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 »

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 »

Obama to Release Ten Guantánamo Prisoners Including Shaker Aamer, Says Washington Post

Shaker Aamer's sons outside the Houses of Parliament on March 17, 2015, before a Parliamentary debate about his father's case (Photo: Andy Worthington).The media is suddenly buzzing with the suggestion, first aired in the Washington Post, 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.

Realistically, however, it might be wisest to view these suggestions as the administration stating its best-case scenario.

It is certainly true that the release of prisoners is likely to resume soon, with willingness on the part of the administration, and with the new defense secretary, Ashton Carter, imminently to be presented with a number of cases to sign off on. According to US law, implemented in the last few years, Congress must be notified of intended releases 30 days before they happen, but this is not a process that involves significant roadblocks. Read the rest of this entry »

As Gitmo Clock Marks 700 Days Since Obama’s Promise to Resume Releasing Prisoners, 57th Man Is Approved For Release

The logo for the "Gitmo Clock" website, designed by Justin Norman.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.

Remember back in May 2013, when a prison-wide hunger strike was raging at Guantánamo? Promoted into action by international criticism, President Obama delivered a major speech on national security issues in which he promised to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, after a period of over two and a half years in which just five men had been freed.

That deadlock had arisen because Congress had imposed onerous restrictions on the release of prisoners, and the president was unwilling to spend political capital overcoming those obstacles, even though he had the power to do so.

After President Obama’s promise in May 2013, we at “Close Guantánamo” established the Gitmo Clock to mark how many days it is since the promise, and how many men have been freed. Read the rest of this entry »

We Stand With Shaker Aamer: 70th Celebrity Photo Published, As Campaign to Free Him from Guantánamo Continues

Andy Worthington and Joanne MacInnes of We Stand With Shaker with music legend Roger Waters (ex-Pink Floyd) at the launch of the campaign outside the Houses of Parliament on November 24, 2014 (Photo: Stefano Massimo).Today, the We Stand With Shaker campaign, launched last November by the campaigning freelance journalist Andy Worthington and the activist Joanne MacInnes to call for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, published the 70th photo of a high-profile supporter standing with the giant inflatable figure of Shaker that is at the heart of the campaign.

The 70th photo was of the journalist Yvonne Ridley, who joins a roll-call of MPs — from across the political spectrum — as well as actors, comedians, writers, directors, musicians, and activists who have stood with Shaker outside Parliament, and at a variety of locations across London, since the campaign began.

The inflatable figure has proven to be one of those campaigning tools that captures people’s imagination, and our launch — attended by Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, Clive Stafford Smith of Reprieve, comedian Jeremy Hardy, activist Peter Tatchell and the MPs John McDonnell (Labour, Hayes and Harlington) and Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion) — was swiftly followed by high-level support from the Daily Mail, which ran a front-page story condemning Shaker’s ongoing imprisonment, almost eight years after he was first approved for release by the US authorities, and then followed up with support for the campaign and for our open letter to David Cameron, which MPs and our celebrity supporters signed in significant numbers. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Andy Worthington Speaks at “Guantánamo At 13: How Obama Can Close the Illegal Prison” in Northampton, Massachusetts

Andy Worthington speaks at a meeting in Northampton. Massachusetts on January 14, 2015 (Photo: Debra Sweet for Andy Worthington).Since my return from my US tour nearly three weeks ago — after nearly two weeks traveling around the East Coast talking about Guantánamo and campaigning for the prison’s closure on and around the 13th anniversary of its opening — I’ve been steadily making available videos of the various events I took part in (in New York, outside the White House, at New America in Washington D.C., and at Western New England School of Law), links to the various radio interviews I undertook (see here and here), and photos of some of the events I was involved in — in particular, the invasion of Dick Cheney’s house and a protest outside CIA headquarters on January 10, and the annual protest outside the White House on January 11.

Unless video surfaces of my last event, in Chicago, on January 15, the video below — at the Friends Meeting House in Northampton, Massachusetts on January 14 — will be the last video I can provide from this particular tour. It was filmed by Ari Hayes, and made available through the AmherstMedia.org website, and it was a great event — with friends old and new; including many Witness Against Torture activists, who I’d been with in Washington D.C., the lawyer and radio host Bill Newman, and the lawyer Buz Eisenberg, who had been presented with a human rights award before my talk and yet insisted on lavishing such praise on me that I thought “This Is Your Life” had been revived and I was the star of the show.

