Obama’s Failure to Close Guantánamo: Revisiting a Major Article in the New Yorker

"Inaugurate Justice, Close Guantanamo": a message from Witness Against Torture activists outside the White House on January 13, 2013, the 11th anniversary of the opening of the prison, just a week before President Obama's second term inauguration (Photo: Andy Worthington).With just over 100 days remaining for President Obama to fulfill his promise to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay that he inherited from George W. Bush, where men subjected to torture and other forms of abuse are still held without charge or trial, undermining the US’s belief that it is a nation that respects the rule of law, I continue to work to close the prison, through my writing here, and through the Close Guantánamo campaign that I established with the US attorney Tom Wilner in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the prison’s opening.

A specific initiative of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign is the Countdown to Close Guantánamo, in which, every 50 days, those who wish to see Guantánamo closed have been submitting photos of themselves with posters reminding President Obama how many days he has left. Please print off the latest poster, marking 100 days remaining for President Obama to fulfill his promise on October 11, take a photo of yourself with it, and send it to us to add your voice to those calling for the prison’s closure.

This January, as President Obama prepares to leave office after eight years as president, it will be 15 years since Guantánamo opened, unless he somehow manages to close it — by executive order, perhaps — in the brief period between the presidential election in November and the inauguration of the next president in January 2017. That seems unlikely, however, because Congress has, for years, imposed bans on spending any money to bring any prisoners to the US mainland for any reason, and overriding lawmakers will unleash a fury. Read the rest of this entry »

Pentagon Blocks Prisoner Releases from Guantánamo – Including 74-Pound Yemeni Hunger Striker

Members of the campaigning group Witness Against Torture hold up a banner featuring an image of Tariq Ba Odah outside the White House in June 2015 (Photo: Matt Daloisio via Flickr).As the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba begins its 15th year of operations, there has been a flurry of mainstream media interest, in part because 2016 is President Obama’s last year in office, and yet, when he was first inaugurated in January 2009, he promised to close Guantánamo within a year, an unfulfilled promise that is bound to tarnish his legacy unless he can make good on that promise in his last twelve months in office.

A major report was recently published by Reuters, which focused in particular on the ways in which the Pentagon has been obstructing the release of prisoners, as was clear from the title of the article by Charles Levinson and David Rohde: “Pentagon thwarts Obama’s effort to close Guantánamo.”

Blocking the release of 74-pound hunger striker Tariq Ba Odah

The article began with a damning revelation about Tariq Ba Odah, a Yemeni prisoner who has been on a hunger strike for seven years, and whose weight has dropped, alarmingly, to just 74 pounds (from 148 pounds on his arrival at the prison in 2002), and who is at risk of death. Ba Odah has been unsuccessful in his recent efforts to persuade a judge to order his release, but he is eligible for release anyway. Back in 2009, when President Obama established the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force to assess all the prisoners’ cases, he was one of 30 Yemenis approved for release but placed in “conditional detention,” a category invented by the task force, which recommended that those placed in this category should only be freed when it was assessed — by whom, it was not explained — that the security situation in Yemen had improved. Read the rest of this entry »

Who Are the Six Men Freed from Guantánamo and Given New Homes in Uruguay?

Photos of five of the six men released to Uruguay from Guantanamo - from L to R: Ali Hussein al-Shaaban, Ahmed Adnan Ahjam, Abdelhadi Faraj, Mohammed Taha Mattan and Abu Wa'el Dhiab. The photos are from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011, and the collage is by LeaNoticias.com.Great news regarding Guantánamo, as yesterday the Pentagon announced that six men, long cleared for release from the prison — four Syrians, a Palestinian and a Tunisian — have been resettled in Uruguay as refugees.

Back in March, President José Mujica of Uruguay — a former political prisoner — announced that he had been approached by the Obama administration regarding the resettlement of Guantánamo prisoners and had offered new homes to a number of men, cleared for release from the prison in 2009 by President Obama’s high-level Guantánamo Review Task Force, who could not be safely repatriated.

