Donald Trump, Guantánamo and Torture: What Do We Need to Know?

20.11.16

An image made by supporters of Donald Trump based on his comments about Guantanamo.I wrote the following article (as “Donald Trump and Guantánamo: What Do We Need to Know?) for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the 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.

So the bad news, on Guantánamo, torture, Islamophobia and war, is that, as Charlie Savage explained in the New York Times this week, “As a presidential candidate, Donald J. Trump vowed to refill the cells of the Guantánamo Bay prison and said American terrorism suspects should be sent there for military prosecution. He called for targeting mosques for surveillance, escalating airstrikes aimed at terrorists and taking out their civilian family members, and bringing back waterboarding and a ‘hell of a lot worse’ — not only because ‘torture works,’ but because even ‘if it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway.’”

As Savage also noted, “It is hard to know how much of this stark vision for throwing off constraints on the exercise of national security power was merely tough campaign talk,” but it is a disturbing position for Americans — and the rest of the world — to be in, particularly with respect to the noticeable differences between Trump and Barack Obama.

The outgoing president has some significant failures against his name, which will be discussed in detail below, but America’s first black president did not, of course, appoint a white supremacist to be his chief strategist and Senior Counselor, as Trump has done with Steve Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News, an alarming far-right US website. Nor did he call for a “total and complete shutdown” of America’s borders to Muslims, as Trump did last December, and nor did he suggest that there should be a registry of all Muslims, as Trump did last November.

The video evidence of Trump calling for the registry of Muslims, by the way, completely undermines his team’s claims in recent days that the president-elect “never advocated” for a registry tracking individuals based on their religion. That claim was made in response to a statement by Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach, “reportedly a key member of Trump’s transition team, that the president-elect’s advisers are already considering the Muslim registry,” as the Guardian described it.

On Guantánamo and torture, the situation is rather more complicated for Trump.

It was back in February, after President Obama reiterated his desire to close Guantánamo during a speech at the White House, which coincided with the delivery to Congress of a plan for closing the prison that had been prepared by the Pentagon, that Trump first made alarming threats about how his administration, far from closing Guantánamo, would “load it up with some bad dudes.”

Obama, in contrast, stated, “I’m absolutely committed to closing the detention facility at Guantánamo,” and ran through a list of compelling reasons why Guantánamo must be closed — a list he has delivered eloquently throughout his presidency. He said:

For many years, it’s been clear that the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay does not advance our national security — it undermines it. This is not just my opinion. This is the opinion of experts, this is the opinion of many in our military. It’s counterproductive to our fight against terrorists, because they use it as propaganda in their efforts to recruit. It drains military resources, with nearly $450 million spent last year alone to keep it running, and more than $200 million in additional costs needed to keep it open going forward for less than 100 detainees. Guantánamo harms our partnerships with allies and other countries whose cooperation we need against terrorism. When I talk to other world leaders, they bring up the fact that Guantánamo is not resolved.

Moreover, keeping this facility open is contrary to our values. It undermines our standing in the world. It is viewed as a stain on our broader record of upholding the highest standards of rule of law. As Americans, we pride ourselves on being a beacon to other nations, a model of the rule of law. But 15 years after 9/11 — 15 years after the worst terrorist attack in American history —we’re still having to defend the existence of a facility and a process where not a single verdict has been reached in those attacks — not a single one.

Nevertheless, as Obama also noted, “Congress has repeatedly imposed restrictions aimed at preventing us from closing this facility” in the form of legislation that has indeed made it difficult for the president to fulfill his promise — although, at Close Guantánamo we have also repeatedly reminded readers that he was able to bypass Congressional obstacles if he wished, but that he unwilling to spend political capital doing so.

“We’re gonna load it up with some bad dudes”

After Obama’s eloquent presentation in the White House, Donald Trump’s response, at a campaign rally in Sparks, Nevada, was to say, “This morning, I watched President Obama talking about Gitmo, right, Guantánamo Bay, which by the way, which by the way, we are keeping open. Which we are keeping open … and we’re gonna load it up with some bad dudes, believe me, we’re gonna load it up.”

However, as Ben Wittes, editor-in-chief of the national security blog Lawfare, and not a man known for his liberal opinions, told NPR, You have to ask the question, [load it up] with whom?” As NPR described it, “Because the U.S. is not fighting ground wars and taking prisoners like it once did, Wittes wonders just how Trump expects to load up Guantánamo with ‘bad dudes.’”

Wittes stated, “Trump’s stated military strategy and ambition are so hard to figure out that it’s not at all clear to me what the captive population that would be subject to being moved to Guantánamo [is], who they would be or where they would come from.”

As Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald noted in an article published soon after Trump’s victory, entitled, “What will President Trump do with Guantánamo?”, Cully Stimson, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs under George W. Bush, who also runs the National Security Program at the Heritage Foundation and is a captain in the Navy Reserve Judge Advocate Corps, pointed out that the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, which was described by the Miami Herald as “essentially a declaration of war on Osama bin Laden and his Taliban hosts,” is the key piece of legislation that “allows the Pentagon to hold al-Qaida and its affiliates as war prisoners at Guantánamo.” Stimson explained how that’s “a narrow class of individuals,” and “he urged a ‘prudent, multi-step analysis’ on whether to pursue wider authority to put Islamic State captives there.”