Nancy Talanian of No More Guantánamos, who I stayed with while I was in western Massachusetts, introduce the event, and then Debra Sweet, the national director of the World Can’t Wait, who organized my tour (as she has been doing every January since 2011) introduced me. My talk starts at eight minutes in and for the first ten minutes I spoke about how I had started researching and writing about Guantánamo, and had come to write my book The Guantánamo Files. Read the rest of this entry »

Please Write to the Prisoners in Guantánamo, Let Them Know They Have Not Been Forgotten

Photos of prisoners in Guantanamo, taken from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.Every six months, I ask people to write to the prisoners in Guantánamo, to let them — and the US authorities — know that they have not been forgotten.

The letter-writing campaign was started four and a half years ago by two Facebook friends, Shahrina J. Ahmed and Mahfuja Bint Ammu, and it has been repeated every six months (see here, here, here, here, here, here and here). This latest campaign is a month late, for which I apologize, but I forgot over the Christmas and New Year period because I had been so busy with the We Stand With Shaker campaign, calling for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison.

Since last July, when I last encouraged opponents of Guantánamo to write to the prisoners, there has been significant progress, with 27 men released. 149 men were held at the time, and that number has now been reduced to 122. 25 of those freed in the last seven months were cleared for release in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force established by President Obama when he took office in 2009, and 50 of those still held were also cleared for release by the task force. Four others were cleared for release in recent months by a new review process, the Periodic Review Boards, which started in 2013, and which led to the release of the other two men freed since the last letter-writing appeal. Read the rest of this entry »

Gitmo Clock Marks 600 Days Since President Obama’s Promise to Resume Releasing Prisoners from Guantánamo; 59 Cleared Prisoners Remain

Campaigners calling for the closure of Guantanamo outside the White House on January 11, 2015, the 13th 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.

Remember President Obama’s promise to close Guantánamo within a year, which he made on his second day in office in January 2009?

So do we, and on Sunday, at the rally outside the White House, on the 13th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, we remembered that promise again, almost six years since it was made.

For many years now, these anniversaries have been cheerless occasions, as Congress sought to prevent the release of prisoners through the imposition of cynical and onerous legislation, and the president largely complied. Read the rest of this entry »

As Guantánamo’s 14th Year of Operations Begins, This Must Be the Year It Closes

Campaigners outside CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia on January 10, 2015 (Photo: Andy Worthington).As the prison at Guantánamo Bay begins its 14th year of operations, I am in the US for a short tour calling for the prison’s closure — and, specifically, in Washington D.C. for a protest outside the White House on the actual anniversary of the prison’s opening — January 11.

With 28 men freed in the last year, and just 127 men still held, there are reasons for cautious optimism that the end is now in sight for the prison, a reviled symbol of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 overreach and disdain for the law, and of President Obama’s difficulty in placing principles above political expediency.

Two good reviews of where we stand on Guantánamo’s 13th anniversary were published last week in the New York Times. In the first, “The Path to Closing Guantánamo,” Cliff Sloan, who has just resigned as the State Department’s envoy for closing Guantánamo (a role he has held since 2013), praised the progress made in the last 18 months — with 39 prisoners released, compared to four in the previous two years, when Congressional obstruction was at its most potent, and President Obama’s political will at its weakest. Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer’s First Phone Call from Guantánamo to His Lawyers Since Publication of the Senate Torture Report

Andy Worthington and Joanne MacInnes of We Stand With Shaker with music legend Roger Waters (ex-Pink Floyd) at the launch of the campaign outside the Houses of Parliament on November 24, 2014 (Photo: Stefano Massimo).NOTE: Andy is currently in the US on a short tour to coincide with the anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo on January 11. See here for further details. You can contact Andy on 347-272-3576.

In the Mail on Sunday on January 4, long-time Guantánamo reporter David Rose, who worked for the Observer for many years, wrote an article about Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, after he was given access to the notes of Shaker’s first phone conversation with one of his lawyers — Clive Stafford Smith, the founder and director of the legal action charity Reprieve — following the publication, last month, of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s damning 6,700-page report about the CIA’s torture program.

The Mail has recently dedicated itself to Shaker’s case, inspired in part by We Stand With Shaker, the campaign that I established in November with activist Joanne MacInnes, which features numerous celebrities standing with a giant inflatable figure of Shaker — demonstrating how he is the elephant in the room of US-UK relations. Twice approved for release (in 2007 and 2009), his return has also been requested by the British government since 2007, and as a result his ongoing imprisonment is a shame and a disgrace for both countries.

On January 6, after Paul Lewis, the Pentagon’s special envoy for the closure of the Guantánamo prison, told the New York Times that “the Defense Department continues to aggressively pursue the transfer” of those prisoners “who have been declared eligible” for release — currently 59 of the remaining 127 prisoners — Reprieve urged Prime Minister David Cameron, who is “reportedly traveling to the US in January to meet President Obama,” to “raise his case and return from the visit with a clear date for Mr. Aamer’s release.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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