My US Visit to Call for the Closure of Guantánamo on the 18th Anniversary of Its Opening, Jan. 10-20, 2020

5.1.20

The flier for the rally calling for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on the 18th anniversary of its opening, taking place outside the White House on January 11, 2020. The flier was designed for the campaigning group Witness Against Torture.

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On Friday I fly into New York’s JFK Airport from London for what will be my tenth successive January visit to the US to call for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on the anniversary of its opening.

The main focus of my visits, from that first year onwards, has been a rally outside the White House of groups calling for the prison’s closure, including Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Witness Against Torture, and the World Can’t Wait. and, most years, I have also taken part in a panel discussion about the future of Guantánamo at New America, a D.C.-based think-tank. For more, check out the archive for my visits in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Even that first year (2011), the rally was an example of tenacity over hope, and it remains so today, something that has to be done, because the existence of Guantánamo is an abomination, but, sadly, with no expectation that it will fundamentally change anything.

In 2011, there was disappointment because President Obama had failed to close Guantánamo within a year, despite promising to do so when he took office in January 2009, and 2012 marked ten years since the opening of the prison, which I marked by co-founding the Close Guantánamo campaign with my friend, the attorney Tom Wilner, who was Counsel of Record for the Guantánamo prisoners in their Supreme Court cases in 2004 and 2008 that established their right to habeas corpus.

By 2012, however, habeas corpus had been gutted of all meaning for the prisoners after a number of ideologically malignant rulings by the D.C. Circuit Court (the court of appeals in Washington, D.C.), and, in addition, President Obama had almost entirely stopped releasing prisoners, because of his unwillingness to overcome cynical obstructions raised by the Republican majority in Congress. The situation was even more depressing in January 2013, but in February that year, the prisoners themselves hauled Guantánamo back into the spotlight, by embarking on a prison-wide hunger strike to highlight their plight.

In response to international criticism provoked by the hunger strike, Obama finally began releasing prisoners again, in August 2013, making 2014’s rally slightly less depressing, as, for almost three years, from September 2010 to August 2013, only five prisoners had been released. Following this, on the last two anniversaries of Obama’s presidency, in 2015 and 2016, there was enthusiasm for a push to get the prison closed, as Obama’s parole-type review process, the Periodic Review Boards, had kicked in, leading to the release of 36 men in addition to many dozens more who had been approved for release by his first high-level government review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, which had reviewed all the prisoners’ cases in 2009, and had recommended that two-thirds of them be released.

In 2017, we were all in a horrible limbo, as we awaited the arrival in the White House of Donald Trump. Pressure from those seeking Guantánamo’s closure had ensured that Obama undertook a flurry of releases before he left office, leaving just 41 men still held when Trump took over. It was 41 men too many, of course, and Obama would forever be tainted by — after eight years — failing to close the prison within a year as he had promised on his second day in office, but at least the prison’s population had been reduced by nearly 200 men since he took office.

However, over the last three years, the situation at Guantánamo has been as bleak as many of us feared when Trump won the 2016 presidential election. Only one prisoner has been released (a Saudi sent for continued imprisonment in his homeland, who was only released, in May 2018, because of a plea deal he had agreed to in his military commission trial in 2014), and Trump has no intention of releasing anyone else under any circumstances.

Moreover, although only nine of the 40 men still held are facing or have faced trials, Guantánamo remains, fundamentally, as lawless as it was at the time of its creation, because the military commissions are a broken system incapable of delivering justice, and no law or treaty exists that can compel the president to release anyone else from the prison, even though five of the men still held were unanimously approved for release by Obama’s high-level government review processes, and even though the 26 others have never been charged with a crime, and, most likely, never will be, having been consigned, instead, to imprisonment without charge or trial until their death, whenever that may be — ten, 20, 30, maybe even 40 years from now, in some cases.

It must be noted that Obama’s PRB process still exists, allowing Trump to, if he wishes, pretend that a credible and fair review process still exists, but the sad reality is that no one has been approved for release since Trump became president, and the prisoners themselves, correctly concluding that it has become a sham process, have responded by boycotting proceedings.