In addition, the Center for Constitutional Rights’ legal director Baher Azmy said that any effort to try to send an Islamic State prisoner to Guantánamo would be challenged in federal court. “Legally, there is no reasonable way an ISIS detention could be justified under the law that justifies the current detentions. That turns on the AUMF, a connection to 9/11,” Azmy said, also noting, as the Miami Herald described it, that, “based on candidate Trump’s campaign rhetoric, [CCR] might find itself re-litigating already presumed settled questions.”

Azmy also stated that the first order of business, if Trump were to be insistent on sending any new prisoner to Guantánamo, “would be getting access to any new Guantánamo captive, making sure he is not kept incommunicado like the Bush administration did in the first years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Guantánamo captives do get to challenge their detention in federal courts.”

Sending Americans to Guantánamo?

In August, in an interview with the Miami Herald, when asked if US citizens accused of terrorism should be tried in military commissions at Guantánamo, Trump approved such a policy. “I know that they” — an unspecified “they” — “want to try them in our regular court systems, and I don’t like that at all,” Trump said, adding, “I don’t like that at all. I would say they could be tried there, that’ll be fine.” Writing about Trump’s words this week, NPR noted that, “Under current law, American citizens cannot, in fact, be held in Guantánamo, much less tried there.”

In the Miami Herald, Carol Rosenberg noted that Cully Stimson was also far from enthusiastic about this proposal, encouraging the president-elect’s team to undertake “a very vigorous discussion by the lawyers in the know about whether that would be prudent and how that will affect the other detainees at Gitmo who are not U.S. citizens.”

Again, therefore, it’s worth considering that, if he did decide to pursue this plan, Trump would face serious obstacles from Democrats, lawyers, NGOs and activists, as well as international criticism.

On military commissions in general, however, it is unlikely that anything will change, and the broken system will almost certainly grind on slowly towards as yet unseeable trial dates for the seven men currently facing seemingly interminable pre-trial hearings. Trump can do little about this, although Cully Stimson told the Miami Herald said he had seen nothing “from the candidate Trump that he’s skeptical of commissions; I’m not sure he or his team would have an interest in pausing commissions.”

While not created by Obama, the commissions, which were first dragged out of the history books by Dick Cheney in November 2001, were, ill-advisedly, revived by Obama in his first year in office, as part of what Charlie Savage described as his deliberations about “whether to keep indefinite wartime detentions without trial and to continue using military commission prosecutions — if not at the Guantánamo prison, which he had resolved to close, then at a replacement wartime prison.” As Savage explained, “Told that several dozen detainees could not be tried for any crime but would be particularly risky to release, and that a handful might be prosecutable only under the looser rules governing evidence in a military commission, Mr. Obama decided that the responsible policy was to keep both the tribunals and the indefinite detentions available.”

This lamentable decision meant that, although Attorney General Eric Holder announced in November 2009 that the five men accused of the 9/11 attacks would be tried in federal court in New York, when pressure was exerted on Obama not to pursue a federal court trial, a ready-made but unwanted back-up plan was available instead — and this, of course, is what happened. When numerous high-profile critics made an unholy fuss, Obama dropped the federal court option and, in April 2011, the men were returned to the military commission system, which, throughout Obama’s presidency, has singularly failed to deliver justice to the relatives of those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001.

Keeping Guantánamo open 

Sam Raphael of the University of Westminster reminding President Obama he had just 70 days left to close Guantanamo, on November 10, 2016 (Photo: Andy Worthington).President Obama might still be able to close Guantánamo before he leaves office, although it seems ever more unlikely. Here at Close Guantánamo, we will continue to do all we can to encourage him, and we ask you, if you care about the closure of Guantánamo, to join us in the latest stage of the Countdown to Close Guantánamo that we launched in January, counting down how many days are left before President Obama leaves office. Last week we launched a new video for the campaign, and for November 30, when Obama will have just 50 days left to close the prison, we’re asking supporters to print off a poster, take a photo with it and send it to us — with a message for President Obama, and even president-elect Donald Trump — if you want.

This week, in “Never mind closing Guantánamo, Trump might make it bigger,” Ben Fox and Deb Riechmann reported for the Associated Press that, at this point, “[i]t would take a bold and unlikely act of defiance, one that would face legal and political challenges, by Obama to shutter the prison before leaving office.” As they noted, Obama “can’t close the detention center because Congress has blocked it, most crucially with a ban on transferring men to facilities in the United States,” and, on Monday, at a news conference, President Obama himself said, “It is true that I have not been able to close the darn thing because of the congressional restrictions that have been placed on us.”

For NPR, Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown University constitutional law professor and former Pentagon official, suggested Obama could still close Guantánamo without too much effort. “If President Obama wanted to close Guantánamo tomorrow, he could do it,” she said, explaining that he “should simply ignore the ban Congress has imposed on sending any Guantánamo detainees to the U.S. for detention or trial,” as NPR described it. In Brooks’ words, “If I were President Obama and I wanted to close Guantánamo, I would say, I regard this particular limitation as an unconstitutional infringement on my inherent powers as commander in chief. You know, thank you for your input, Congress, but I’m doin’ it.”

That’s a bold take, but the reality, we suspect, is that any effort to close Guantánamo by executive order would face profound opposition in whichever state he chose to send prisoners to, in order to finally close the prison, and, as the Associated Press suggested in its recent article, Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican who supports keeping Guantánamo open, “said last week that the Defense Department told him months ago that ‘the Obama administration had neither the time nor the money to close Gitmo and move detainees to Fort Leavenworth,’ in Roberts’ home state of Kansas,” the site of the Department of Defense’s only maximum security prison, and the most likely location to which prisoners would be moved.

