President Obama on Closing Guantánamo

Code Pink activists use a photo of President Obama, and his own words, to make a powerful point about the need to close Guantanamo outside the White House on May 10, 2013 (Photo: Pat Benic/UPI).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.

A week before Christmas, at a press conference, President Obama spoke about Guantánamo, and we wanted to make sure that our supporters know exactly what he said, as it is significant for the coming year — Obama’s last in office — to know what he has planned, and what he thinks of the opposition to his plans in Congress, where Republicans have been imposing restrictions on his ability to release prisoners and to close the prison for most of his presidency, including a ban on bringing prisoners to the US mainland for any reason.

Below are President Obama’s comments, interspersed with our commentary. We hope you find it useful. The president’s comments came in response to a question by the journalist David Jackson.

David Jackson: Thank you, Mr. President. A Gitmo question. Congress has made it pretty clear that they’re just not going to let you transfer prisoners to the United States for trial. But some people think you already have the executive authority to transfer those prisoners and close Gitmo itself next year. My question is, do you believe you have that authority and are you willing to exercise it to close that place? Read the rest of this entry »

Zahir Hamdoun, the 21st Guantánamo Prisoner Seeking Release Via A Periodic Review Board

Zahir Hamdoun, in a recent photo made available by his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights.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.

Last Tuesday, the 21st prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo — Zahir Hamdoun, a 36-year old Yemeni — asked the board, made up 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, to approve his release from the prison. The board members communicate with Guantánamo by video feed, and hear directly from the prisoners and their representatives, although very little of what takes place is open to the media, and, by extension, the public.

The PRBs, which began in November 2013, were established to review the cases of 46 men deemed “too dangerous to release” in 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009, plus 25 others originally recommended for prosecution — until the basis for prosecution largely collapsed under judicial scrutiny.

The description of 46 men as “too dangerous to release” sounds dramatic, but in fact the task force conceded that insufficient evidence existed to put these men on trial, so instead of “too dangerous to release” a better description would have been “subjected to unreliable information, in many cases obtained through torture, or other forms of abuse, or bribery, or regarded as a threat because of their attitude while unjustly imprisoned for years without charge or trial.” Read the rest of this entry »

For Review at Guantánamo, DoD Acknowledges That 20th “Forever Prisoner” Is Case of Mistaken Identity, As He Seeks Release

Mustafa-al-Shamiri, in a photo included in the classified military files from Guantanamo that were released by WikiLeaks in 2011.The Periodic Review Boards at Guantánamo began two years ago, to review the cases of all the prisoners not already approved for release (48 of the 107 men still held) or put forward for trials (just ten men), and last week I put together the first full annotated list, to assist anyone interested in the reviews to work out who has already has had their cases looked at and who is still awaiting a review.

The PRBs were set up in response to the conclusions reached by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, which President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009. The task force suggested that 46 men were “too dangerous to release,” even though they acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, and President Obama promised periodic reviews of their cases when he approved their ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial in an executive order in March 2011. 25 others — initially recommended for prosecution, were later added to the list, after the basis for trial largely collapsed following a handful of devastating appeals court rulings. The mainstream media have helpfully labelled these men “forever prisoners,” but in reality assessing men as “too dangerous to release” is irresponsible, and not justified by a close examination of the facts.

Shamefully, although President Obama declared, in his March 2011 executive order, that, “For each detainee, an initial review shall commence as soon as possible but no later than 1 year from the date of this order,” we are now nearing the five-year mark, and yet just 20 prisoners have had their cases reviewed, and another 44 are waiting. Of those 20, 18 cases have been decided, and 15 men have been recommended for release, which is a success rate of 83%. This quite solidly demonstrates that the “too dangerous to release” tag was the hyperbolic result of an over-cautious approach to what purported to be the evidence against the men held at Guantánamo by the Guantánamo Review Task Force. Read the rest of this entry »

Presenting the First Annotated List of the 64 Guantánamo Prisoners Eligible for Periodic Review Boards

Photos of some of the Guantanamo prisoners, made available when classified military files were released by WikiLeaks in 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.

Check out the list here.

On Monday, we published the first annotated list of the 64 Guantánamo prisoners eligible for Periodic Review Boards, which we hope will be useful to anyone who wants detailed information about who is still held at Guantánamo (also feel free to check out our full prisoner list here, listing all 107 men still held).

71 men were initially listed as eligible for Periodic Review Boards — 46 who were designated for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009 (which issued its final report in January 2010), and 25 others who were recommended for prosecution by the task force, until the basis for prosecuting them — generally, charges of providing material support for terrorism — were struck down by the appeals court in Washington D.C. in two particular rulings in October 2012 and January 2013.

