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 »

Does President Obama Still Have a Plan for Closing Guantánamo?

A collaged image of President Obama and a guard tower at Guantanamo.Recently, there was a brief flurry of media interest in Guantánamo after the New York Times published an article by Charlie Savage entitled, “Obama’s Plan for Guantánamo Is Seen Faltering.”

Savage noted how the Obama administration’s “fitful effort” to shut down the prison at Guantánamo “is collapsing again,” pointing out how, in his first six months as defense secretary, Ashton Carter “has yet to make a decision on any newly proposed deals to transfer individual detainees,” and claiming that, according to unnamed officials, this delay, “which echoes a pattern last year by his predecessor, Chuck Hagel,” is “generating mounting concern in the White House and State Department.” The most recent transfers out of Guantánamo — of six Yemenis resettled in Oman —  were in June, but they were part of deal negotiated under Hagel, which saw four other Yemenis rehoused in Oman in January.

Savage wrote that, in mid-July, President Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, “convened a cabinet-level ‘principals committee’ meeting on how to close the prison before the president leaves office in 18 months.” At that meeting, Carter “was presented with an unsigned National Security Council memo stating that he would have 30 days to make decisions on newly proposed transfers,” according to several officials familiar with the discussions. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

MPs Visit US to Discuss the Release of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo with John McCain and Dianne Feinstein

The delegation of British MPs who traveled to Washington, D.C. to call for the release of Shaker Aamer from Guantanamo at a meeting with Sen. John McCain on May 20, 2015. From L to R: Alka Pradhan of Reprieve, Andy Slaughter MP, Andrew Mitchell MP, Sen. John McCain, David Davis MP and Jeremy Corbyn MP.On Tuesday, in an open letter to President Obama and defense secretary Ashton Carter that I drafted, 13 rights groups, including Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker, as well as Amnesty international USA, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Reprieve and others, called for the release of 57 men from Guantánamo (out of the 122 men still in the prison), who are still held despite being approved for release, the majority for over five years.

One of the 57 is Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, and one of the reasons I initiated the letter was to coincide with a visit to Washington, D.C. by a delegation of British MPs, from the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, which was established last November, and, in March, secured the support of the government for the following motion — “That this House calls on the US Government to release Shaker Aamer from his imprisonment in Guantánamo Bay and to allow him to return to his family in the UK.”

The MPs who flew to the US for meetings to try to secure Shaker’s release are the Labour MPs Jeremy Corbyn (a longtime colleague of the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group’s chair, John McDonnell) and Shadow Justice Minister Andy Slaughter, and the Conservative MPs David Davis (a former Shadow Home Secretary) and Andrew Mitchell (a former Chief Whip and former International Development Secretary). Read the rest of this entry »

A Tale of Two Guantánamos: Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s World of Torture vs. the Senate’s Terrorist Fantasies

The cover of "Guantanamo Diary" by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, published in January 2015.

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.

When it comes to Guantánamo, there are, sadly, two worlds of opinion, and the 122 men still held are, for the most part, caught in the struggle between the two.

In the first world, it is recognized that Guantánamo is a legal, moral and ethical abomination, a place where the prisoners held — 779 in total — were subjected to a series of ghastly experiments involving imprisonment without charge or trial, torture, and various forms of medical and psychological experimentation.

One man who endured particularly brutal torture at Guantánamo is Mohamedou Ould Slahi, the author of Guantánamo Diary, published last month and serialized in the Guardian, which has become a New York Times bestseller, even though Slahi is still held at Guantánamo. He wrote it in the prison as a hand-written manuscript in 2005, but it took until 2012 for it to be approved for release by the US authorities — albeit with over 2,500 redactions. Read the rest of this entry »

Who Are the Five Yemenis Released from Guantánamo and Given New Homes in Oman and Estonia?

One of the four Yemeni prisoners released in January 2015 in Oman - Abd al-Rahman Abdullah Abu Shabati (aka Abd al-Rahman Muhammad), in a photo from the classified military files relating to the Guantanamo prisoners, which were released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.Last week, on January 14, the population of Guantánamo was reduced again as five more men were released, leaving 122 men still held, 54 of whom have been approved for release. The released men are all Yemenis, and four were sent to Oman, in the Gulf, and one to Estonia. The releases reinforce President Obama’s commitment to closing Guantánamo, and mark the third release of Yemenis since the president’s promise to resume releasing prisoners in May 2013, after nearly three years in which the release of prisoners had almost ground to a halt because of opposition in Congress and the president’s refusal to spend political capital overdoing that opposition, and the specific lifting of a ban on releasing Yemenis that he had imposed after a failed airline bomb plot in December 2009 that had been hatched in Yemen.

