The Path to Closing Guantánamo

Campaigners with the group Witness Against Torture occupy the national Museum of American History on january 11, 2014, the 12th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo (Photo: Andy Worthington).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 Saturday, six Yemenis were freed from Guantánamo, and resettled in Oman, bringing the prison’s population down to 116 men, the lowest total it has been since the first few months of the prison’s operation back in 2002. I wrote about the release of the men here, and amended the details of our prisoner list here, and, in response to the releases, I thought it would also be useful to follow up by looking at where we stand with President Obama’s long-promised mission to close the prison.

President Obama made his promise to close Guantánamo on his second day in office, pledging to close it within a year. Since failing to keep the promise, he has sporadically stated again his desire to see the prison closed — most notably two years ago, when a prison-wide hunger strike prompted him to promise to resume releasing prisoners, after a period of nearly three years in which releases had almost ground to a halt, because of opposition in Congress and the president ‘s refusal to expend political capital overcoming those obstacles.

In April, as I wrote about here, the Washington Post reported, as I paraphrased it,  that all the men approved for release in Guantánamo — at the time 57 out of the 122 men still held — would be “freed by the end of the year, and, if Congress proves obstructive, the Obama administration might close the facility before the end of Obama’s presidency by unilaterally moving the remaining prisoners to the US mainland.” I added, however, that, realistically, “it might be wisest to view these suggestions as the administration stating its best-case scenario.” Read the rest of this entry »

New York Times Publishes British MPs’ Hard-Hitting Op-Ed Calling for Shaker Aamer’s Release from Guantánamo

Sen. Dianne Feinstein meets the delegation of British MPs who traveled to Washington, D.C. last month to call for Shaker Aamer's release from Guantanamo. From L to R: Jeremy Corbyn, David Davis, Dianne Feinstein, Andrew Mitchell and Andy Slaughter.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.

Regular readers of “Close Guantánamo” will be aware of the case of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident still held in the prison at Guantánamo Bay. Shaker, a Saudi national who was given indefinite leave to remain in the UK, has a British wife and four British children, and is still held despite being approved for release under President Bush in 2007 and under President Obama in 2010.

I wrote about Shaker’s case soon after the “Close Guantánamo” campaign and website was established, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo in January 2012. To mark the 10th anniversary of Shaker’s arrival at  Guantánamo, on February 14, 2012, I wrote an article entitled, 10 Years in Guantánamo: British Resident Shaker Aamer, Cleared for Release But Still Held.

One of his lawyers, Ramzi Kassem, then made available notes of his meetings with Shaker, which we published as two articles in April 2012, and again in October 2012, at Shaker’s request. In October 2013, we published an exclusive article about Shaker’s request for an independent medical evaluation, and also published Ramzi Kassem’s supporting statement, and in April 2014, after that medical evaluation had been allowed, we followed up with an article about Shaker’s ultimately unsuccessful request for a judge to order his release because of the findings by the expert, Dr. Emily Keram, that Shaker was suffering from a host of physical and psychological problems. Read the rest of this entry »

Rights Groups Send An Open Letter to President Obama and Ashton Carter: Free the 57 Guantánamo Prisoners Approved for Release

A collaged image of President Obama and a guard tower at Guantanamo.Below is an open letter that has just been made available by 13 human rights organizations and lawyers’ groups calling for immediate action by President Obama and defense secretary Ashton Carter to secure the release of the 57 men still held at Guantánamo (out of the 122 men still held) who have been cleared for release — or approved for transfer, in the administration’s careful words. The signatories also call on the administration to try or release the other men, and to move towards the eventual closure of the prison, as President Obama first promised when he took office in January 2009.

The spur for the letter, which I initiated on behalf of Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker, is the second anniversary of President Obama’s promise to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, after Congress raised legislative obstacles, which he made in a major speech on national security issues on May 23, 2013.

Also of great relevance is the arrival in Washington, D.C. today of a British Parliamentary delegation calling for the release and return to the UK of one of the 57, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison. The four MPs involved are the Conservative MPs David Davis and Andrew Mitchell, and the Labour MPs Andy Slaughter and Jeremy Corbyn, who are part of the cross-party Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, and they will be meeting administration officials and Senators to try to secure a timeline for Shaker Aamer’s release. Read the rest of this entry »

Retired Justice John Paul Stevens Calls for Compensation for the 57 Cleared Guantánamo Prisoners Still Held

Former US Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, photographed before his retirement in 2010.Last week, as three prominent Democratic Senators — Patrick Leahy, Dianne Feinstein and Dick Durbin — wrote to President Obama urging him to take urgent action to release the 57 men still held at Guantánamo who have been approved for release by high-level governmental review boards, and who, for the most part, have been waiting over five years to be freed, Justice John Paul Stevens, a Supreme Court Justice from 1975 until his retirement in 2010, made a speech at which he not only urged the release of these men, but also suggested that some of them may be due compensation for their long and ultimately unjustifiable ordeal. The 57 men make up almost half of the total of 122 men still held, and include, prominently, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison.

