Jan. 11 Protest at the White House: Rights Groups Call for President Obama to Close Guantánamo

10.1.16

Andy Worthington and the We Stand With Shaker poster at the protest against Guantanamo outside the Whirte House on January 11, 2015, the 13th anniversary of the opening of the prison (Photo: Medea Benjamin for Andy Worthington).Tomorrow is the 14th anniversary of the opening of the US “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and, as I have for the last five years, I will be outside the White House, as part of a protest involving over a dozen rights groups, calling for the closure of the prison as swiftly as possible.

My presence at the protest is part of a short US tour I’m undertaking to highlight the necessity to close Guantánamo without further delay. on Friday I flew into Miami form London — my first ever visit to Florida — where I was greeted by a great group of peace and social justice activists, and where, on Saturday, I attended a rally and march to the gates of US Southern Command, responsible for overseeing Guantánamo. Outside Southcom HQ, I spoke about the need for the prison to be closed, to end the torture of those held indefinitely without charge or trial, and to restore, to the US, some notion that this remains a country that respects justice and the rule of law, and that the illegality and brutality of the country’s response to 9/11 can finally be overcome. My thanks to the People’s Opposition to War, Imperialism, and Racism (POWIR) for organizing this event, and I’d like to say that what made it particularly impressive was the number of young people involved.

This year I have brought with me a giant inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who was finally freed from the prison on October 30, eight years after he was first told that the US no longer wanted to hold him, under President Bush, and six years after he was also approved for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in January 2009.

The inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer was the centerpiece of a campaign to free Shaker, the We Stand With Shaker campaign, that I co-founded in the UK in November 2014 with an activist friend, Joanne MacInnes. In the eleven months leading up to Shaker’s release, over a hundred celebrities and MPs stood with the inflatable, and were photographed with it, adding to the pressure for Shaker’s release that also came from MPs, the media and other campaigners. On Monday, seven former Guantánamo prisoners — including Shaker Aamer — will be campaigning for the prison’s closure outside the US Embassy in London, and there will be some simultaneous reporting from both capitals.

The inflatable will stay in the US, and will be used by campaigners throughout the year as we all work together to make 2016 the year that Guantánamo is closed for good.

Below is the press release issued by the groups involved in the protest outside the White House, including Close Guantánamo, the campaign I co-founded in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — an email address is all that is required to be counted as an opponent of Guantánamo and to receive two email updates every month. We will shortly be launching a new initiative, the Countdown to Close Guantánamo, which will be the focus of our work in 2016, as we call for the release of the 45 men already approved for release, a speeding up of the review process — the Periodic Review Boards — for the men not already approved for release and not facing trials (over 40 of the 104 men still held), and for those facing or having faced trials (just ten men in total) and as few of the other prisoners as possible, to be moved to the US mainland so that Guantánamo can be closed.

Groups to Rally Monday at White House on 14th Guantánamo Anniversary

Coalition Demands Obama Step Up Pace of Transfers and Review Boards, Take Charge of Insubordinate DOD, and Finally Close Prison

Washington, DC – This Monday, a coalition of human rights activists, torture survivors, Guantánamo attorneys, and members of diverse faith communities will hold a rally at the White House to mark the 14th anniversary of the first arrival of detainees at Guantánamo on January 11, 2002.

The coalition is calling on the Obama administration in its last, crucial year in office, to close Guantánamo and end indefinite detention. With recent transfers, 104 men remain at Guantánamo, dozens of them cleared for release, the majority from Yemen.

The rally will include a giant, inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer – the last UK resident held at Guantánamo, released in October. The figure was displayed outside the British Parliament where MPs and celebrities posed with it to press for Mr. Aamer’s release. Members of the coalition will share the words of Mr. Aamer and of Mohammed al-Hamiri, Ghaleb al-Bihani, Zaher Hamdoun, and Mustafa al-Hawsawi, all of whom remain at Guantánamo. The rally will be followed by a “detainee procession” of figures in orange jumpsuits and black hoods and signs marking the anniversary.

The organizations drafted a call to action:

Last Chance for Leadership: Close Guantánamo

President Obama has just one year left to fulfill his first-term promise by closing Guantánamo and ending indefinite detention. Doing so will demonstrate leadership and fidelity to the principles on which he campaigned and won office.

On January 11, 2016, the prison at Guantánamo will enter its 15th year of operation. More than 100 men remain there; the vast majority will never be charged with crimes. Dozens of prisoners are cleared for transfer. Some remain on hunger strike and are force-fed, and a handful are facing charges in unfair trials. There has been no accountability for the torture that many detainees have suffered.