Last year, there was a flurry of hope at the anniversary rally marking 17 years of Guantánamo’s existence, because Democrats had secured a majority in the House of Representatives for the first time since 2008. However, although this means that some House Democrats — including the chairs of influential committees like the House Armed Services Committee — have been amenable to renewed discussions about the need for Guantánamo to be closed, no meaningful progress has been possible while Republicans still control the Senate.

This year, with impeachment proceedings swirling around Trump at the start of an election year, in which, with breathtaking cynicism, he has responded by ordering the assassination of Iran’s top general, Qassem Suleimani, threatening a horrendous escalation of violence in the Middle East, we will continue to talk to House Democrats, and also, I’m pretty certain, to point out that, although it is unwise to trust Democrats too much (as Obama’s eight years in charge of Guantánamo showed), there can be absolutely no progress towards the eventual closure of Guantánamo while Trump is president, and while Republicans control the Senate.

Please see below for details of the two events in Washington, D.C. that I’m taking part in. I will be returning to New York after Monday’s panel discussion, and hope that a speaking event there will be confirmed soon.

Saturday January 11, 1-3pm: Justice Now: Close Guantánamo & End Torture Rally
Lafayette Square, outside the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington D.C. 20500

I will be speaking at this rally calling for the closure of Guantánamo. Those organising the event and taking part in it include Amnesty International USA, CAIR, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Close Guantanamo, CODEPINK: Women For Peace, Defending Rights & Dissent, Justice for Muslims Collective, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, Tsuru for Solidarity, Witness Against Torture and the World Can’t Wait.
See the Facebook page here.

Monday January 13, 1.30-2.30pm: Guantánamo in 2020 – What is the future of the prison camp after eighteen years?
New America, 740 15th Street NW, Suite 900, Washington, DC 20005

Tom Wilner and I, as the co-founders of the Close Guantánamo campaign, will be speaking at this panel discussion, moderated by Melissa Salyk-Virk, Senior Policy Analyst, New America International Security program.
The event page is here.

I am also, of course, available for interviews — in person or by phone — and for any other events that people may want to organise throughout the whole of my stay. Please do get in touch if any of the above is of interest.

* * * * *

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 see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in 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, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.55), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from seven years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the resistance continues.

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, The Complete Guantánamo Files, 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.

7 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, announcing my imminent visit to the US – for the tenth year running in January – to call for the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay on the 18th anniversary of its opening. How shameful that this disgraceful facility remains open, and that Donald Trump has no intention whatsoever to release any of the 40 men still held under any circumstances.

    I arrive in New York on Friday (Jan. 10), and then head down to Washington, D.C. on Saturday (Jan. 11) for the annual rally outside the White House, as the co-founder of the Close Guantanamo campaign, with numerous other rights groups.

    I stay on until Monday (Jan. 13), for a panel discussion at the New America think-tank with the attorney Tom Wilner, and then head back to New York until Jan. 20, where I hope to take part in other events. I’m also available, throughout my visit, for TV and radio interviews, either in person or by phone.

    Please get in touch if you’d like to talk to me or organize an event, and if you can make a donation to support my visit, that will be very helpful. I rely on you, my supporters, to enable me to continue my work, as I have no institutional backing.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    To show your support for the calls to close Guantanamo, please take a photo with Close Guantanamo’s poster marking how long the prison will have been open on Jan. 11 – 6,575 days – and send it to info@closeguantanamo.org http://gtmoclock.com/posters/GTMO-Clock-6575.pdf

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Anna Elliott wrote:

    Well done Andy. Take care, and keep us posted ✌️💞

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Will do, Anna. Good to hear from you!

  5. Elsa Collins says...

    Dear Andy, your amazing work for truth and justice is amazing!
    While there courageous and influential people like you, there is hope, and we will never give up until the illegal prison in Guantanamo Bay is closed.
    Together we will succeed! Keep up your wonderful work and keep us informed.
    Yours
    Elsa Collins, Alan Collins and Family

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Elsa, thank you so much for your wonderful supportive words as I prepare for this US visit calling for the closure of Guantanamo. It’s hard to believe this will be my tenth annual January visit. It’s still so gutting that Barack Obama failed to do as he promised, and get the damned place closed once and for all.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    New York event on Thursday January 16 at Revolution Books in Harlem, 7pm start: https://www.facebook.com/events/2599640730131094/

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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 (The State of London).
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