This is not, of course, the first time that former Justice Stevens, who is now 95 years old, has dealt with Guantánamo. When he retired, SCOTUSblog — the official Supreme Court blog — ran a series of articles about him, and in one of these articles, “Justice Stevens, Guantánamo, and the Rule of Law,” Daniel A. Farber, a law professor at Berkeley who clerked for him in 1976, explained the importance of his role in the 2004, 2006 and 2008 Supreme Court rulings that granted the prisoners habeas corpus rights (Rasul v. Bush in June 2004 and Boumediene v. Bush in June 2008, which I wrote about here), and that dealt with the legality — or rather the lack of it — of the military commission trial system at Guantánamo (Hamdan v. Rumsfeld in 2006).

Justice Stevens wrote the majority opinion in Rasul v. Bush, in which, almost two and a half years after Guantánamo opened, and after a long journey through the lower courts, the Supreme Court “held that the habeas statute covered Guantánamo,” and turned down the Bush administration’s argument that the prison was on foreign soil. Although Congress then passed legislation that purported to block the prisoners’ habeas rights, the ruling allowed lawyers to take on prisoners as clients, and to visit the prison, breaking through the veil of secrecy that had allowed torture and other forms of abuse to proceed unchecked. Read the rest of this entry »

Senators Leahy, Feinstein and Durbin Tell Obama to Free 57 Cleared Guantánamo Prisoners “As Quickly As Possible”

Campaigners from organizations including Witness Against Torture, Amnesty International and Close Guantanamo call for the closure of the prison outside the White House on January 11, 2011.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.

It’s now nearly five months since the last prisoners were released from Guantánamo, even though 57 of the 122 men still held have been approved for release from the prison, the majority since President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force issued its recommendations about the disposition of the remaining prisoners in January 2010.

As any decent person would agree, still holding men five years after you said you no longer wanted to hold them is a particularly offensive betrayal of any notion that you believe in justice and fairness.

President Obama released dozens of prisoners — 66 in total — from when he took office in January 2009 until September 2010, at which point restrictions on the release of prisoners, which were cynically imposed by Congress, made it more difficult. This was not because the administration was unable to release prisoners, but because the process of certifying to Congress that it was safe to do so, which were the conditions imposed by lawmakers, made the release of prisoners much more politically sensitive than it should have been. Read the rest of this entry »

Cliff Sloan, Former Envoy for Guantánamo Closure, On Why Cleared Prisoners, Including Shaker Aamer, Must Be Freed

Campaigners with Witness Against Torture show their support for Shaker Aamer in an action outside the British Embassy in Washington D.C. in January 2015.Last Wednesday, the Washington Post reawakened discussions about the future of Guantánamo, in an article entitled “Facing threat in Congress, Pentagon races to resettle Guantánamo inmates.” As I described it in my analysis of the article, the Post aired “the suggestion … that all the men approved for release in Guantánamo — 57 out of the 122 men still held — will be freed by the end of the year, and, if Congress proves obstructive, the Obama administration might close the facility before the end of Obama’s presidency by unilaterally moving the remaining prisoners to the US mainland.”

I was at pains to point out that, “[r]ealistically … it might be wisest to view these suggestions as the administration stating its best-case scenario,” but I found it convincing that, “[a]s a first step, officials plan to send up to 10 prisoners overseas, possibly in June,” and that one of these prisoners is Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, and I was reassured when a journalist friend explained that a source within the administration had told her that there was “cautious optimism” that these releases will indeed take place.

Following up on the story, Ian Woods of Sky News interviewed Cliff Sloan, the former State Department envoy for the closure of Guantánamo, who was appointed by President Obama in 2013. A veteran diplomat, Sloan left his job at the end of last year, but has continued to discuss Guantánamo, and the need for the prison’s closure, ever since. See his op-ed in the New York Times in January, for example. Read the rest of this entry »

Prisoners in Guantánamo Ask to be Freed Because of the End of the War in Afghanistan

Guantanamo prisoner Obaidullah before his capture, in a photo provided to his lawyers by his family in Afghanistan.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 March 30, lawyers for five Afghan prisoners still held at Guantánamo wrote a letter to President Obama and other senior officials in the Obama administration asking for their clients to be released.

