200 Days Left in the Countdown to Close Guantánamo: Please Send Photos Reminding President Obama on Independence Day

Close Guantanamo co-founder Andy Worthington's son Tyler holding up a poster reminding President Obama that, on July 3, 2016, he has just 200 days left to close Guantanamo, as he first promised when he took office in January 2009.I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the 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.

This Sunday, July 3, President Obama will have just 200 days left of his presidency; 200 days, in other words, to fulfill the promise he made, on his second day in office, to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay. On January 22, 2009, he actually promised to close Guantánamo within a year, but although it is now nearly seven and a half years since that promise, it remains important for President Obama’s legacy that he does all he can to fulfill his promise before he leaves office.

Send us your photos!

To mark the occasion, we are asking those who want to see Guantánamo closed to print off a poster reminding President Obama that he has just 200 days left to close Guantánamo, take a photo of yourself with it, and send it to us, to put up on the website here, and also on social media (see our Facebook and Twitter pages), and we will be making sure that we tie in publicity to the values of the US, as celebrated on Independence Day the day after.

We began the Countdown to Close Guantánamo in January, when I appeared on Democracy Now! with music legend Roger Waters, and we have been counting down every 50 days, supporting President Obama, who has stepped up his efforts to close the prison this year, promising to release the men approved for release (29 of the 79 men still held) by the end of summer, and to complete reviews for all the other men, except the ten facing trials, before the end of the year.

These reviews are the Periodic Review Boards, and since 2013 they have been reviewing the cases of all the men not already approved for release and not facing trials. 50 reviews have taken place to date, and just 14 other men are currently awaiting reviews. Of the 50 reviews to date, 36 decisions have been taken, and two-thirds of those — 24 in total— have resulted in prisoners being approved for release. This has been an indictment of the caution of the Guantánamo Review Task Force that reviewed their cases in 2009, and described them as “too dangerous to release,” or as candidates for prosecution.

Can President Obama close Guantánamo?

So with 50 men to deal with — a number that will undoubtedly be reduced as the PRBs continue their assessments — what is President Obama’s plan, with 200 days to go? In February, via the Pentagon, he delivered a plan to Congress, which we discussed here. Containing the promises to release cleared prisoners and to conclude the first round of PRBs, the plan also involved the administration stating, “We’re going to work with Congress to find a secure location in the United States to hold remaining detainees.”

Closing Guantánamo is impossible without some men being moved to the US mainland — those facing trials, and those the administration wants to continue holding under the laws of war — but Congress, which, for many years, has passed legislation preventing Guantánamo prisoners from being brought to US soil under any circumstances, remains unwilling to work with the president.

Some of President Obama’s advisors — including former White House counsel Greg Craig and Cliff Sloan, the former State Department envoy for Guantánamo closure — suggested that, if Congress refused to cooperate, he could close Guantánamo by executive order. However, just two weeks ago, Reuters reported that the Obama administration was “not pursuing the use of an executive order to shutter the Guantánamo Bay military prison after officials concluded that it would not be a viable strategy,” according to “sources familiar with the deliberations.” The sources added that President Obama “could still choose to use his commander-in-chief powers, but the option is not being actively pursued.”

A source familiar with the discussions explained that “White House lawyers and other officials studied the option of overriding the ban but did not develop a strong legal position or an effective political sales pitch in an election year,” as Reuters described it. The source said, “It was just deemed too difficult to get through all of the hurdles that they would need to get through, and the level of support they were likely to receive on it was thought to be too low to generate such controversy, particularly at a sensitive time in an election cycle.”

Reuters also explained that the administration was focusing on getting the number of prisoners down “to such a low number, perhaps 20, that the cost of keeping [the prison] open could prove unpalatable to Congress,” although Republican lawmakers “remain unswayed.” Nevertheless, the administration has a point. The prison cost$445 million to run last year — “more than $5.5 million a year for each of the 80 remaining prisoners.”

In the meantime, lawmakers are trying to make it even more difficult for Guantánamo to be closed, in the House and Senate’s versions of next year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), passed on May 18 and June 14 respectively.

As Human Rights Watch explained, “Both versions of the bill contain problematic provisions on Guantánamo, including onerous transfer restrictions, bans on transferring detainees to the US for continued detention or trial, and complete bans on detainee transfers to Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. The Senate version adds a new provision that bans the transfer of detainees to countries where the State Department has issued travel warnings. The House version requires the administration to provide Congress with information on how it plans to handle current and future detainees.”