In May, President Mujica’s offer was confirmed, as I explained in an article entitled, “Uruguay’s President Mujica Confirms Offer of New Home for Six Guantánamo Prisoners,” but the releases were then delayed. The Obama administration ran into problems with Congress after releasing five Taliban prisoners in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the sole US prisoner of war in Afghanistan, and, according to various reports, defense secretary Chuck Hagel dragged his heels when it came to notifying Congress of any proposed releases, as required by law. In addition President Mujica ran up against hostility from his political opponents — which was particularly difficult in an election year. Read the rest of this entry »

More Guantánamo Releases Planned Despite Hostility in Congress

"President and Congress: Close Guantanamo" - a banner from the protest calling for the closure of Guantanamo outside the White House on January 11, 2012, the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison.I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with 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 hopeful sign of ongoing progress on Guantánamo, following the recent release of six prisoners, Julian Barnes of the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that defense and congressional officials had told him that the Pentagon was “preparing to transfer additional detainees” from Guantánamo “in the coming weeks.”

After four Yemenis and a Tunisian were given new homes in Georgia and Slovakia, and a Saudi was repatriated, defense officials “said there would be more transfers in December, but declined to detail their numbers or nationalities.”

Laura Pitter, the senior national security counsel for Human Rights Watch, said in response, “There does seem to be a renewed effort to make the transfers happen,” which, she added, seems to indicate a desire on the president’s part to continue working towards closing the prison, as he promised when he took office in January 2009, before Republicans raised obstacles that he has, in general, not wished to spend political will overcoming. Read the rest of this entry »

Fawzi Al-Odah Freed from Guantánamo, Returns Home to Kuwait

In this photo released by the al-Odah family, Fawzi al-Odah is shown with an unidentified relative on the left and his father Khalid on the right on his arrival in Kuwait on November 6, 2014.Congratulations to the Obama administration for arranging for Fawzi al-Odah, one of the last two Kuwaiti prisoners in Guantánamo, to be sent home, a free man, on the day after the US mid-term elections — although he will be held in Kuwaiti custody for a year and required to take part in a year-long rehabilitation program.

With control of the Senate passing from the Democrats to the Republicans, and the House of Representatives maintaining its Republican majority, it may be difficult for President Obama to engage constructively with lawmakers on the eventual closure of the prison during his last two years in office.

However, by releasing al-Odah, leaving 148 men still held at the prison, including the last Kuwaiti, Fayiz al-Kandari, the president has sent a clear signal that his administration remains committed to releasing prisoners approved for release by governmental review boards, following the rules laid down by Congress, which require the administration to give them 30 days’ notice prior to any release, and for the defense secretary to certify that he is satisfied that it is safe for the prisoner or prisoners in question to be released.

Al-Odah, who was born on May 6, 1977 and is 37 years old, was seized crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan in December 2001 and transferred to US custody on January 2, 2002. He arrived at Guantánamo on February 13, 2002, and, as a result, spent over a third of his life at the prison, without ever having been charged or tried. Read the rest of this entry »

On Guantánamo, No News is Bad News

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with 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.

On Guantánamo, the news has largely dried up in recent weeks, which is not reassuring for the 79 men — out of the 149 men still held — who have had their release approved but are still held. 75 of these men were recommended for release in 2009 by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, and four others were recommended for release this year by Periodic Review Boards, established to review the cases of the majority of the men who were not cleared for release by the task force.

Since last May, when President Obama promised to resume releasing prisoners — after a period of nearly three years when only five men were released — 17 men have been released, which is obviously progress of sorts. The drought of releases from 2010 to 2013 was because of obstacles raised by Congress and the president’s refusal to use a waiver in the legislation to bypass Congress, but although it is reassuring that 17 men have been freed, the last of those releases was at the end of May, and campaigners for the closure of Guantánamo can be forgiven for wondering when the next prisoner will be released, especially as that last prisoner release — six Taliban leaders in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the sole US prisoner of war in Afghanistan — attracted such cynical and hysterical opposition.

According to reports in May, six of the cleared prisoners, from Syria, Palestine and Tunisia — all men who cannot be safely repatriated — were offered new homes in Uruguay after President Mujica responded positively to a request for assistance from the US. Read the rest of this entry »

What’s Happening with Guantánamo?

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with 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.

The short answer to the question, “What’s Happening with Guantánamo?” twelve years and eight months after the prison opened, is, unfortunately, “very little.”

