Gen. Lloyd Austin, Biden’s Defense Secretary, Says it’s “Time for Guantánamo to Close its Doors,” as DoD Announces New Military Commission Charges

28.1.21

Gen. Lloyd Austin at his Senate confirmation hearing as defense secretary in President Biden’s administration, Jan. 19, 2021, and a photo of Camp 6 at Guantánamo.

 

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I wrote the following article 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.

In a flurry of activity on his first day in office, President Biden issued 17 executive orders, undoing some of the worst policy disasters of his predecessor, Donald Trump — including rejoining the Paris climate accord, stopping the US’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization, reversing Trump’s Muslim travel ban, and canceling the much-criticized Keystone XL pipeline.

Yesterday, in what the Guardian described as “a sweeping new set of climate executive orders,” he instructed the US government “to pause and review all oil and gas drilling on federal land, eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and transform the government’s vast fleet of cars and trucks into electric vehicles.”

Missing in all this commendable activity, sadly, is anything relating to the prison at Guantánamo Bay. As Vice President, Joe Biden was with President Obama 12 years ago, on January 22, 2009, when he issued Executive Order 13492, promising to close Guantánamo, which was undone by Trump in Executive Order 13823 — the absurdly-named “Protecting America Through Lawful Detention of Terrorists” — on January 30, 2018.

Trump’s executive order still stands, which is disappointing, of course, although commentators have understood that issuing a new executive order for the closure of Guantánamo could easily provoke troublesome Republican opposition — although, with the Democrats having a majority in the Senate and the House, that isn’t as damaging as it could be.

Despite these disappointments, however, we expect that there will be action from the administration on Guantánamo, and a good indicator of this came when, prior to his confirmation as defense secretary, Joe Biden’s nominee, Gen. Lloyd Austin, told the Senate in written testimony, “I believe it is time for the detention facility at Guantánamo to close its doors,” adding, as the Associated Press described it, that “he would work with others in the administration to develop a ‘path forward’ to closure.”

Nevertheless, at the same time, Guantánamo-watchers were taken by surprise when, on January 21, a senior legal official in the Pentagon “approved non-capital charges that include conspiracy, murder and terrorism” against three “high-value detainees” — Encep Nurjaman, an Indonesian known as Hambali, and two Malaysians, Mohammed Nazir bin Lep and Mohammed Farik bin Amin — “who have been in US custody for 17 years for their alleged roles in the deadly bombing of Bali nightclubs in 2002 and a year later of the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta.”

As the Associated Press noted, “The timing of the charges, which had been submitted under Donald Trump but not finalized, caught lawyers for the men by surprise and would seem to be in conflict with President Joe Biden’s intention to close the detention centre.”

Maj. James Valentine of the Marine Corps, the appointed military attorney for Hambali, said, “The timing here is obvious, one day after the inauguration. This was done in a state of panic before the new administration could get settled.”

This obviously isn’t reassuring, and we can only hope that the new administration doesn’t waver when it comes to taking the necessary steps towards the closure of Guantánamo over the coming months, starting with the appointment of a senior official to deal with prisoner transfers and the prison’s closure, as we continue to remind them how long this wretched place has been open, and how unforgivable it would be for it to be open on the 20th anniversary of its opening, on January 11, 2022.

* * * * *

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 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 eight 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 the 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.

9 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, providing the most recent news regarding Guantanamo under President Biden, after his defense secretary, Gen. Lloyd Austin, told the Senate in written testimony during his confirmation hearing, “I believe it is time for the detention facility at Guantanamo to close its doors.” As the AP described it, he said he “would work with others in the administration to develop a ‘path forward’ to closure.”

    Sadly, however, at the same time a Pentagon official approved military commission charges against three “high-value detainees,” held in CIA “black sites” from 2003, and at Guantanamo since 2006, in what seemed to be a last intervention of the Trump era.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Michael Constantine wrote:

    YES!

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, it’s promising, isn’t it, Michael.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Rose Ann Bellotti wrote:

    I am flabbergasted but have a cautionary but renewed hope. Maybe it takes a person of color to remember that evil place. Hope Biden is listening …

    But I absolutely agree with the frustration with such a transparent attempt to outrun any attempt by Biden to fulfill Obama’s promise.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m pretty sure Biden was involved, Rose. Waiting now for the announcement of the appointment of someone within the administration to take charge of Guantanamo issues.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Natalia Rivera Scott wrote:

    They say “it’s time to close it” like it wasn’t time 19 years ago!

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, exactly, Natalia.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Astrid Schult wrote:

    Wow! Hopefully not only words.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    We must very much hope so, Astrid!

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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