In his speech on Monday, President Obama further acknowledged the difficulties of unilaterally closing Guantánamo — in terms of his administration’s perceptions of the remaining prisoners, and the obstacles raised by Congress:

There is a group of very dangerous people that we have strong evidence of having been guilty of committing terrorist acts against the United States. But because of the nature of the evidence, in some cases, that evidence being compromised, it’s very difficult to put them before a typical Article III court. And that group has always been the biggest challenge for us. My strong belief and preference is that we would be much better off closing Gitmo, moving them to a different facility that was clearly governed by U.S. jurisdiction. We’d do it a lot cheaper and just as safely.

Congress disagrees with me, and I gather that the President-elect does, as well. We will continue to explore options for doing that. But keep in mind that it’s not just a matter of what I’m willing to do. One of the things you discover about being President is that there are all these rules and norms and laws, and you got to pay attention to them. And the people who work for you are also subject to those rules and norms. And that’s a piece of advice that I gave to the incoming President.

However, despite these caveats, we fully expect President Obama to do all he can to release the 20 men, out of the 60 remaining, who have been approved for release — seven by 2009’s Guantánamo Review Task Force (still held seven years later, disturbingly), and 13 others approved for release in recent years by Periodic Review Boards. An administration official, speaking anonymously, said that “officials expect to complete a ‘substantial number’ of those transfers before Obama leaves office on Jan. 20.”

As for Donald Trump’s intentions, the Miami Herald noted that whether or not he rescinds Obama’s executive order of January 22, 2009 ordering the closure of Guantánamo simply “depends on whether he makes that a priority.”

John Hudak of the Brookings Institution, who, as the Miami Herald noted, has studied executive orders, said that it would simply be “a matter of someone senior in the administration deciding this is a Day One action item for Trump’s desk in the Oval Office soon after he’s sworn in,” adding that it “could be as simple … as drafting a document ‘saying that Guantánamo Bay will remain open and will continue operations there.’” Hudak added, “It could also be as simple as a directive to the Department of Defense: ‘Don’t close it.’”

In the Miami Herald, Carol Rosenberg also noted that those paying close attention to Guantánamo were “looking for what the White House tells the Pentagon to do about the Periodic Review Board[s] that Obama created with the mandate of reviewing the files of uncleared, uncharged captives.” Rosenberg added that “International Red Cross leadership had been advocating for this for years, especially at the height of a crippling hunger strike [in 2013], to provide the captives not just hope but a Geneva Convention-style format for reviewing their status.”

Torture

On torture, as Charlie Savage reported for the New York Times, repudiating torture was one of “two areas where Mr. Obama broke most cleanly with Bush-era practices” — the other being “the indefinite military detention of Americans and other terrorism suspects arrested on domestic soil.” As Savage noted, “Mr. Obama issued an executive order requiring interrogators to use only techniques approved in the Army Field Manual, and he later signed a bill codifying that rule into statute” — although as some commentators, including the psychologist Jeffrey Kaye, have noted, the Army Field Manual contains an appendix, Appendix M, which “includes numerous abusive techniques, including use of solitary confinement, sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation,” that can be authorized by military commanders.

In addition, as Charlie Savage noted in his wide-ranging analysis of President Obama’s counter-terrorism policies, torture was one of several areas in which his administration “ruled out criminal investigations into Bush-era officials … under a sweeping theory that the commander in chief could not be bound by anti-torture laws.”

War

Charlie Savage’s analysis of President Obama’s counter-terrorism policies took as its starting point what he described as Obama’s “have-it-both-ways approach to curbing what he saw as overreaching in the war on terrorism.”

“Over and over,” as Savage described it, “Mr. Obama has imposed limits on his use of such powers but has not closed the door on them — a flexible approach premised on the idea that he and his successors could be trusted to use them prudently.” However, with Donald Trump the unexpected winner in last week’s Presidential Election, he “can now sweep away those limits and open the throttle on policies that Mr. Obama endorsed as lawful and legitimate for sparing use.”

Two areas in which Trump might do this were identified by Savage as “the use of indefinite detention and military tribunals for terrorism suspects” and “targeted killings in drone strikes,” a policy that, it might be said, was President Obama’s main response to the face that Bush’s program of rendition, torture and indefinite detention has been such a disaster.

As Savage explained, “After [Obama’s] use of drones to kill terrorism suspects away from war zones led to mounting concerns over civilian casualties and other matters, he issued a ‘presidential policy guidance’ in May 2013 that set stricter limits. They included a requirement that the target pose a threat to Americans — not just to American interests — and that there would be near certainty of no bystander deaths,” something that it ought to have been obvious was extremely difficult to guarantee, but that, presumably, allowed President Obama to sleep easier at night.

In addition, Savage noted that the Obama administration “also successfully fought in court to establish that judges would not review the legality of such killing operations, even if an American citizen was the target,” as happened, of course, in the contentious case of Anwar al-Awlaki, a skilful anti-US publicist who was regarded as a military threat, and, even more contentiously, in the case of his 16-year old son Abdulrahman, who seems to have been killed because of who his father was and how his father’s death might have affected him rather than because of anything he had done — a disgraceful situation that, I believe, shows how mission creep has dangerously affected the entire drone-killing program.

Charlie Savage also made a point of noting that Donald Trump, “who has said he would ‘bomb the hell out of ISIS,’ beyond what Mr. Obama is doing, and go after civilian relatives of terrorists, prevailing over any military commanders who balked — could scrap the internal limits [on drone strikes] while invoking those precedents to shield his acts from judicial review,” because of the precedents established under Obama.