As we noted in an article in May, the Senate version of the bill also contains a provision that allows prisoners to be temporarily moved to the US mainland for emergency medical treatment, which is commendable, and a proposal to allow some prisoners to “plead guilty to criminal charges in civilian court via video teleconference,” which would also allow them to be “transferred to other countries to serve their sentences,” as the New York Times explained.

Reuters also explained:

The Obama administration has threatened to veto both versions of the bill. It has expressed particularly strong objections to the Guantánamo provisions in the Senate version, noting that State Department travel warnings are designed to “[convey] information to individual tourists and other travelers,” and do not “reflect a country’s ability to mitigate potential risk with regard to transferred [Guantánamo] detainees.”

However, as Reuters also noted, the Obama administration “has repeatedly failed to follow through on threats to veto previous Defense Authorization bills over Guantánamo restrictions. Though Obama did veto the 2016 NDAA last year, he ultimately signed an amended bill into law with no changes to the Guantánamo provisions.”

The Justice Department opposes plea deals

And finally, adding to the pressure on President Obama, last week Reuters reported how, for the last three months, Attorney General Loretta Lynch has been opposing the proposal to allow prisoners to make guilty pleas in federal court by video conference, and “has twice intervened to block administration proposals on the issue, objecting that they would violate longstanding rules of criminal-justice procedure.”

As Reuters proceeded to explain, “In the first case, her last-minute opposition derailed a White House-initiated legislative proposal to allow video guilty pleas after nearly two months of interagency negotiations and law drafting. In the second case, Lynch blocked the administration from publicly supporting a Senate proposal to legalize video guilty pleas.” A senior Obama administration official, who “supports the proposal and asked not to be identified,” as Reuters put it, said, “It’s been a fierce inter-agency tussle.”

Administration officials told Reuters that they were particularly focused on the 30 or so men expected to still be held after the conclusion of the PRBs, and said that “allowing video feeds could reduce that number to somewhere between 10 and 20.” A senior administration official said, “This is the group that gives the president the most heartburn.”

Reuters also noted that Lynch and her deputies at the Justice Department “argued that the laws of criminal procedure do not allow defendants to plead guilty remotely by video conference,” adding, “Even if Congress were to pass the law, Lynch and her aides have told the White House that federal judges may rule that such pleas are in effect involuntary,” because the Guantánamo prisoners “would not have the option of standing trial in a US courtroom.”

Reuters also stated, “A defendant in federal court usually has the option to plead guilty or face a trial by jury,” but in the case of the Guantánamo prisoners, “the only option they would likely face is to plead guilty or remain in indefinite detention.” A person familiar with Lynch’s concerns about the proposal said, “How would a judge assure himself that the plea is truly voluntary when if the plea is not entered, the alternative is you’re still in Gitmo? That’s the wrinkle.”

Conclusion

As all of the above makes clear, closing Guantánamo remains an uphill struggle, but those of us who care about the need for it to be closed — to bring to an end this disgraceful chapter in US history — must not give up on exerting pressure to get it closed once and for all.

We look forward to seeing your photos!

If you want to do more, please feel free to call the White House on 202-456-1111 or 202-456-1414 or submit a comment online.

You can also encourage your Senators and Representatives to support President Obama’s efforts to close the prison. Find your Senators here, and your Representatives here.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album, ‘Love and War,’ is available for download or on CD via Bandcamp — also see here). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

Radio: Andy Worthington’s Hour-Long Guantánamo Interview on Wake-Up Call Podcast

The logo for Wake-Up Call Podcast, run by Adam Camac and Daniel Laguros.Please support my work!

Have an hour to spare? Want to hear me talk in detail about Guantánamo? Then please listen to me on Wake-Up Call Podcast with Adam Camac and Daniel Laguros, who “interview experts on foreign relations, economics, current events, politics, political theory, and more every weekday.”

They decided to call the show “The Horrible Guantánamo Bay Facility,” which I think is accurate, as I was able to explain in detail what a thoroughly disgraceful facility Guantánamo is at every level.

I began by explaining why the naval base at Guantánamo Bay was chosen as the location for an offshore facility that was supposed to be beyond the reach of the US courts, and how, of course, creating somewhere outside the law made it shamefully easy to begin torturing the men — and boys — who were swept up in the “war on terror” and held there.

See below for the interview on YouTube (and you can also listen to it here): Read the rest of this entry »

Obama Officials Confirm That Nearly 24 Guantánamo Prisoners Will Be Freed By the End of July

Cleared for release: a photo by Debra Sweet of the World Can't Wait.I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the 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 there was confirmation that the Obama administration is still intent on working towards the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay before President Obama leaves office, when officials told Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian that there is an “expectation” within the administration that 22 or 23 prisoners will be released by the end of July “to about half a dozen countries.”