Of the 71, five were freed, and two others were reabsorbed into the ailing military commission system, leaving 64 men eligible for PRBs. 20 have had reviews since the PRBs began two years ago, with 15 approved for release (of whom four have been freed) and two others awaiting decisions, but 44 others are still awaiting reviews, and at the current rate it will take over four years — until sometime in 2020 — until they are all completed. Read the rest of this entry »

Playing Politics with the Closure of Guantánamo

A campaigner reminds President Obama of his promise to close Guantanamo on January 11, 2013, the 11th anniversary of the opening of the prison (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.

Supporters of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign have long been aware that the very existence of the “war on terror” prison at the US naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba is an affront to all notions that the United States respects justice and the rule of law, and we remember that as the closure of the prison becomes, yet again, an undignified game of political football, with Congress continuing to erect obstacles to the release of prisoners and the transfer of anyone to the US mainland for any reason, and the Obama administration trying to come up with a workable plan for the prison’s closure.

Although Congress, the week after the 9/11 attacks, passed a law — the Authorization for Use of Military Force — that purports to justify the detention of prisoners without charge or trial at Guantánamo, and the Supreme Court ruled in June 2004 that the government can hold them until the end of hostilities, this thin legal veneer has persistently failed to disguise the fact that everything about Guantánamo is wrong.

The Bush administration established the prison to be beyond the reach of the US courts, and for nearly two and a half years the men — and boys — held there had no rights whatsoever. In a second decision delivered in June 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that they had habeas corpus rights, a decision that allowed lawyers into the prison, breaking the veil of secrecy that had shrouded the prison for all that time, enabling torture and other forms of abuse to take place. Even so, it was not until June 2006 that the Supreme Court, in another ruling, reminded the administration that no one can be held without rights, and that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits torture and “humiliating and degrading treatment,” applied to everyone in US custody. Read the rest of this entry »

Five Yemenis Freed from Guantánamo, Given New Homes in the United Arab Emirates

Three of the five prisoners released from Guantanamo and given new homes in the United Arab Emirates on November 13, 2015. From L to R: Ali al-Razihi, Khalid al-Qadasi and Sulaiman al-Nahdi.There’s good news from Guantánamo, as five Yemenis, approved for release from the prison in 2005, 2007 and 2014, have finally been freed, and given new homes in the United Arab Emirates.

As the New York Times reported, the resettlement “was the first of its kind to the United Arab Emirates, which had previously taken in just one former Guantánamo detainee, in 2008 — its own citizen,” Abdullah al-Hamiri, whose story I discussed here.

The Times also explained that, “In May, President Obama met at Camp David with leaders or representatives of the six Middle Eastern countries that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council, including a representative from the United Arab Emirates. The main topic of discussion was the nuclear agreement with Iran, but officials familiar with the deliberations said Mr. Obama had also pressed them to consider resettling groups of detainees. The deal announced on Sunday appears to be the first fruits of those talks.” Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses Shaker Aamer’s Release and the Future of Guantánamo with Scott Horton and Peter B. Collins

Andy Worthington on the radio: in this instance, speaking to Bill Newman, a civil rights and criminal defense attorney and the director of the Western Massachusetts office of the ACLU, who hosts a weekday radio talk show on WHMP in Northampton, Massachusetts. Photo taken on January 14, 2015, during Andy's US tour.In the wake of the wonderful news that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, has finally been released from the prison, and returned, a free man, to his family in the UK, a couple of old friends from the US — Scott Horton and Peter B. Collins — interviewed me for their radio shows.

Scott and I have been talking — generally several times a year —  since 2007, primarily about Guantánamo, but also about torture, Bagram prison in Afghanistan, and other aspects of the “war on terror” that George W. Bush launched after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and that President Obama has failed to fully repudiate.

Our 20-minute interview is here, as an MP3. Scott’s own website has been having problems for the last week — it was down for many days, and now it’s back up, but the last few years’ interviews are still missing. Read the rest of this entry »

Finally, President Obama Vetoes Defense Bill That Contains Onerous Guantánamo Restrictions

President Obama and Guantanamo: a photo collage from Slate, in June 2014.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.

Last week, for only the fifth time in his Presidency, Barack Obama vetoed a bill sent for his approval by Congress. The bill in question was the draft of next year’s National Defense Authorization Act, which provides funding for the military, but which, for several years now, has also been used by Republicans to impose restrictions on the president’s ability to release prisoners from Guantánamo — as well as an absolute ban on bringing any prisoner to the US mainland for any reason.