As Savage also noted, Obama’s decisions on which Bush-era practices to defend in court not only potentially affect the use of torture and drone killings, but also other policy areas — “the detention of Americans and other people arrested on domestic soil as ‘enemy combatants,’” for example, as in the case of Jose Padilla, a US citizen who had been tortured and held incommunicado as an “enemy combatant” on the US mainland. As Savage pointed out, the Obama administration “successfully argued that courts should dismiss the litigation without ruling on whether his treatment had been lawful, preventing any clear repudiation of the Bush-era legal theory.”

As Savage explained, because the Obama administration “fought in court to prevent any ruling that the defunct practices had been illegal,” it remains possible that “[t]he absence of a definitive repudiation could make it easier for Trump administration lawyers to revive the policies by invoking the same sweeping theories of executive power that were the basis for them in the Bush years.”

Conclusion

On Obama’s legacy, opinions are divided. Charlie Savage spoke to Bruce Ackerman, a Yale University law professor who he described as “helping with a lawsuit alleging that Mr. Obama is waging an illegal war against the Islamic State because Congress never specifically authorized it,” who suggested that “Mr. Obama had contributed to the growth of executive powers that Mr. Trump would inherit,” including “‘the fundamental institutional legacy’ of relying on executive branch lawyers to produce creative legal opinions clearing the way for preferred policies.”

In contrast, Geoffrey R. Stone, a University of Chicago law professor described as “a friend and adviser to Mr. Obama,” defended the president’s approach. He pointed out that, after 2010, “when Republicans took over the House, internal executive branch restraints were the only option because Congress was not going to enact legislation limiting national security powers.” As Savage described it, “He also said that even if Mr. Obama had gotten rid of indefinite detention or military tribunals, Mr. Trump could have brought them back.”

In his own words, Professor Stone said, “Short of legislation that restricts things, there is not much a president could do in these matters to restrain a successor.”

Another commentator was Gregory B. Craig, who was the White House counsel in 2009, and who, more than most, pushed to fulfill the president’s plans to close Guantánamo. Craig said that, in 2009, President Obama “was not thinking about 10 years out, but about 10 days out,” and, as Charlie Savage described it, “he especially did not want to send signals to Republicans that he was a zealot or out for revenge.” Instead, he “was thinking about working with Republicans and developing postpartisan relations on Guantánamo-related national security issues, not about what was going to happen a decade later.”

Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which, like Close Guantánamo, has been critical of the Obama administration’s slow approach to closing Guantánamo, said that “it was now clear that Mr. Obama had ‘missed an opportunity’ to fundamentally reject the sort of policies that the Bush administration put in place after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.”

As he put it, “Obama’s failure to rein in George Bush’s national security policies hands Donald Trump a fully loaded weapon. The president’s failure to understand that these powers could not be entrusted in the hands of any president, not even his, have now put us in a position where they are in the hands of Donald Trump.”

And that, of course, should worry us all.

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’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), 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.

51 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here, cross-posted from Close Guantanamo, is my detailed analysis of what we might expect from Donald Trump – on keeping Guantanamo open, sending new prisoners there, trying Americans in military commissions, reintroducing torture, and waging war – and the extent to which President Obama’s refusal to hold Bush administration officials accountable for their actions might empower Donald Trump to believe that there are few – if any – restraints on his own actions.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    This is a much needed, well nuanced, update by Andy Worthington of where we have and haven’t come to with regard to this extra-legal facility perched, contrary to Cuba’s desires and wishes, on their island. As ever, I am struck by how little respect and understanding George W Bush had for due process… not that such conduct is unprecedented. I recall Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s Sec’ of State during the wholly illegal bombing of Cambodia once quipping, “The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer.”

    I am again struck and disappointed by how many quisling lawyers seem perfectly happy to regard the rule of law as merely a fig-leaf to be distorted and cheapened by whatever paymaster requires legal cover to do unspeakable harm to others and to due process. With President Elect Trump we are faced with a man remarkably even less suited and fit for this office than George W Bush was when he created this regressive and embarrassing shit-pit of horror and shame in the first place.

    There was a Hollywood movie made in 2006 called “Goya’s Ghosts” which lays bare the utter-wrongness of torture and the moral and criminal bankruptcy of those who would practice it. I wouldn’t expect President-Elect Trump to have the temperament to read for example this article by Andy Worthington but maybe someone could contrive for him to see that movie before he takes office… assuming that none of his 70 odd law suits outstanding do more than result in damages rather than giving rise to a custodial sentence.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks very much for the supportive words, David – and the powerful analysis of George W. Bush’s crimes, Donald Trump’s unsuitability for high office and the role played by “quisling lawyers.” It’s truly dispiriting that so many discredited – but not thoroughly repudiated – issues relating to detention and torture are resurfacing, and to know that there are many Americans in positions of power and authority who will be angling to return us to the bad old days. Organised resistance is going to be required. I just hope people have the energy for it.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    Andy. Sadly, Trump has named his CIA guy – Kansas Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo ….who thinks torture is patriotic

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I’m starting to look into his appointments, Jan. I read a Justin Raimondo column suggesting that the actual neocons – many of whom publicly attacked Trump – are out in the cold, but it seems obvious that a bunch of far-right crackpots are going to get the top jobs instead. Is it too much to hope that this whole edifice won’t be able to sustain itself? That Trump will collapse through his own family-based corruption and his short attention span, and the GOP will implode?

