The “Countdown to Close Guantánamo” Launches: Send in Your Photos Asking President Obama to Fulfill His Promise to Close the Prison

21.1.16

Former Guantanamo prisoner Shaker Aamer photographed outside the US Embassy in London supporting the new "Countdown to Close Guantanamo" initiative (Photo: Andy Worthington).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. In the photo here, former Guantánamo prisoner Shaker Aamer supports the new “Countdown to Close Guantánamo” initiative. See more on the Celebrity Photos page and also the Public Photos page, and please send in your own photos — see below for details!

January 20, 2016 marked the beginning of the last year of the Obama presidency, and tomorrow (January 22) marks the seventh anniversary of President Obama’s promise to close the lawless prison at Guantánamo Bay within a year, which he made on his second day in office in January 2009. To highlight the president’s last chance to fulfill his promise to close the prison, the “Close Guantánamo” campaign has launched a new initiative, the “Countdown to Close Guantánamo.”

The “Countdown to Close Guantánamo” encourages celebrities, lawmakers and concerned members of the public, from the US and around the world, to take photos of themselves holding signs counting down to the end of the Obama presidency, urging President Obama to close the prison before the inauguration of the next president on January 20, 2017.

Our first poster, reading, “President Obama, you have one year left to close Guantánamo,” was made available when the campaign launched, on Jan, 20. It is being followed, throughout the year, by posters counting down every 50 days — so “350 days” is on February 4, “300 days” will be on March 25, and so on.

Please print off the 350 days poster, take a photo of yourself holding it, and send it to: info@closeguantanamo.org.

If you’re reading this on or after Feb. 18, then please print off the “300 days” poster, take a photo of yourself holding it, and send it to us for Mar. 25 at: info@closeguantanamo.org

If you’re reading this from Apr. 1 onwards, then please print off the “250 days” poster, take a photo and send it to us, for May 14, at: info@closeguantanamo.org

If you’re reading this from Jun. 1 onwards, then please print off the “200 days” poster, take a photo and send it to us, for Jul. 3.

If you’re reading this from the middle of July onwards, then please print off the “150 days” poster, take a photo and send it to us, for Aug. 22.

If you’re reading this from Sep. 1 onwards, then please print off the “100 days” poster, take a photo and send it to us, for Oct. 11.

If you would like to send a message to accompany your photo, please feel free to do so. You can also let us know where you’re located if you want (village/town/city and country). We will be publishing all the photos on the website, on two dedicated pages — Celebrity Photos and Public Photos — and also on our Facebook and Twitter pages. As well as Shaker Aamer, we already have photos of music legends Roger Waters (ex-Pink Floyd) and Brian Eno, other former Guantánamo prisoners, and a number of members of the public, with many more to follow.

Close Guantánamo” was established in January 2012 by the US attorney Tom Wilner (who represented the Guantánamo prisoners in their habeas corpus cases before the US Supreme Court in 2004 and 2008) and the British journalist Andy Worthington to provide important information about Guantánamo and the men held there, and to work towards the prison’s closure.

In November 2014, Andy established the “We Stand With Shaker” campaign in the UK, with the activist Joanne MacInnes, to work towards securing the release of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, and last May Tom arranged for a delegation of British lawmakers seeking Shaker’s release to meet with Senators including John McCain and Dianne Feinstein. In October, eight years after he was first told that the US no longer wanted to hold him, Shaker Aamer was finally freed, and returned to his family in the UK.

“We Stand With Shaker” featured celebrities and lawmakers standing with a giant inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer, but we also encouraged members of the public to send in photos of themselves holding signs in support of Shaker’s release, and the success of this — and of the “Fast For Shaker” initiative launched just before Shaker’s release, when celebrities and concerned members of the public stood with signs — inspired us to encourage everyone who wants to see Guantánamo closed to get involved in this new campaign, which, we hope, will attract widespread support.

To coincide with the launch of the “Countdown to Close Guantánamo,” we are calling on President Obama to observe the following five demands regarding the closure of the prison and the 91 men still held — of whom 34 have been approved for release, 44 are awaiting Periodic Review Boards (or the results of PRBs) to establish whether they too should be approved for release, three have had their ongoing detention approved by PRBs (subject to further reviews), and just ten men are facing, or have faced trials.

1. Release all the men approved for release, as swiftly as possible

There are currently 34 men in this category. 24 were approved for release in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009. Ten others were approved for release in the last two years by Periodic Review Boards, established in 2013 to review the cases of all the men not already approved for release by the task force, and not facing trials.

2. Speed up the Periodic Review Boards for those still awaiting reviews

Currently, 41 men are awaiting Periodic Review Boards, but only four of those men have dates set for their reviews. Since the PRBs began, in November 2013, 23 men have had their cases reviewed, 20 decisions have been taken, and 17 of those have resulted in the men being recommended for release — a success rate of 85%. However, at the current rate, the first round of reviews will not be completed until 2020. This is unacceptable. It means that some of the men will have waited ten years for a review, even though, when President Obama set up the PRBs in an executive order in March 2011, he promised, “For each detainee, an initial review shall commence as soon as possible but no later than 1 year from the date of this order.”