Across the US establishment, there continues to be a refusal to countenance the repatriation of Yemenis, because of fears about the ongoing security problems in the country, and so third countries have had to be found — firstly, Georgia and Slovakia, then Kazakhstan, and now Estonia and Oman. Although Oman borders Yemen, Abdulwahab Alkebsi, an expert on Yemen at the Center for International Private Enterprise in Washington, D.C., described Oman to the Miami Herald as “one of the more stable countries in the Arab World with a vast desert between it and neighboring Yemen.” Socially, he said, “Oman will be a better place to reintegrate into life than Latin America or Europe,” with, as the Miami Herald put it, “a common language, stable economy, educational and business opportunities that provide a better quality of life than impoverished Yemen.”

The first of the four men released in Oman is Khadr al-Yafi (aka Al-Khadr Abdallah al-Yafi), ISN 34, who was 31 years old when he was seized crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan with a group of other men. Al-Yafi had been a farmer in Yemen, and had served for two and a half years in the Yemeni army before traveling to Afghanistan. He said that after hearing a sermon, he “decided to return home and sell his sheep so that he could travel to Afghanistan to teach.” Read the rest of this entry »

Senate Passes Bill to Help Close Guantánamo; Now President Obama Must Act

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 rare that there is good news about Guantánamo, and even rarer that the good news involves Congress. However, on Tuesday, the Senate accepted a version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which originated in the Senate Armed Services Committee, and was put forward by the chair, Sen. Carl Levin, along with Sen. John McCain.

The Levin-McCain version of the NDAA is intended to make it much easier than it has been for the last three years for President Obama to release cleared prisoners from Guantánamo, and to seriously revisit his failed promise to close the prison once and for all, and we note, with thanks, the efforts of Senators and officials in the Obama administration to secure this victory.

This important version of the NDAA contains provisions relating to Guantánamo which allow President Obama to release prisoners to other countries without the onerous restrictions imposed by Congress for the last three years. These restrictions have led to the number of released prisoners dwindling to almost zero, even though 84 of the remaining 164 prisoners were cleared for release from the prison in January 2010 by a high-level, inter-agency task force appointed by President Obama shortly after he took office in 2009. Read the rest of this entry »

Close Guantánamo: We Still Have Three Urgent Demands for President Obama

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 Monday, President Obama fulfilled the first of three promises he made a month ago to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, by appointing an envoy at the State Department to deal with prisoner transfers.

In a speech on national security issues on May 23, in which the President spoke at length about Guantánamo, he made the following promises: “I am appointing a new, senior envoy at the State Department and Defense Department whose sole responsibility will be to achieve the transfer of detainees to third countries. I am lifting the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen, so we can review them on a case by case basis. To the greatest extent possible, we will transfer detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries.”

In fulfilling the first promise, President Obama has appointed Clifford Sloan, described by The Hill as “a veteran Washington attorney and civil servant.” He was “an associate counsel to former President Clinton and an assistant to the solicitor general in the first Bush administration,” and also “worked as associate counsel in the Office of Independent Counsel investigating the Iran-Contra affair and clerked for Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.” More recently, he was the publisher of Slate magazine, and legal counsel for the Washington Post‘s online operations. Read the rest of this entry »

Torture, Torture Everywhere

For those of us who have been arguing for years that senior officials and lawyers in the Bush administration must be held accountable for the torture program they introduced and used in their “war on terror,” last week was a very interesting week indeed, as developments took place in Strasbourg, in London and in Washington D.C., which all pointed towards the impossibility that the torturers can escape accountability forever.

That may be wishful thinking, given the concerted efforts by officials in the US and elsewhere to avoid having to answer for their crimes, and the ways in which, through legal arguments and backroom deals, they have suppressed all attempts to hold them accountable. However, despite this, it seems that maintaining absolute silence is impossible, and last week one breakthrough took place when, unanimously, a 17-judge panel of the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of Khaled El-Masri, a German used car salesman of Lebanese origin, who is one of the most notorious cases of mistaken identity in the whole of the “war on terror.” See the summary here.

Describing the ruling, the Guardian described how the court stated that “CIA agents tortured a German citizen, sodomising, shackling, and beating him, as Macedonian state police looked on,” and “also found Macedonia guilty of torturing, abusing, and secretly imprisoning [him],” also noting, “It is the first time the court has described CIA treatment meted out to terror suspects as torture.” Read the rest of this entry »

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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.
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