Though Congress has placed obstacles to closing Guantánamo, President Obama can and should make significant progress towards reducing the population and shuttering the prison. He must order the Secretary of Defense to expedite transfers and accelerate the Periodic Review Board process, and tell the Justice Department not to reflexively oppose habeas petitions in federal court. He must also reject a policy of indefinite detention, and formally try or release all detainees.

In addition, President Obama should order all relevant agencies to read the full Senate torture report. Refusing to read the report, more than a year after receiving it, reflects the “bury your head in the sand” mentality that will prevent the country from adequately learning from its past and permanently ending torture. Further, the Obama administration should prompt the Department of Justice to open a new, comprehensive investigation into the clear acts of criminality described in the report.

Now is the time for Obama to accomplish a central goal of his administration by closing Guantánamo. There is today a renewed climate of fear and hate reminiscent of the post-September 11 mindset that led to torture and indefinite detention in the first place. Guantánamo is the bitter legacy of a politics of fear, which must be rejected.

This is the president’s last chance to keep his promise and close Guantánamo. If he does not do so, there is a real chance that the current detainees will die there, and that more detainees will join them.

We cannot let that happen. Close Guantánamo now.

Schedule

12:00pm: Interfaith service in front of the White House sponsored by the National Religious Coalition Against Torture

12:30pm: Rally and program in front of the White House, followed by procession

Sponsors: Amnesty International USA, Bill of Rights Defense Committee and Defending Dissent Foundation, Center for Constitutional Rights, CODEPINK, Council on American-Islamic Relations, CloseGuantánamo.org, Interfaith Action for Human Rights, National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, No More Guantánamos, September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC), Witness Against Torture, and others.

Organizational Quotes

“Every year, for the last seven years, concerned activists and citizens have called on President Obama to fulfill his promise during his first year in office and demanded that Guantánamo be closed once and for all; every year, these calls have remained unheeded. This is President Obama’s final year in office. That means this is also his final opportunity to  follow through on his promise, shut down Guantánamo, and restore some semblance of dignity to our justice system. This opportunity must not be left ignored.”
Dr. Zainab Chaudry, Interfaith Action for Human Rights

“It’s not enough for President Obama to say he tried, but that Congress and other obstacles are preventing him from closing Guantánamo. Obama has the authority to make significant progress. He is the Commander in Chief, yet officials within the Department of Defense openly defy his policy objectives and derail closure efforts. He could order the Department of Justice not to fight the habeas petitions of cleared men like 74-lb Tariq Ba Odah, but he hasn’t. There are more than 40 men, cleared for release, who could go home today, yet they continue to languish as the prison enters its 15th year. The president has real choices in front of him. Now is the time for him to take meaningful action. The clock is ticking.”
Aliya Hussain, Center for Constitutional Rights

“In November 2015, a CODEPINK delegation traveled to Guantánamo Bay and met with members of the Cuban government and civil society who are calling for the base to be closed immediately and the land given back to the Cubans. The Cubans are horrified that the United States government has committed torture on their land and continues to indefinitely detain prisoners who have never been charged with any crime. The prison facility within the naval base is a stain on US foreign policy, and we urge President Obama to issue an executive order to close the prison — and the base — immediately.”
Nancy Mancias, organizer, CODEPINK

“One day let alone 14 years is too long for the U.S. to imprison one hundred men at Guantánamo without charge or trial. For seven years the president has promised to close this prison – a blemish on our nation’s commitment to the rule of law – yet the situation has not improved. We are responsible for safeguarding the constitutional values which are meant to protect all Americans, persons who reside in the U.S., and those in our custody from the abuses of indefinite detention and lack of due process. We must shut down Guantánamo.”
Nihad Awad, national executive director, Council on American-Islamic Relations

“It must be stated clearly and boldly that the premise upon which Guantánamo Bay prison exists is illegal. Moreover, the prison symbolizes the ways in which Muslims have been dehumanized, while at the same time, criminalizing the Muslim identity by virtue of housing a population of men adhering to Islam. While the number of prisoners has decreased from its height at 779 to 104, it is disturbing that the United States government continues to house men cleared for release while holding others hostage in protracted military commissions that seemingly have no resolution in sight. We call on President Obama to close the prison once and for all and end the destructive policies of the War on Terror that have so callously targeted Muslims.”
Dr. Maha Hilal, executive director, National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms

“After fourteen years, our experience with an official policy of detaining suspected terrorists without trial has not brought us security, but only more fear, more terrorism and worst of all, a deep stain on our honor and debasement of our most basic values. It’s long past time for us to end this inhumane and profoundly ineffective experiment with lawlessness.”
Bruce Miller, president, No More Guantánamos