Seventeen men have been released since President Obama delivered a major speech on national security issues last May, in which he promised to resume releasing prisoners after a period of nearly three years in which releases had almost ground to a halt, because of obstacles raised by Congress and the president’s unwillingness to spend political capital overcoming those obstacles.

Of the 17 men released, eleven were cleared for release in 2009 by a high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office. However, of the 149 men still held, 75 others were also cleared for release by the task force, and their ongoing imprisonment is a disgrace. Four others have been cleared for release in recent months by Periodic Review Boards, established to review the cases of the majority of the men who were not cleared for release by the task force. Read the rest of this entry »

Pentagon Defends Bowe Bergdahl/Guantánamo Prisoner Swap as Government Accountability Office Delivers Critical Opinion

In a move that has no legal weight, but which will embolden supporters of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, the Government Accountability Office, the non-partisan investigative arm of Congress, which is “charged with examining matters relating to the receipt and payment of public funds,” has concluded that the Department of Defense broke the law when, in May, five Taliban prisoners in Guantánamo were released in Qatar in a prisoner swap for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only US prisoner of war in Afghanistan.

The GAO concluded that the DoD acted in violation of section 8111 of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2014, which “prohibits DOD from using appropriated funds to transfer any individuals detained at Guantánamo Bay unless the Secretary of Defense notifies certain congressional committees at least 30 days before the transfer.”

When the prisoner swap was announced, a tsunami of manufactured outrage poured forth from Republicans and right-wing pundits, even though both defense secretary Chuck Hagel and President Obama provided robust explanations about why they had bypassed Congress. As I explained at the time, Hagel said that the decision to go ahead with the swap — which, it should be noted, had been mooted for at least two years — came about after intelligence suggested Bergdahl’s “safety and health were both in jeopardy, and in particular his health was deteriorating.” Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Lawyers Urge Obama Administration to Approve Release of Six Men to Uruguay

Lawyers for six prisoners at Guantánamo — four Syrians, a Palestinian and a Tunisian, who have long been cleared for release from the prison, but are unable to return home — sent a letter to the Obama administration on Thursday calling for urgent action regarding their clients. I’m posting the full text of the letter below.

It’s now over three months since President José Mujica of Uruguay announced that he had been approached by the Obama administration regarding the resettlement of five men — later expanded to six — and was willing to offer new homes to them. I wrote about the story here, where I also noted that one of the men is Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian man, consigned to a wheelchair as a result of his suffering at Guantánamo. Dhiab is on a hunger strike and being force-fed, and has, in recent months, mounted a prominent legal challenge to his treatment, securing access for his lawyers to videotapes showing his force-feeding and violent cell extractions. The other Syrians are Abdelhadi Faraj (aka Abdulhadi Faraj), Ali Hussein al-Shaaban and Ahmed Adnan Ahjam, the Palestinian is Mohammed Taha Mattan (aka Mohammed Tahamuttan), and the Tunisian, whose identity is revealed for the first time, is Adel El-Ouerghi (aka Abdul Ourgy (ISN 502)).

All six men were cleared for release from the prison in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama appointed shortly after taking office in 2009, and in their letter the lawyers provided detailed explanations of how the deal has progressed since first being mooted late last year and how it appeared to be confirmed months ago, before it had first been mentioned publicly. “In February,” they wrote, “some or us were informed that, while it was not possible to ascertain precisely when transfer would occur, it was ‘a matter of weeks, not months.'” Read the rest of this entry »

Please Read My Latest Article About Guantánamo for Al-Jazeera, “Is Bowe Bergdahl Worth Five Taliban Prisoners?”

Dear friends and supporters,

I hope you have time to read my latest article for Al-Jazeera, “Is Bowe Bergdahl Worth Five Taliban Prisoners?” in which I provide an overview of the manufactured outrage over the last two weeks regarding the Obama administration’s release, in Qatar, of five Taliban prisoners in Guantánamo for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the sole US prisoner of war in Afghanistan, with particular reference to defense secretary Chuck Hagel’s appearance at a whistle Congressional hearing last week, in which he nevertheless defended the administration’s position.

Please like the article, share it, and tweet it if you find it useful.

As I explain, “lawmakers, with support from large parts of the media, have been waging a sustained attack on the Obama administration … accusing both the president and defence secretary Chuck Hagel of recklessness, incompetence and breaking the law in relation to the exchange.” Read the rest of this entry »

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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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