Seven Authors, All Former Guantánamo Prisoners, Urge President Biden to Close the Prison Before its 20th Anniversary

2.2.21

The books of the seven authors and former Guantánamo prisoners who have just written an open letter to President Biden, urging him to close the prison, which was published in the New York Review of Books.

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As the Biden administration settles in, and we await news of its plans for Guantánamo — after defense secretary Gen. Lloyd Austin told the Senate during his confirmation hearing, “I believe it is time for the detention facility at Guantánamo to close its doors” — it’s good to see the need for Guantánamo to be closed being discussed in the New York Review of Books by seven former prisoners who have all written books about their experiences.

The seven authors are Mansoor Adayfi, whose memoir Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantanamo is being published this August, Moazzam Begg (Enemy Combatant, 2006), Lakhdar Boumediene (Witnesses of the Unseen: Seven Years in Guantanamo, 2017), Sami Al Hajj (Prisoner 345: My Six Years in Guantánamo, 2018), Ahmed Errachidi (The General: The Ordinary Man Who Challenged Guantánamo, 2013), Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Guantánamo Diary, 2015) and Moussa Zemmouri (Onschuldig in Guantánamo, 2010).

I’ve read all of the above — with the exceptions of Moussa Zemmouri’s book, which hasn’t been translated into English, and Mansoor Adayfi’s, which hasn’t been published yet  — and what I know from all of them is how eloquent the authors are, and how keenly they experienced and articulated the injustices of Guantánamo.

As a result, it is unsurprising that their appeal to Joe Biden is both powerful and articulate, and ought to play a part in helping the new president — to add to the many ways in which he has already distanced his administration from that of Donald Trump — to do so in one other important way: by closing Guantánamo before it reaches the 20th anniversary of its opening next January.

I’m cross-posting the letter below, and if you’re a US citizen or resident and would like to add to the former prisoners’ message to President Biden, you can do so via the White House contact page here.

An Open Letter to President Biden About Guantánamo
By Mansoor Adayfi, Moazzam Begg, Lakhdar Boumediene, Sami Al Hajj, Ahmed Errachidi, et al., New York Review of Books, January 29, 2021

President Bush opened it. President Obama promised to close it, but failed to do so. President Trump promised to keep it open. Now, it is your turn to decide.

We write to you as former prisoners of the United States held without charge or trial at the military detention facility at Guantánamo Bay who have written books about our experiences.

First, we welcome your presidential orders to reverse many unjust and problematic decisions made by your predecessor. We appreciate your repeal of the “Muslim ban,” which will now allow nationals from the Muslim-majority countries previously targeted into the United States, therefore bringing relief to families torn apart by this order.

Despite some positive developments, including the repeal of the Muslim ban, there is another deeply flawed and unjust process that has continued through five US presidential administrations spanning two decades: Guantánamo Bay prison. Guantánamo Bay has existed for over nineteen years and was built to house an exclusively Muslim male population.

We understand that your faith is important to you and helps to guide your vision of social justice. During our incarceration, we often reflected on the story of the Prophet Joseph (Yusuf) in the Quran and his years of wrongful imprisonment. It’s the same story in the Bible and one that reminds us that justice is not only divine, but timeless. That is why we are writing to you.

Although most of us were released under President Bush, everyone was hopeful that President Obama would follow through with his executive order to close Guantánamo in 2009. While some of us were released under Obama, however, it became clear during his tenure as president that ending imprisonment at Guantánamo was not a promise he could fulfill.

Many of us were abducted from our homes, in front of our families, and sold for bounties to the US by nations that cared little for the rule of law. We were rendered to countries where we were physically and psychologically tortured in addition to suffering racial and religious discrimination in US custody — even before we arrived at Guantánamo.

Some of us had children who were born in our absence and grew up without fathers. Others experienced the pain of learning that our close relatives died back home waiting in vain for news of our return. Waiting in vain for justice.

Most of the prisoners currently or presently detained at Guantánamo have never been to the United States. This means that our image of your country has been shaped by our experiences at Guantánamo — in other words, we have only been witnesses to its dark side.

Considering the violence that has happened at Guantánamo, we are sure that after more than nineteen years, you agree that imprisoning people indefinitely without trial while subjecting them to torture, cruelty and degrading treatment, with no meaningful access to families or proper legal systems, is the height of injustice. That is why imprisonment at Guantánamo must end.

