I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.
Yesterday (May 8) marked 350 days since President Obama’s promise, in a major speech on national security issues on May 23 last year, to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo. Since that time, however, just 12 men have been released, even though 75 of the 154 prisoners still held were cleared for release in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009.
In addition, two more men have been cleared for release this year by a Periodic Review Board, consisting of representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the Offices of the Director of National Intelligence and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who are reviewing the cases of 71 men recommended for ongoing imprisonment or for prosecution by the task force.
Last year we at “Close Guantánamo” established the Gitmo Clock to mark how long it is since President Obama’s promise, and to note how many men have been freed. Please visit the Gitmo Clock, like it, share it and tweet it if you are disappointed that just 12 men have been freed in the last 350 days, and if you want more action from President Obama.
President Obama’s promise to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo was triggered by a prison-wide hunger strike, which reminded the world of the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo and resulted in widespread criticism of the president’s failure to close the prison as he promised when he took office in 2009. The promise came after a period of nearly three years in which just five prisoners were released, after Congress raised obstacles that the president found it politically inconvenient to overcome.
The obstacles were indeed onerous, requiring the president and the defense secretary to certify that, if released, prisoners would be unable to engage in terrorism (a promise that was, I believe, impossible to make), but the legislation contained a waiver allowing the president to bypass Congress if he regarded it as being “in the national security interests of the United States,” which, nevertheless, the president refused to use.
As noted above, since his promise last May, the president has released 12 men from Guantánamo, but 77 cleared prisoners remain. At this rate, it will take until 2020 for the cleared prisoners to be released. This is unforgivable, especially because, in December, Congress eased its restrictions on the release of prisoners.
In his speech last May, President Obama promised to appoint two envoys to deal with the closure of Guantánamo, which he subsequently did, appointing two Washington veterans to the posts, Cliff Sloan at the State Department and Paul Lewis at the Pentagon. These men have been involved in the release of the 12 men, and are, presumably involved in ongoing negotiations to release 20 of the 77 other cleared prisoners who are still held, but for the 57 other cleared prisoners the problem is that they are Yemenis, and the Obama administration is unwilling to release them, citing worries about the security situation in Yemen.
This is completely unacceptable, as it thoroughly undermines the purpose and credibility of both the Guantánamo Review Task Force and the Periodic Review Boards. In addition, as I have repeatedly stated, it represents behavior on the part of the US that is more cruel than that of dictators, who, when they flout international law by imprisoning people without charge or trial, as at Guantánamo, do not pretend that there is a review process that will lead to the prisoners’ release, and then follow up by not releasing them. That cruelty has cast a pall of despair over the remaining prisoners at Guantánamo, and with good reason.
To address it, the president needs to immediately release the Yemeni prisoners who have been cleared for release — if not all 57, then at least those whose immediate release was recommended by the task force in January 2010 — 25 men in total, who were not released because, in December 2009, a Nigerian Man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who was recruited in Yemen, tried and failed to blow up a plane bound for Detroit with a bomb in his underwear, and, in the resulting hysterical backlash, President Obama imposed a moratorium on releasing Yemenis from Guantánamo, which he only lifted on his speech last May. At the time, he said that the Yemenis would be reviewed “on a case by case basis,” but in the last 350 days not one of them has been released.
Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we believe that all the Yemenis cleared for release should be freed, although we recognize that starting with the 25 would be less contentious politically. We acknowledge that, back in January 2010, the task force recommended 30 other Yemenis for “conditional detention,” which it described as being “based on the current security environment in that country.”
The task force added, “They are not approved for repatriation to Yemen at this time, but may be transferred to third countries, or repatriated to Yemen in the future if the current moratorium on transfers to Yemen is lifted and other security conditions are met.”
With the moratorium now lifted, these 30 men should, logically, join their 25 compatriots on the next plane home, but, as noted above, we are prepared to accept that, as a first move, the 25 men who were told in January 2010 that the US had no interest in continuing to hold them should be be released, with the 30 others following once it has been established that the release of their 25 compatriots has been a success.
The two other cleared Yemenis are those whose release was recommended by their Periodic Review Boards, and for those reviews to have any credibility, they too should be released as soon as possible.
Call the White House and ask President Obama to release the Yemeni prisoners whose release has been recommended by the Guantánamo Review Task Force and the Periodic Review Boards. Call 202-456-1111 or 202-456-1414 or submit a comment online.
Please also visit this page on the Witness Against Torture website to see a list of protests to mark the first anniversary of President Obama’s speech on May 23, and, if you can, please do get involved. I’ll be posting more about this day of action soon.
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 six-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.
Andy, dearest friend across the big polluted and warming Atlantic pond:
It’s so hard for me to imagine that after this many years, the American people are not outraged.
In fact, I hear more fear that US citizens might be “put in Gitmo” with all the “al Qaeda terrorists!”
Media is, finally, discussing the Senate Select Committee’s “Torture Report” but not in terms of the prisoners – only in terms of “Bush and Cheney lied us to war” and they need to be held accountable, while ignoring the Obama administration’s use of many of the same tactics – outsourcing torture, indefinite detention, rendition and even on-going torture and abuse (force feeding of hunger-striking prisoners, genital searches, denial of rights of habeas corpus, solitary confinement, strip searches, raids and theft of legal documents, and even the Kangaroo Court of “Military Trials”)
Hoodwinks glued firmly in place, it seems.
As always – your sister in the fight,
Cosmic Surfer (Jan)
Thanks, Jan. Always lovely to hear from you. I’m currently wearing my World Can’t Wait “Crimes are crimes no matter who does them” T-shirt featuring Bush and Obama, which resonates with your comments. Unfortunately, we have learned that if great crimes committed by the US government are not throughly and comprehensively overturned and repudiated by the succeeding administration they become the new normal. Some of the rules have been tweaked since 2009, but the essential lawlessness remains.
I’m very glad to know that you are there, my friend, always fighting against these injustices.
On Facebook, Jan Strain wrote:
Andy – you know me, I am not one to just call once. I call once a week and have been for 10 years I am writing as well (a pest, I am). One can email the president at
Thanks, Jan. Great to hear from you, and thanks for including that link for emailing the White House (which is included in the article). I wish there were many, many more people who phoned the White House once a week to demand action on Guantanamo.
Thanks to everyone who has been liking and sharing this. I also wanted to make sure everyone knows about the actions planned across the US, and in London and elsewhere, on the 1st anniversary of President Obama’s promise to resume releasing prisoners, on May 23: http://www.witnesstorture.org/events/
Adam Flude wrote:
This is a crime against humanity, and I hope ALL those responsible, will be tried in the ICJ or the ICC on day.
Yes, Adam, I agree. The pretence is that the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), passed the week after the 9/11 attacks, justifies holding the prisoners at Guantanamo – apparently forever, if the political will doesn’t exist to let them go at any point. Because the habeas rights the prisoners fought for were gutted by the D.C. Circuit Court, no mechanism exists for the release of prisoners except the political will of the executive, which, as we’ve seen, is poor. So soldiers cannot be freed because there’s apparently no end to the “war on terror,” and the criminals at Guantanamo – the handful of men allegedly involved in terrorism – cannot be brought to justice because the system set up to try them – the military commissions – are simply not fit for purpose.
If another country was doing all this there would be outrage …
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
Email Andy Worthington
Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist: