No More Guantánamo! Rights Groups Meet at White House to Demand the Closure of the Prison on the 16th Anniversary of Its Opening

9.1.18

Campaigners with Witness Against Torture call for the closure of Guantanamo outside the White House on January 11, 2016, the 14th anniversary of the opening of the prison (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

16 years after the prison at Guantánamo Bay opened, to hold without any rights whatsoever prisoners seized in the “war on terror” that was declared by George W. Bush after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, rights groups are meeting outside the White House, as they do every year on Jan. 11, the anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, to call for the prison’s closure. See the Facebook page here.

In a press release, the groups describe how their rally has been called “to demand the closure of the detention camp, end indefinite detention of the detainees, and reject the use of torture by the US government.”

As I explained in an article a few days ago, promoting my current visit to the US (I arrived in New York yesterday), the prison at Guantánamo is “a profound injustice, established in the heat of vengeance after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001,” and it ought to be “a source of shame to all decent Americans every day that it remains open.”

As I also explained:

A majority of Americans, unfortunately, don’t understand how important it is to rely on established and internationally accepted procedures when depriving people of their liberty. Those imprisoned should either be criminal suspects, charged as swiftly as possible and put on trial in a federal court, or prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions, and held unmolested until the end of hostilities. At Guantánamo, however, the men held were deprived of all rights, and held as “unlawful enemy combatants” — “for the express purpose of denying them the rights that combatants normally receive,” as Human Rights First has explained in a briefing.

This would be bad enough, but the very basis for holding the men has always been a disgrace — although one, sadly, that has never received the mainstream coverage it cries out for. Contrary to claims that the men and boys held at Guantánamo were “the worst of the worst,” who were all captured on the battlefield, most were captured not by the US, but by their Afghan and Pakistani allies, who didn’t find them on the battlefield, and who often sold them to the US, which was paying bounties averaging $5000 a head for anyone who could be portrayed as a member of al-Qaeda or the Taliban.

In Guantánamo, when this collection of foot soldiers and “Mickey Mouse” detainees — in the words of Maj. Gen. Michael E. Dunlavey, the commander of Guantánamo in 2002 — arrived at the prison, the authorities soon resorted to torture and abuse in an effort to extract useful information from them, and the formerly classified military files that were released by WikiLeaks in 2011 (on which I worked as a media partner) revealed the shocking truth about the so-called evidence used to justify the detention of most of the 779 prisoners held by the US military at Guantánamo since 2002. Much of it came from other prisoners, who were repeatedly shown photos of their fellow prisoners, in what was termed “the family album,” and who, whether through torture, abuse, exhaustion, or bribery, told copious lies about their fellow prisoners — another scandal that is nowhere near as well known as it should be.

The groups taking part in Thursday’s rally include Amnesty International USA, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Close Guantánamo, CODEPINK: Women for Peace, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Defending Rights and Dissent, the Justice for Muslims Collective, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, No More Guantánamos, Reprieve, September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition, Veterans For Peace, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, Witness Against Torture, and the World Can’t Wait.

Quotes from the participating groups are below:

Tom Wilner, the co-founder of Close Guantánamo, and counsel of record to the Guantánamo detainees in their Supreme Court cases in 2004 and 2008, said, “For much of the world, America is not a place but an ideal — an ideal of democracy and personal freedom protected by the rule of law. Guantánamo, a prison set up sixteen years ago today to detain people outside the law and without charge or trial, violates that ideal. It undermines our nation’s credibility and hurts us every day it remains open. We should work together to protect the American ideal and close that lawless prison!”

Daphne Eviatar, director of security with human rights at Amnesty International USA, said, “It is shocking that 16 years after the Guantánamo prison was opened, the United States still maintains a center to detain prisoners indefinitely without charge or trial. Some of the 41 remaining detainees have been cleared for transfer for years. The laws of war never envisioned the sort of endless conflict the U.S. government is waging. The Guantánamo detainees must either be charged and transferred to the United States for fair trials, or sent home or to another country where they’ll be safe. To continue to imprison these men, many of whom the US also tortured, is unconscionable.”

Aliya Hussain, advocacy program manager at the Center for Constitutional Rights, said, “As the prison enters its 17th year of operation, we risk Guantánamo and all that it symbolizes becoming even more entrenched in the American landscape. Donald Trump not only boasts a desire to expand the prison, but has demonstrated his hostility towards Muslims and impetuous policy-making in the name of national security. Whether Guantánamo closes or expands depends upon those who oppose this president. We must look to the courts and the people to serve as checks on the political branches, to challenge indefinite detention and the anti-Muslim bigotry that fuels it, and to keep Guantánamo in the public consciousness until it is closed once and for all.”

Josie Setzler of Witness Against Torture said, “On January 11, we gather to bear witness to a tragic and ongoing history. After 16 years, the U.S. detention camp at Guantánamo remains a living symbol of U.S. torture and human rights abuses and a place of misery for the 41 Muslim men it still houses. We refuse to turn our eyes away. To our government we say: try the men under the rule of law or release them. Close Guantánamo, shut down indefinite detention, and put an end to Islamophobia.”

Leonce Byimana, executive director of Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC), said, “We have just heard reports from Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, that torture is continuing at Guantánamo Bay. As an organization that serves survivors of torture from all over the world, TASSC hears horrible stories every day about individuals subjected to physical and mental torture by oppressive governments. We believe that torture is illegal and immoral under any circumstance whatsoever, regardless of the offenses anyone is accused of, and that its ongoing use in Guantánamo must be stopped immediately.”

Rev. Ron Stief of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture said, “People of faith believe that this nation has a moral responsibility to respect the dignity of all people. Imprisoning people, many of whom were tortured, without trial at Guantánamo is a violation of human dignity and common decency. In 2018, 16 years after the first prisoner was sent to Guantánamo, we can do the right thing by trying or releasing the forty-one people still imprisoned there and closing the prison for good.”

Dr. Maha Hilal, co-director of the Justice for Muslims Collective, said, “The existence of Guantánamo Bay prison epitomizes what institutional and structural Islamophobia looks like in practice. For sixteen years, the prison has been allowed to operate on false legal pretenses and no accountability whatsoever. This has not only damaged the lives of prisoners who have been released, but also means that those who remain behind the prison’s walls have little to no hope of justice. As one of the most glaring spectacles of how the War on Terror has targeted Muslims, Guantánamo Bay prison must be closed and torture ended to restore some semblance of justice — not selective or differential justice, but justice in its totality.”

Colleen Kelly of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows said, “End the military commissions and transfer trials to federal court. End torture in all its varied forms and pseudonyms. End indefinite detention and restore rule of law. End Guantánamo.”

Sue Udry, the executive director of Defending Rights & Dissent, said, “Guantánamo Bay prison is a living symbol of America’s refusal to live up to the promise of our Constitution. Although President Trump has made clear his disinterest in human rights, due process, and the rule of law, we call on him to choose justice over inhumanity and close the prison immediately.”

Nihad Awad, the national executive director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said, “Americans who believe in the rule of law and the U.S. Constitution cannot stand idly by while our government indefinitely detains 41 men — many of whom have families and children — at Guantánamo without charge or trial. The major test of any nation’s commitment to the rule of law and due process is how well it protects the human rights and dignity of not only its citizens, but also of foreign prisoners in its custody. President Obama failed in his signature promise to close this prison. President Trump threatens to keep Guantánamo open and fill it up again. Now is the time for advocates of justice to seek the closure of this prison.”

Debra Sweet of the World Can’t Wait said, “Donald Trump threatens to ‘fill up’ the U.S. torture camp at Guantánamo, saying ‘we have to get much less politically correct.’ We, along with much of the world, look at the U.S. government’s 16 years of unjust imprisonment of more than 700 men, the unspeakable abuse and death inflicted as well as the harm to humanity in general and strongly and loudly say NO.  Close Guantánamo now!”

Nancy Talanian of No More Guantánamos said, “Every American needs to know that the Geneva Conventions and U.S. laws forbid torture and indefinite detention not only because they damage the victims, but also because they endanger Americans and others around the world.  No More Guantánamos is proud to join with other organizations working to end inhuman treatment and detention for the good of the detainees, our country, and the world.”

Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence said, “As is true of any U.S. prison or foreign military base, Guantánamo is a monument to our society’s deep roots of racism. Trapped in the uniforms issued by war makers, prisoners in Guantánamo are horribly dehumanized. We must build solidarity with people similarly confined and raise our voices on behalf of ending torture, abolishing war and establishing restorative justice.”

Shelby Sullivan Bennis of Reprieve said, “It is shameful that sixteen years after the opening of Guantánamo, we are still holding people without charge or trial — in many cases, on the basis of faulty ‘intelligence’ extracted through torture. Guantánamo has been a national security disaster, and a violation of America’s most valuable principles concerning human treatment and the rule of law. If our current President really wants to make America great again, he should make 2018 the year that we close this legal black hole.”

Amber Ginsburg and Aaron Hughes of the Tea Project said, “Guantánamo is framed as exceptional, an extreme category of detention, but 16 years in, can we really say that this is still true? Our own police, jails and prisons and the military are directly linked through training and hierarchies of command. In early 2002 Richard Zuley of the Chicago Police, who is now known for using excessive force that yielded false confessions, began working in Guantánamo to train guards in enhanced interrogation techniques — extended shacking, temperature extremes, isolation and fabricated stories of family members — all tactics used in both Chicago and Guantánamo. It is time to follow trails of accountability and remember those people deeply impacted by these failed polices and the individuals still living through the hell of extra legal detention and torture.”

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 music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Donald Trump No! Please Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2017), 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.

3 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Dear friends, supporters and any interested passers-by,
    I arrived in New York last night, and here’s my first article from the US mainland this January – a cross-post, with my own introduction, of the press release sent out by the many groups involved in Thursday’s protest against the continued existence of Guantanamo outside the White House this Thursday, Jan. 11, which, shockingly, is the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison. Those involved include Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Witness Against Torture, and my own group, Close Guantanamo, and we’re doing our best this week to raise the profile of Guantanamo, largely forgotten in the general chaos of Donald Trump’s presidency, where 41 men are still held, and Trump has made it clear that he has no interest in any prisoner ever being released. Please help us spread the word if you are sick of this shame and this disgrace continuing year after year.

  2. Tom says...

    Now, some good news. The megahype behind Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” book is starting to die down. For anyone who doesn’t know, Wolff has a reputation here in the States of being a political gossip writer. Which means that now lots of other “news stars” are insanely jealous and ripping him down to size. Despite that, the level of what’s considered actual news continues to go down (hype, gossip and as much racism as possible).

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the update, Tom. I hope you’re well. I’m in D.C. now, heading back to NYC tomorrow.
    Just had a very inspiring day of actions to mark the 16th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo.

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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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