In a Veto Message on October 22, President Obama wrote, “I am returning herewith without my approval H.R. 1735, the ‘National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016.'” He added that “the bill would, among other things, constrain the ability of the Department of Defense to conduct multi-year defense planning and align military capabilities and force structure with our national defense strategy, impede the closure of the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, and prevent the implementation of essential defense reforms.”

On Guantánamo, President Obama wrote, in further detail: Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Speaks to Anastasia Kyriacou About Guantánamo, We Stand With Shaker and Fast For Shaker

Andy Worthington with Anastasia Kyriacou after an interview on October 18, 2015.On Sunday, I was delighted to be interviewed by journalist and activist Anastasia Kyriacou for her show on Shoreditch Radio, ‘Anastasia Says.’ The show is here, and it lasts for 45 minutes.

Over the course of the show, I was allowed to explain how I became involved in the story of Guantánamo, why it is such a moral, legal and ethical abomination, and why, far too often, the liberal media, by insisting on “objectivity,” plays into the hands of the dark forces running our world — because the right-wing media does no such thing (see Fox News, the Sun and much of the Daily Mail‘s output, for example), and because the injustices of the world demand our involvement not our detached commentary.

Anastasia and I also spoke about my campaigning — from Close Guantánamo, which I established with the US lawyer Tom Wilner in 2012, to We Stand With Shaker, which I established last November with Joanne MacInnes to highlight the case of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, by asking celebrities and MPs to stand with a giant inflatable figure of Shaker, and Fast For Shaker, launched just two weeks ago, in which Joanne and I have been asking celebrities, MPs and concerned citizens around the world to fast for 24 hours in solidarity with Shaker, who is due to be released this weekend. Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington’s Band The Four Fathers Release ‘Love and War’ Album for Download, With Songs About Guantánamo, Torture, Austerity and Love

The Four Fathers at Guantanamo, a collage by Bren Horstead of the band fronted by human rights journalist and campaigner Andy Worthington, who wrote the campaign song for the We Stand With Shaker campaign he launched with Joanne MacInnes in November 2014.

Buy ‘Love and War’ here, as a download or CD — or buy individual tracks to download.

It’s been an action-packed week. Last Monday, I promoted the release as a download of Song for Shaker Aamer, by my band The Four Fathers, which I wrote about the last British resident still held in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. We recorded it last November, and it was used in the campaign video for We Stand With Shaker, a campaign I launched with my activist friend Joanne MacInnes, featuring MPs and celebrities standing with a giant inflatable figure of Shaker. The song is available — on Bandcamp — for just 80p ($1.25), although you can pay more if you wish. We are donating 25% of the takings from the song to Shaker’s family.

After sending out a press release about the download, I was almost immediately asked to appear on RT to promote it — and the Morning Star also featured it. And then, on Friday, came the welcome and long-awaited news that Shaker is to be released! Thanks to everyone who has worked to get him out of Guantánamo and back to his family in London. We anticipate that he will be home within a month, allowing for the statutory 30-day period that the US Congress has insisted on having before any prisoner is released.

‘Song for Shaker’ is just one of eight original songs on ‘Love and War.’ I wrote five other songs, Richard Clare wrote one, and one is an old folk song that I gave a punky roots reggae makeover in the late 1980s while living in Brixton. The Four Fathers are: myself on lead vocals and guitar, Richard on guitar and backing vocals, Bren Horstead on drums and percussion, Andrew Fifield on flute and harmonica, and — not a father — Richard’s son Louis Sills-Clare on bass. Read the rest of this entry »

Back to home page

Andy Worthington

Writer, campaigner, investigative journalist and commentator. 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.
Email Andy Worthington

CD: Love and War

Love and War by The Four Fathers

The Guantánamo Files book cover

The Guantánamo Files

The Battle of the Beanfield book cover

The Battle of the Beanfield

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion book cover

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

Outside The Law DVD cover

Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo

RSS

Posts & Comments

World Wide Web Consortium

XHTML & CSS

WordPress

Powered by WordPress

Designed by Josh King-Farlow

Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist:

Archives

In Touch

Follow me on Facebook

Become a fan on Facebook

Subscribe to me on YouTubeSubscribe to me on YouTube

Andy's Flickr photos

Campaigns

Categories

Tag Cloud

Afghans Al-Qaeda Andy Worthington British prisoners CIA torture prisons Clive Stafford Smith Close Guantanamo David Cameron Force-feeding Guantanamo Hunger strikes London Military Commission NHS NHS privatisation Periodic Review Boards Photos President Obama Reprieve Shaker Aamer Taliban Torture UK austerity UK protest US Congress US courts Video We Stand With Shaker WikiLeaks Yemenis