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    Andy One can hope – as far as the GOP, I think they did implode but the Democrats made their own bed too. Both parties need to implode.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, Jan. The Democrats need to remake themselves as being for the people, not just – fundamentally – the rich, and my only reassurance about the GOP is that they’re so discredited that they couldn’t come up with a credible candidate. That said, actual Republican scumbags will be running things for the next four years, despite being at least as unrepresentative of ordinary people as the Democrats – and in many cases, of course, being much worse.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Bob Witanek wrote:

    stayed open under obama too (you obviously know that lol – as foremost expert)

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Bob. Yes, it’s sad to see Obama, Hillary Clinton and the decent Democrats realizing that they have allowed the Republicans to defeat them on Guantanamo (because Obama specifically lacked the political will to override them), and that this is now going to feed into a new administration that could wipe out whatever successes they managed to achieve over the past eight years.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Meena B Sharma wrote:

    I doubt that by Jan 20th Obama will shut it down. He did not keep his promise and I am really doubtful that newly elect Trump has any intention either to close it down…you mentioned in your article “He is doing to load it up with more”.. how utterly shameful for USA!

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I agree it’s unlikely, Meena. I think the best we can hope for is that the 20 men approved for release have been freed. Trump, and the people around him, will obviously want to keep it open, but we will all need to come together to resist them. It is only a malignant ideology that drives them. There is no arguable national emergency, as the Bush administration claimed after 9/11.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Diana Murtaugh Coleman wrote:

    Hey, Andy. I am still waking each day in the state of “did this really just happen?” and “how is this possible?’ But I’m also fighting mad. I need to get you a photo, and also want to contact Deborah. This is a stunning regressive lurch. As frustrating as this work has been under the Obama administration, it’s about to get much more ugly and difficult. We all need to breathe deeply and take heart. We’re going to need it in the days ahead.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    I feel for you and all my decent American friends, Diana. I always said that you were the people who should have been running the US! I think it will certainly get more ugly and difficult – we just don’t know how much yet, but we will definitely need to be prepared to fight every malignant aspect of the forthcoming administration on many fronts.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Rose Ann Bellotti wrote:

    Just wait until Trump denies the protections of the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention Against Torture for anybody he chains in Gitmo. He is the very worst thing that could have happened for us and for them.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, it’s a worrying time indeed, Rose, but I still believe the people can prevail. The right-wing drift is also taking place in Europe and the UK, but there is no way Trump or the rabid Republicans backing him can do anything to improve the lives of anyone who voted for them who isn’t rich. All of these people care only about the rich.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Today, President Obama has just 60 days left to close Guantanamo: http://gtmoclock.com/

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Please join us in the Countdown to Close Guantanamo. Print off a 50 days poster for Nov. 30, take a photo with it and send it to us at info@closeguantanamo.org http://www.closeguantanamo.org/dyn/1478802140937/CloseGuantanamoCountdown50Days.pdf

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote, in response to 3, above:

    Andy It seems all we need are musicals critical of Trump and lashings of SNL and he’ll be too busy tweeting about it to kidnap any “bad dudes”

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Ah yes, the tweeting, David. Very modern. Just thinking about it only scratches the surface of the madness of this unprecedented situation – the reality TV star businessman with no political experience whatsoever who is now president-elect, for whom there appear to be no barriers between his perception of his business world and his perception of the presidency, who wants to have his family in government, and, last week, brought his daughter in on a meeting with the Japanese PM. Is it too much to hope that one of the many lawsuits against him will succeed?!?

  20. the talking dog says...

    I don’t know; I recognize that even darker times are on their way… but let’s put things in some perspective– it’s not as if the “status quo ante” isn’t already a freaking madhouse. Barack Obama campaigned to use his alleged super-powers as a constitutional lawyer to, in fact, repudiate and undo the legal-structural damage done by the Bush Administration. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, once his hands were on the keys… it became a matter of, as you so eloquently noted, doing “what helped him sleep better at night.” And we note he had a huge Congressional majority in his first two years, even though the Onion famously joked at the time that the Democrats vowed to take power back from the Republican minority. And so, even under a supposedly “benign” President (benign because even though he is evidently beholden to financial institutions whose crimes he will not prosecute and the military industrial intelligence national security surveillance complex whose crimes he will neither prosecute nor even permit to be subjected to scrutiny or civil suits, and even though he doubled-down on indefinite detention by simply assassinating targets via drones rather than capturing prisoners, he nonetheless speaks calmly in politically correct terms) the mad-house largely continued, we are now facing someone seemingly temperamentally unconstrained, appointing a hard-right crew around him (admittedly not the usual neocon crowd, which btw is largely bipartisan) and, of course, someone who doesn’t talk in politically correct terms.

    Again, as noted above, it’s not clear who exactly he will find to “fill up Guantanamo”… unless, of course, he means with migrants… the last American autocrat to do that happened to be named Bill Clinton. And he and his hard-right minions can talk all they like about torture… the individual members of the military know it’s illegal, and even the CIA guys know that Mitchell and Jessen are being sued now (finally a suit not blocked by Obama), so the torture will be… harder than Mr. Trump thinks. And the existence of GTMO under American control remains an ongoing national embarrassment. Even his probable wing-nut diplomats will figure that out, if they don’t know it now. Mr. Trump, who, quite frankly, has struck me as having run a “Producers” type campaign (said wrong things, stood for wrong positions, surrounded by wrong people… wtf did i do RIGHT?) consistently showed us that he had no idea of limits and constraints on the power of a President, even one intending to do awful things from the get-go… but he will find out.