“As an organization that serves torture survivors from all over the world, TASSC is appalled by the fact that Guantánamo – synonymous with a U.S. torture chamber – is still open after 14 years. During his last year in office, President Obama should honor his promise to finally close this facility and either release the detainees or transfer them to other locations where they have access to justice.”
Gizachew Emiru, Esq., executive director, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC)

“As Guantánamo enters its fifteenth year of operation, there is a real risk it is becoming a permanent offshore prison for an endless global war. The longer Guantánamo stays open, the more likely it is to become a fixture of U.S. counterterrorism — and a permanent system of American injustice. President Obama has just one year left in office to make good on his commitment to close Guantánamo. His human rights legacy, and that of the nation, are on the line. It won’t be easy, but President Obama can and must come through.”
Naureen Shah, director of Amnesty International USA’s Security With Human Rights Program

“Guantánamo is a moral disaster zone where the U.S. tortured people and continues to hold people without charge or trial, some for more than a decade. It would be a grave sin and a national disgrace for President Obama to leave office without closing Guantánamo.”
Rev. Ron Stief, executive director, National Religious Campaign Against Torture

“Guantánamo is the bitter legacy of the vengeful over-reaction to 9-11. A politics of fear and Islamophobia still rage. The United States can never truly embrace human rights, the rule of law, and its own democratic values so long as Guantánamo remains open. Obama doesn’t get points for trying to close the prison. Either he gets it done this year, or adds to his disgrace on this issue.
Maysoon Otaibi, Witness Against Torture

“It’s now or never. Seven years after he promised to close Guantánamo within a year, President Obama now has just one year left to make sure that a failure to close the prison, as promised, is not part of his legacy. There must be no more excuses. Guantánamo is a legal, moral and ethical abomination, and every day it remains open poisons the U.S.’s claims to be a nation that respects the rule of law.” Andy Worthington, CloseGuantanamo.org

Contact: Jeremy Varon, Witness Against Torture, 732.979.3119, jvaron@aol.com
Debra Sweet, World Can’t Wait, 718.809.3803, debrasweet@worldcantwait.net
Jen Nessel, jnessel@ccrjustice.org

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album, ‘Love and War,’ is available for download or on CD via Bandcamp — also see here). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign, the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — 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, the full military commissions 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.

11 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my last call for people to come and join me and over a dozen rights groups outside the White House tomorrow at 12 noon for the annual protest calling for President Obama to close ‪Guantanamo‬ as he promised when he first took office seven years ago. I’ll be speaking, as I have every year since 2011, I have We Stand With Shaker’s inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer with me, and we’ll also be hooking up around 2pm with campaigners outside the US Embassy in London, inc. Shaker Aamer and six other former prisoners. We say: Close Guantanamo in 2016. No more excuses!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Rebecca Olsen wrote:

    Obama only does things that benefit bankers or himself. Don’t hold your breath.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m not holding my breath, Rebecca, but I do think it’s possible that we can get Guantanamo closed. It won’t end illegal wars or drone killings or the bloated, unaccountable military-indutrial-intelligence complex, but it could bring one particularly sordid aspect of post-9/11 policy to an end – a prison where people can be held indefinitely without charge or trial, and without being held as prisoners of war protected by the Geneva Conventions.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Laura Lance wrote:

    Wish I were a little closer! I”ll be there in spirit. Thank you for all you do.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Laura​. Yes, I wish you could be here too. The energy amongst the campaigners is quite something to experience this year. I’m so glad to be a part of it!

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Lindis Percy wrote:

    I would be there if I could….too far but we will have the banner ‘the shame of Guantanamo and an upside down US flag saying “Obama Close Gitmo’ there are the weekly Tuesday demo at NSA/NRO Menwith Hill (as we have done for a long time now). x

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, you are such stars, Lindis – you and Brigid and all the CAAB supporters.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Ann Alexander wrote:

    Great to see you there, Andy.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Ann. It’s great to be here. I flew in from Miami very early Saturday morning, then got picked up at the airport and delivered to the church where about 80 campaigners with Witness Against Torture are staying. I was with them for the day – so many friends, really like my American family – then late afternoon we all went to an event looking back at their visit to Guantanamo in November with Code Pink and The Peace Poets – who are truly wonderful. And I spoke about the Shaker campaign and played ‘Song for Shaker Aamer’ – videos will be along soon. Well worth checking out!

  10. Former Guantanamo “hostages” and supporters hold candlelit vigil calling for closure on 14th anniversary of Gitmo opening | Carol Anne Grayson (Radical Sister) blog says...

  11. chris says...

    keep guantanamo open,and while we are at it,stick all the haters of the uk islamist terrorists and there communist corbyn cronies like andy worthington and co in there and rid my country england of the communist isis supporting enemy within,got it.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. 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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