There are only forty prisoners left in Guantánamo. We are told that the cost of each prisoner is $13 million per annum. That means that the United States spends $520 million a year on imprisoning men who will never be charged or convicted in a US court. Aside from the moral, legal, and public relations disaster that is Guantánamo, some of this money could be easily spent on programs to resettle prisoners and help them to rebuild their lives.

President Bush opened it. President Obama promised to close it, but failed to do so. President Trump promised to keep it open. It is now your turn to shape your legacy with regards to Guantánamo.

At your inauguration, you told the world: “We will be judged, you and I, by how we resolve these cascading crises of our era. We will rise to the occasion.” It is therefore our suggestion that the following steps are taken to close Guantánamo:

1. All those cleared for release are immediately repatriated to their home countries, as long as they are safe from arbitrary imprisonment and persecution.

2. The office for the special envoy is reopened and suitable countries are sought to restart the resettlement process for those unable to return to their homes.

3. Appropriate measures are taken to ensure that former prisoners are granted the means to start a meaningful life in the new country and are afforded protections from violations of those measures by the receiving state.

4. The concept of “forever prisoners” is rescinded, and those not facing charges under the military commissions are repatriated or resettled (as above) following appropriate security arrangements.

5. Repatriation/resettlement should not take place by force, and prisoners are not resettled where they will face arbitrary imprisonment once again.

6. Periodic Review Board reports should be superseded by the imperative to close Guantánamo and not obstruct the above measures.

7. The military commissions should be scrapped, and those facing charges should have their cases tried in accordance with the law.

8. Where appropriate and practicable, mechanisms are put in place whereby those convicted of crimes can serve their sentences closer to home.

Guantánamo causes deep distrust in what America says and stands for. Prisoners from forty-nine different countries once occupied Guantánamo’s cells. Those prisoners look to America as a nation of laws and freedoms and see little of either.

For two decades, the world has observed Guantánamo and noted that it is a bipartisan project, carried out by both Republicans and Democrats. That is what you must contend with and change.

Despite the abuses, after detention, many of us befriended and welcomed into our homes former US soldiers who guarded us. We’ve always believed there was another way.

During your tenure as vice president, America freed senior Taliban leaders from Guantánamo. Today, they head negotiations with top US officials to bring about peace in Afghanistan. During your inauguration speech you said, “Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war.” We agree. In fact, as Obama once said, Guantánamo “should never have opened.” We believe you can close Guantánamo before its looming twentieth anniversary.

It is our sincere hope that you do.

Mansoor Adayfi (author, Yemen)
Moazzam Begg (author, UK)
Lakhdar Boumediene (author, France)
Sami Al Hajj (author, Qatar)
Ahmed Errachidi (author, Morocco)
Mohamedou Ould Slahi (author, Mauritania)
Moussa Zemmouri (author, Belgium)

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer (of an ongoing photo-journalism project, ‘The State of London’), 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).

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.

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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:

    Here’s my latest article, a cross-post, with my own introduction, of a powerful open letter to President Biden, urging him to close Guantanamo, which was published in the New York Review of Books, and written by seven former prisoners who are also authors: Mansoor Adayfi, Moazzam Begg, Lakhdar Boumediene, Sami Al Hajj, Ahmed Errachidi, Mohamedou Ould Salahi and Moussa Zemmouri.

  2. Anna says...

    I see I’m well behind in this subject.
    Cannot even find Mohamedou’s book although I’m sure I read it. Could that have been on the internet? Or I lent it to someone and it never was returned. Checked Moussa Zemmouri’s Belgian book, but it unfortunately is not available anymore, out of stock. Which basically is great. Never read any of the other ones, even Moazzam’s, as they are hard to get here.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    I didn’t realise that you hadn’t read any of the former prisoners’ books, Anna – even Moazzam’s. All of the books I’ve read have huge value and significance – unlike the efforts of those who authorized the creation of Guantanamo, and what happened there, to justify their actions. I’m very much looking forward to Mansoor’s book, which will be published in August. Do have a look at his website, if you haven’t seen it: https://www.mansooradayfi.com

    And this was what Mansoor wrote for Close Guantanamo about his friend Khalid Qassim, who is still held: https://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2020/03/08/my-best-friend-and-brother-a-profile-of-guantanamo-prisoner-khalid-qasim-by-mansoor-adayfi/

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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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