    Dark times? To be sure. But let’s understand that things are relative, and in the GTMO area– where avowedly innocent men have ALREADY been held for nearly fifteen years simply out of political inertia, and the principal that others can be held as “cannot be tried but too dangerous to be released”- a forever prisoner designation just waiting to be applied to anyone at all anytime for any reason- I just see any worsening as “marginal.” Life in general… will certainly be likely to become more unpleasant here… but it’s not as if it’s not already unpleasant in matters GTMO.

  21. arcticredriver says...

    Thanks Andy!

    Your article reminded me of an aphorism, about how no officer can implement a plan if his Sergeants are opposed. Sorry, I can’t remember who said it. But I believe it is true. I believe it applies more generally to Generals, who have a junior officer corps opposed to them.

    When Gaddafi overthrew his predecessors, he was only a Colonel. If I recall correctly, the officers who were sick and tired of Portugal’s attempts to hold on to its African colonies, and who overthrew the Generals running that war, they were all Colonels and below.

    I think we saw this, time after time, with Obama. He may have been Commander in Chief, but his officer corps seems to have routinely acted to undercut his policies. Well, okay, not just his officer corp. He had SECDEFs he eventually fired because they wouldn’t provide the final signature required to release the cleared Guantanamo captives.

    Is it possible that Trump is so far to the Right of the officer corps that they will drag their feet and otherwise subvert the most extreme of Trump’s plans?

  22. damo says...

    the only people who should be in guantanamo are trump and his cronies also blair bush cameron and osborne

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, TD, for your considered analysis of the situation – a powerful description of Obama’s “benignness” and how it didn’t rock any boats in the financial world in particular, but also in “the military industrial intelligence national security surveillance complex.” I think torture is off the cards, but it’s disgraceful that it’s even being discussed by those close to, or seeking to be close to Trump, and shows the derangement that runs through everything to do with this most peculiar of president-elects, and I also fail to see a clear category of new people to be sent to Guantanamo. That said, the real test will be to stop him sending anyone new to Guantanamo, but hopefully that will happen because of the lack of an ISIS-based AUMF that will allow him to do so, and, I hope, the difficulty of persuading even a Republican-controlled Congress that a new AUMF is needed.
    I do love the description of Trump as having run a Producers-type campaign, and being left wondering, “WTF did I do right?” I really hope he lacks the stamina and commitment for the job he has secured. I know he maintained the energy levels required to win it, but I think we all know how predatory males work – lots of effort in the chase, but once they’ve “grabbed the pussy,” to be mildly euphemistic, they throw them away like a used rag. I think America is now Trump’s used rag.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the historical lessons, arcticredriver. On Trump, my crystal ball is clouded – all I see is orange hair blowing in the wind. It’s looking like the institutions – the military, the intelligence services – are already making it clear that they’re not contemplating reintroducing torture (beyond its existence in the Army Field Manual), which is very reassuring, of course, but militarily I have no idea what he intends to do. Perhaps the appeasement of Russia rather than a rush towards WWIII, which could be where he differed most distinctly from Clinton, will be a good thing, but perhaps some in the military will regard him as a commie sympathizer and turn against him. For now, we’ll just have to wait to see.

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Ha! I think Blair should in the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Damo, along with Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and all their neocon advisors, and I think Cameron should also be there, with other leaders, for the cynical destruction of Libya. Trump needs to be successfully prosecuted for one of his many sexual and/or business-related crimes – or perhaps impeachment will do it – and Osborne? Oooh, I don’t know. Make him poor, like he’s done to so many other people.

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    Eric Struble wrote:

    I would like to believe Obama considers this his one big regret, but it’s double speak to rail against unlawful detention, when you’re unlawfully (or rather unethically) droning civilians in several countries.

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I’m with you, Eric. What we need is a non-militaristic president, but I’m not sure such a person is either (a) electable, or (b) would survive very long before an unfortunate accident took them out. Maybe Trump will genuinely be a Russian-loving non-interventionist, and if so let’s see if (b) applies – or how it will pan out when most, if not all of his Republican associates seem to be barking mad warmonger types.

  28. Paul L says...

    Here’s a petition again a Trump state visit to the UK:

    https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/do-not-invite-president-trump-to-visit-the-u-k

    Search ‘trump’ on change.org and you’ll find hundreds more:

    https://www.change.org/search?q=trump

  29. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Paul. 4,305 results on Change.org. Wow.
    Unfortunately, I think we’re going to need to do more than just sign petitions to deal with this ridiculous new government in the US.

  30. Andy Worthington says...

    After I posted the latest Close Guantanamo newsletter on Facebook (http://us4.campaign-archive1.com/?u=c0748d3f311618789d2b32209&id=d76d23a3cb), Neil McKenna wrote:

    Grim …

  31. Andy Worthington says...

    The role-call of malevolent clowns Trump is appointing to senior positions is what worries me the most, Neil, even more than Trump’s evident unsuitability for high office. Logic, decency and common sense have already flown away, with Trump’s election. These rabid individuals being appointed to senior positions could conceivably reinstate a barking mad GOP revolution, like Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld did, even though it seems unlikely, as there will be many, many, many more people prepared to challenge them compared to the aftermath of 9/11.
    I do worry for those left in Guantanamo when Trump take office, however, if Obama hasn’t managed to free the 20 men already approved for release, and I also worry about whether the Periodic Review Boards will suddenly be halted, leaving stranded others who might have persuaded the parole-type review board to approve their release the second time around.
    No one should be held at Guantanamo, but the clown Trump and his rabid appointments should have as few men as possible to decide the fate of.

