safety would be far better served if those resources were spent trying to counter genuine threats.

    Public safety would be far better served if those resources were spent trying to counter genuine terrorist threats. And, I suggest, there are some threats to public safety that are not related to terrorism that would save more innocent lives if public safety funds were spent there — like countering the threat of drunk driving.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver, for the detailed analysis of America’s national hysteria. Your choice of the over-reaction in Boston is very telling – it sounds unbelievable looking back on it, but it does indeed demonstrate a state of fear that is useful to the intelligence agencies, and the right-wing lawmakers, media and think-tanks who make their livings by keeping Americans scared.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Beth Cioffoletti wrote:

    this is disturbing.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Beth. Good to hear from you, and yes it is. Much more action is needed, but yet again we’re seeing a whole lot of nothing. No one released for six weeks now, even though 77 men have been cleared for release.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Ursula Walsh wrote:

    Hi, Boycotts played a role in ending apartheid in S Africa. This could b a good way of pressurising the US to close Guantanamo prison. The largest US companies own:
    Asda,
    Esso,
    Heinz
    Mars.

    Please like my Facebook post about this if u fancy joining me in boycotting this companies.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Interesting idea, Ursula. What’s needed, I think, is to identify which companies are involved in Guantanamo. I’m surprised I haven’t seen this mentioned before!

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