3. Hold trials for the seven men awaiting trials

In order to close Guantánamo, President Obama needs to be able to bring a number of prisoners to the US mainland — those to be put on trial, which, we believe, should be in federal court rather than in a version of the discredited military commissions on US soil, and others to be held according to the laws of war, pending new legal challenges. Seven men are currently in pre-trial hearings, including the five men accused of being co-conspirators in the 9/11 attacks. Two others have accepted plea deals, but have not yet been sentenced, and one other man was given a life sentence after a military commission in 2008, a verdict he is currently challenging in the courts.

4. Consent to the entry of habeas orders

The law allows the administration to release prisoners pursuant to court order. As a result, there is no Congressional restriction on the release of men who prevail in their habeas corpus cases and receive a habeas order of release, whereas, for those men the administration wants to release without a habeas order of release, Congress has demanded that the defense secretary provides a 30-day notification prior to any release, and certifies that measures have been taken to mitigate any risk. Despite this, the administration has contested virtually every habeas case, even for men approved for release by the task force, and has taken advantage of an unduly restrictive legal regime imposed by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to do so. Most legal scholars agree that the legal regime is wrong and inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s decision in Boumediene v. Bush (2008), granting the prisoners constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights. The administration should stop taking advantage of that restrictive regime to win cases. It should stop contesting these cases. and instead should consent to the entry of habeas orders.

5. Appoint a senior official in the White House to oversee the closure of Guantánamo

As we have been saying since 2013, when President Obama appointed envoys for the closure of Guantánamo to roles in the State Department and the Pentagon, appointing someone to oversee the closure of Guantánamo in the White House would be the most constructive way for the president to try to fulfill his as yet unfulfilled seven year promise to close the prison. As the New York Times noted in an editorial in the New Year, “Pentagon officials can do a lot to thwart releases during Mr. Obama’s last year in office. He can make that less likely by empowering a senior official to set clear goals and deadlines, and order defense officials to meet them.”

*****

In addition to the demands above, we recognize that not everyone the president intends to move from Guantánamo to the US mainland, so that he can close the prison, will either be charged or released, and we accept that the government will argue that some prisoners can continue to be held in accordance with the laws of war.

We hope this number will be as small as possible, as seems likely if the PRBs continue to approve prisoners for release in significant numbers, and while we do not approve of the government’s failure to treat these men as prisoners of war for the last 14 years, we are convinced that, on the US mainland, they will have constitutional rights previously denied to them, and will be able to launch new legal challenges that are not open to them at Guantánamo.

We also acknowledge that it is not yet known how Guantánamo will be closed. We hope that Congress, which has imposed a ban on bringing any prisoner to the US mainland for any reason, will work with President Obama when a detailed plan for the prison’s closure is delivered to lawmakers, and we anticipate that any plan can only suggest that prisoners facing trials be held in federal prisons, while anyone not facing charges be held in a military facility.

We also do not yet know what President Obama will do if Congress refuses to work with him, although we were reassured when, in November, Greg Craig, who was White House Counsel in 2009, and Cliff Sloan, the envoy for Guantánamo closure in the State Department from 2013-14, wrote that, despite the Congressional ban on transfers to the US, “Under Article II of the Constitution, the president has exclusive authority to determine the facilities in which military detainees are held.”

For more about our position regarding the closure of Guantánamo, see our article from November, “Playing Politics with the Closure of Guantánamo,” and our article in the New Year publicizing a panel discussion at New America in Washington, D.C. on January 11, at which Tom and I spoke in detail about how the prison can be closed. The video of that event — also featuring the academic Karen Greenberg and moderated by New America’s Peter Bergen — is here.

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. sylvie calvet says...

    In a Country led by a Peace Nobel Prize Guantanamo should never have existed ,nor the abusive attitude of the guardians !
    Politicians are more a problem to their fellow citizens than a safeguard !

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Sylvie. Good to hear from you!

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, cross-posted from http://www.closeguantanamo.org, announcing the launch of our new campaign, the “Countdown to Close Guantanamo.” Here’s former Guantanamo prisoner Shaker Aamer supporting the launch of the campaign. Please join him and other former prisoners, and Roger Waters​ and Brian Eno, by printing off a poster, taking a photo with it and sending it to us (with, if you wish, a message and your location), to put up on the website and on social media: http://www.closeguantanamo.org/dyn/1453313926608/CloseGuantanamoCountdownFinal.pdf
    Send to: info@closeguantanamo.org

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Angie Graham wrote:

    This is an awesome idea!!

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Angie. It’s based on what we came up with for We Stand With Shaker and Fast For Shaker. We don’t have a giant inflatable, but we can hopefully attract some celebrities, and it’s also a great way for activists and concerned citizens to get involved.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Javier Rodriguez wrote:

    Great photo of Shaker. I still can’t believe that he looks so well. Resistance is probably the answer.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Javier. He certainly has extraordinary resilience, but I sympathise with the difficulties he must be facing having to adjust to freedom.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Javier Rodriguez wrote:

    Andy, I expected him to have severe difficulties readjusting. But from the interviews I saw, he has amazing self awareness and resilience and seemed to readjusting very very well. Or perhaps it is his complete lack of bitterness which makes it seem like he is adjusting really well. I look forward to hearing more about how it was to readjust to life outside Gitmo. When he is ready to tell Joe Public more.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I hope to work with him at some point on the stories of the prisoners, Javier – telling more about them that has been told before.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Sylvia P. Coley wrote:

    Awesome! Good Luck!

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Sylvia. All photos welcome!

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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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