  32. Andy Worthington says...

    Roy Randall wrote:

    The one constant from Obama is that he has continuously used the lie that he was willing to close GITMO and that closing GITMO would “not advance our national security — it undermines it.” or “It’s counterproductive to our fight against terrorists, because they use it as propaganda in their efforts to recruit.” Or, “When I talk to other world leaders, they bring up the fact that Guantánamo is not resolved.” Or, “Moreover, keeping this facility open is contrary to our values. It undermines our standing in the world. It is viewed as a stain on our broader record of upholding the highest standards of rule of law. As Americans, we pride ourselves on being a beacon to other nations, a model of the rule of law. But 15 years after 9/11 — 15 years after the worst terrorist attack in American history —we’re still having to defend the existence of a facility and a process where not a single verdict has been reached in those attacks — not a single one.” And, as you know, Obama didn’t say the above while campaigning during his campaign but just February of this year.

    For me though the biggest Obama lie is that he wouldn’t mention the biggest threat to national security is his use of drones to bomb funerals and weddings. His military and the CIA’s use of the double tap on those as well. This is a practice, for those that don’t know of sending another round of missile to take out the first responders, imagine that irony, who are assisting in the wounded and killed.

    Obviously, bombing people with only you as sole approval, and you being the sole decision over who lives or dies, who can have a home, a farm, a hospital without this country destroying it on possibly faulty intelligence or just negligence on your airmen or soldiers, could be seen as a recruiting device. Obviously being responsible for over a million deaths, double that total wounded, over a hundred million forcibly displaced, refugees, and persons without a state, millions war torn or suffering from PTSD. All, justified, because we were attacked and 3,000 people were killed, makes for a significant recruiting device. Where does one look for any justification for this major crime against humanity? And what, exactly does it say for our “standing in the world.” Or how “It is viewed as a stain on our broader record of upholding the highest standards of rule of law.” Or “As Americans, we pride ourselves on being a beacon to other nations, a model of the rule of law.” And once again, Obama didn’t say this when running for election but in his last year as President.

    The Convention Against Torture requires that state signatories hand over for prosecution torturers. Obama did not. This was a violation. You can bet your paycheck, the Donald won’t as well.

    So, as bad as Obama was anybody seeing the Donald as anything but another war criminal, unless he cleans up what Obama couldn’t, is just seeing one side as evil. There is enough evil out there to point out. The Donald isn’t by himself. And I haven’t supported the lesser evil for sometime. Why I didn’t support the Bern.

  33. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Roy, for your detailed and heartfelt condemnation of the drone assassination program that, under Obama, replaced Bush’s program of rendition, torture and indefinite (or arbitrary) detention without charge or trial. I wrote about it in detail when the New York Times first promoted it (presumably with Obama’s approval) back in 2012. I had, however, somehow missed understanding the “double tap,” a shocking way of compounding intelligence errors when targeting people – or killing first responders in cases where the targets were correctly identified as posing some sort of threat (to someone, if not actually the US). America needs a president committed to reducing US warmongering, but I doubt Trump will prove to be that person – and I wonder if someone committed to scaling back US wars, the US military presence abroad and the bloated military industrial complex’s budget would get voted in, or would survive if voted in.
    For anyone interested, my 2012 article about Obama’s drone program is here: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2012/06/10/pragmatism-over-ideology-obamas-failure-to-close-guantanamo-and-his-love-of-drones/

  34. Andy Worthington says...

    Tashi Farmilo-Marouf wrote:

    The only thing I can say is he may keep you busy with more articles. Either that or he’ll do an Obama and do the opposite of what he said he’d do.

  35. Andy Worthington says...

    Trump’s mind is like leaves blowing in the wind, Tashi, so him changing his mind on many things seems inevitable. I do worry, though, that he’s appointing dangerous people to senior positions in government, and that there’s no telling what regressive and belligerent things they’ll end up trying to do. It’s rather nerve-wracking waiting game right now, a slow-motion car crash.

  36. Andy Worthington says...

    Eric Struble wrote, in response to 27, above:

    Andy I think trump’s nationalistic rhetoric is going to make being a non-interventionist impossible. I believe there will be dual escalation in Syria, so Trump can give the appearance of getting tough on ISIS. not to mention, there’s no better way to ramp up your in the toilet approval ratings then good old fashioned American jingoism. America sadly seems to be over its war fatigue and making war on the boogeyman of the month is a great way to scare the populace and guarantee yourself a 2nd term

  37. Andy Worthington says...

    Very possibly, Eric. I watched going to war work for Margaret Thatcher in the Falklands in 1982. Before, she was the most unpopular PM in living memory, but killing hapless Argentinians trying to get their islands back turned the tide for her.

  38. Andy Worthington says...

    After Javier Rodriguez posted Channel 4 News’ video, ‘John McCain attacks Donald Trump’s torture stance’ (https://www.facebook.com/Channel4News/videos/10154266695396939/), in which McCain explained, “I don’t give a damn what the President of the United States wants to do…We will not waterboard. We will not torture people,” I wrote:

    Yes, welcome to the timewarp, Javier. We’re back to Bush-era politics, relying on McCain to be the voice of reason – but don’t forget that, despite his opposition to torture, McCain is an unpredictable and unreliable ally, who can sometimes end up on the wrong side.

  39. Andy Worthington says...

    Javier Rodriguez wrote:

    Indeed. The irony wasn’t lost on me. It’s like saying that HRC would be better for world peace than Trump. How many people has she killed? I’ve lost count…..

  40. Andy Worthington says...

    Toia Tutta Jung wrote:

    But they did.