The five men in question are: Haji Hamdullah (aka Haji Hamidullah), ISN 1119; Mohammed Kamin, ISN 1045; Bostan Karim, ISN 975; Obaidullah, ISN 762; and Abdul Zahir, ISN 753.

The lawyers wrote, “Their continued detention is illegal because the hostilities in Afghanistan, the only possible justification for detention, have ended. Therefore, these individuals should be released and repatriated or resettled immediately.” They referred to President Obama’s State of the Union Address, on January 20 this year, at which the president said, “Tonight, for the first time since 9/11, our combat mission in Afghanistan is over.” Read the rest of this entry »

Please Read “Dispelling the Myths of Guantánamo Bay,” Tom Wilner and Andy Worthington’s Chicago Tribune Op-Ed

Tom Wilner calling for the closure of Guantanamo outside the Supreme Court on January 11, 2012, the 10th anniversary of the prison's opening.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.

Yesterday, March 26, the Chicago Tribune ran an op-ed about Guantánamo by the co-founders of “Close Guantánamo,” Tom Wilner and Andy Worthington. Tom represented the Guantánamo prisoners in their Supreme Court cases in 2004 and 2008, and Andy is an independent journalist who has spent the last nine years working on Guantánamo.

The op-ed, “Dispelling the Myths of Guantánamo Bay,” is a response to recent inflammatory — and totally mistaken — comments made by Sen. Tom Cotton, the new Republican Senator for Arkansas. In a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on February 5, Sen. Cotton said, “In my opinion, the only problem with Guantánamo Bay is there are too many empty beds and cells there right now. We should be sending more terrorists there. As far as I’m concerned, every last one of them can rot in hell. But as long as they can’t do that, they can rot in Guantánamo Bay.”

As Tom Wilner and I point out in our op-ed, Sen. Cotton’s “assumption” about the  Guantánamo prisoners “is both false and dishonest.” Of the 122 men still held, 56 have been approved for release by high-level, inter-agency review processes, and only ten have been referred for prosecution. Read the rest of this entry »

13th Guantánamo Prisoner Seeks Release Through Periodic Review Board

Mashur al-Sabri, in a photo included in the classified US military documents (the Detainee Assessment Briefs) released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.

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 March 3, a Periodic Review Board (PRB) was held at Guantánamo for Mashur al-Sabri (ISN 324), a 37-year old Yemeni “forever prisoner,” born in December 1977 in Mecca, Saudi Arabia to Yemeni parents. He is one of 71 men designated for PRBs in 2013 — 46 recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2010 (on the extremely dubious basis that they were too dangerous to release but that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial), and 25 others who had been recommended for prosecution, until the military commission trial system began to severely collapse following a devastating appeals court ruling in 2012.

The reviews began in November 2013, and twelve took place between then and February this year. Ten decisions have been taken to date, with seven men recommended for release, and two of those seven freed. See here, here and here for my archive of articles about the Periodic Review Boards.

Mashur al-Sabri’s PRB, on March 3, was the 13th case to be looked at by the board, which consists of representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It was the first time al-Sabri’s case had been looked at since February 2011, when his habeas corpus petition was denied, because the judge in his case, Judge Ricardo Urbina, concluded that he had received military training and had “traveled to the battle lines in Afghanistan as part of the Taliban or al-Qaida and remained part of those forces at the time of his capture in early 2002.” Read the rest of this entry »

As Last Egyptian Is Cleared for Release from Guantánamo, Another Yemeni Faces Periodic Review Board

Guantanamo prisoner Tariq al-Sawah as a young man, prior to his capture and transfer to Guantanamo, where his weight has ballooned, and, as a result, his health is severely threatened. Photo made available by his family.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.

Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we have been campaigning, since we launched in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, for all the prisoners held at Guantánamo to be freed, unless they are to be charged and tried, and we are pleased to note that, as part of a new review process, the Periodic Review Boards (PRBs), established in 2013, seven men who had long been regarded as “too dangerous to release” have had those decisions overturned, and have had their release recommended.

Six of these decisions were taken last year, but the latest decision, which was taken on February 12 but was not reported until today, was for Tariq al-Sawah, the last Egyptian in Guantánamo, to be released — which, we hope, will happen soon. I wrote about his PRB, on January 22, here, describing the 57-year old’s serious health problems, as well as the absurdity of continuing to hold someone regarded as having provided a wealth of useful information, and I find it entirely appropriate that the board has recommended his release.

In its Unclassified Summary of Final Determination, the review board stated: Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Campaigning investigative journalist and commentator, author, filmmaker, photographer, singer-songwriter and Guantánamo expert
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