  41. Andy Worthington says...

    They did indeed, Toia, but there has been, by and large, an institutional recognition in the US that it was a bad idea – not even for moral and ethical reasons, but because it isn’t a good way of producing reliable information. Tortured people lie, as well as sometimes telling the truth, but the only way to find out which is which is to investigate any claim that sounds plausible, and doing so, as the FBI has admitted, took up an insane amount of time and resources, largely – if not entirely – for nothing.

  42. Andy Worthington says...

    Toia Tutta Jung wrote:

    Yes, Andy, and what he´s saying gives a tiny hope that they´ll stop any attempt from the US government to go that way again!

  43. Andy Worthington says...

    Let’s hope so, Toia!
    58 retired military leaders oppose torture: http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/sites/default/files/tortureletterRNCplatformcommittee.pdf
    “CIA chief Brennan would not carry out waterboarding torture for Trump or Cruz”: https://www.theguardian.com/law/2016/apr/11/cia-john-brennan-waterboarding-republican-president-trump-cruz
    McCain, Petraeus and former Marine commander Gen. James Jones oppose torture:
    http://thehill.com/policy/defense/286209-trump-bucks-military-on-waterboarding

  44. Andy Worthington says...

    Roy Randall wrote:

    Obama would have given more hope by prosecuting the torturers and their enablers. But he didn’t and we are where we are now.

  45. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, exactly, Roy. Here’s one failure to deal with the torturers – “What Torture Is, and Why It’s Illegal and Not ‘Poor Judgment'”:
    http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2010/03/14/what-torture-is-and-why-its-illegal-and-not-poor-judgment/

  46. Andy Worthington says...

    And another here – “By One Vote, US Court OKs Torture and ‘Extraordinary Rendition'”: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2010/09/15/by-one-vote-us-court-oks-torture-and-extraordinary-rendition/

  47. Andy Worthington says...

    The only good news is that the CIA and the government no longer seem to be protecting Mitchell and Jessen, the architects of the post-9/11 torture program – “In Historic Ruling, US Court Allows Lawsuit Against James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, Architects of CIA Torture Program, to Proceed”: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2016/05/02/in-historic-ruling-us-court-allows-lawsuit-against-james-mitchell-and-bruce-jessen-architects-of-cia-torture-program-to-proceed/

  48. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    How much are they going to pay starving farmers for “bad dude” info’ this time around? I know a bad dude – I spotted him just outside a mosque with another bad dude… Look at their hands… They are obviously sending a secret code for the day of their next terrorist attack… Can I have my five grand now?

  49. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, David. The case I always cite for the US acting on useless intelligence – just one of thousands of cases that could be cited – involves Haji Shahzada, a village elder from Kandahar province, a father of six who was seized in a raid on his house in January 2003, with two house guests, and held at Guantánamo for over two years until his release in April 2005. As I wrote in September 2011, after the Washington Post had profiled him and another released Afghan:

    Shahzada’s story (and that of the men seized with him) was one that had struck me as particularly significant when I was researching my book The Guantánamo Files, as it was a clear demonstration of how easily US forces in Afghanistan were deceived, seizing innocent people after tip-offs from untrustworthy individuals with their own agendas. In Shahzada’s case, it has not been confirmed whether the tip-off came from a rival or from members of his family seeking to seize his assets, but the entire mission was a disgrace.

    One of the men seized with him, Abdullah Khan, had sold Shahzada a dog, as both men were interested in dog-fighting [which had been banned by the Taliban], but he was regarded by the soldiers involved in the raid (and, subsequently, by US interrogators) as Khairullah Khairkhwa, a senior figure in the Taliban. The problem with this scenario was not only that Khan was not Khairkhwa, but also that Khairkhwa had been in US custody since February 2002 and was held at Guantánamo …

    In addition, Shahzada, a landowner who had never liked the Taliban, endured numerous aggressive interrogations in which he was obliged to repeat, over and over again, that his friend Khan was not a Taliban commander, and that he had not been supporting the Taliban. He was also particularly eloquent in warning his captors that seizing innocent people like him was a sure way of losing hearts and minds in Afghanistan.

    “This is just me you brought but I have six sons left behind in my country,” he said. “I have ten uncles in my area that would be against you. I don’t care about myself. I could die here, but I have 300 male members of my family there in my country. If you want to build Afghanistan you can’t build it this way … I will tell anybody who asks me that this is oppression.”

    See: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2011/09/13/in-afghanistan-former-guantanamo-prisoners-reflect-on-their-ruined-lives/
    and https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/for-some-former-guantanamo-detainees-present-bleaker-than-past/2011/09/09/gIQAJusDIK_story.html

  50. arcticredriver says...

    An update…

    Stimson is up for appointment to be the USN’s chief legal counsel.

    It may be that Stimson was an opportunist, who would say anything, not a sincere extremist, as, if I recall correctly, after his government service, he made some more moderate comments.

  51. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi arctricredriver. Thanks for the update. Stimson – deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs in 2006 and 2007 – was quite reasonable when I was on an RT show with him seven years ago, if I recall correctly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i–2mudKYXs
    Stimson also didn’t come across as a full-blown evangelist for Guantanamo in this Miami Herald feature last year: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/guantanamo/article105037571.html
    Also, last August, when Trump was interviewed by the Miami Herald, before the election, and proposed bringing Americans to Guantanamo, Stimson urged him to undertake “a very vigorous discussion by the lawyers in the know about whether that would be prudent and how that will affect the other detainees at Gitmo who are not U.S. citizens.”
    See: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/election/donald-trump/article95148882.html

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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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