80 men are currently held, so the release of these men will reduce the prison’s population to 57 or 58 prisoners, the lowest it has been since the first few weeks of its existence back in 2002.

As the Guardian explained, however, the officials who informed them about the planned releases spoke on condition of anonymity, because “not all of the foreign destination countries are ready to be identified.” In addition, “some of the transfer approvals have yet to receive certification by Ashton Carter, the defense secretary, as required by law, ahead of a notification to Congress.” Read the rest of this entry »

Please Send Us Your Photos for May 14, Marking 250 Days Left in the Countdown to Close Guantánamo

Former Guantanamo prisoner Moazzam Begg, in Portcullis House, in London (across the road from the Houses of Parliament), holding a poster reminding President Obama that, on May 14, he has just 250 days left to close Guantanamo as he promised when he took office in January 2009 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Print off a poster here, take a photo with it, like former Guantánamo prisoner Moazzam Begg, and send it to us!

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the 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.

Next Saturday, May 14, is the next milestone in the Countdown to Close Guantánamo that we launched in January, to count down the last year of the Obama presidency, and to remind President Obama of his promise to close the prison before he leaves office, which he first made on his second day in office in January 2009.

Launched on January 20 with exactly one year to go — by Close Guantánamo co-founder Andy Worthington and music legend Roger Waters on Democracy Now! — the countdown has continued with posters every 50 days. 350 days was on February 4, and 300 days was on March 25, and we’re now asking you for your photos for next Saturday, May 14, marking 250 days to go.

Over 300 supporters from across the US and around the world — including some celebrities — have so far sent in photos, which can be seen here and here, and we are delighted to invite you to join them. Shown above is former Guantánamo prisoner Moazzam Begg, who I photographed at a Parliamentary briefing last month about the case of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, Guantánamo prisoner and best-selling author, whose memoir, Guantánamo Diary, written in the prison, was published last year to widespread acclaim. See here for the campaign to free Slahi. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: On RT, Andy Worthington Discusses the Relaunched Gitmo Clock, the Countdown to Close Guantanamo and Whether Obama Will Close the Prison

A screenshot of Andy Worthington discussing the Gitmo Clock and Obama's chances of closing Guantanamo before he leaves office on RT on April 25, 2016.Watch me on RT here. Visit, like, share and retweet the Gitmo Clock here.

Today, I was delighted to appear on RT to discuss the Gitmo Clock that I relaunched yesterday to count down the days, hours, minutes and seconds left for President Obama to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay. The first version of the clock was launched in the summer of 2013 to count the number of days since President Obama’s May 2013 promise to resume releasing prisoners from  Guantánamo, and how many men had been released.

This new version of the Gitmo Clock is part of the Countdown to Close Guantánamo that I launched in January, as the co-director of the Close Guantánamo campaign. Below is a cross-post of the article I published on Close Guantánamo yesterday for the relaunch of the clock, preceded by a transcript of excerpts from the RT interview.

RT: Obama is surely aware that time is running out. Do you think your reminder will be what kicks him into action? Is the closure of Gitmo going to finally happen before he leaves office? Read the rest of this entry »

Emad Hassan’s Story: How Knowing a Town Called Al-Qa’idah Got Him 13 Years in Guantánamo

Emad Hassan, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Last week, I published an article about the latest releases from Guantánamo — two Libyans, one of whom was Omar Mohammed Khalifh, a Libyan amputee seized in Pakistan in a house raid in 2002.

Khalifh had been approved for release last September by a Periodic Review Board — a process set up two and a half years ago to review the cases of all the men still held at Guantánamo who were not either facing trials (just ten men) or had not already been approved for release in 2010 by another review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force.

Until the PRB’s decision was announced, I thought Khalifh had been seized in a house raid in Karachi, Pakistan in February 2002, but the documentation for the PRB revealed that he had been seized in a house raid in Faisalabad on March 28, 2002, the day that Abu Zubaydah, a training camp facilitator mistakenly regarded as a senior member of Al-Qaeda, was seized in another house raid. I had thought that 15 men had been seized in the raid that, it now transpires, also included Khalifh, but I had always maintained that they had been seized by mistake, as a judge had also suggested in 2009,  and in fact 13 of them have now been released (and one other died in 2006), leaving, I believe, just two of the 16 still held. Read the rest of this entry »

In the Countdown to Close Guantánamo, Photos Remind President Obama He Has Just 300 Days Left

Steve Lane, from Bethesda, Maryland, supports the Countdown to Close Guantanamo.

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the 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.

As an additional point of interest, this is my 2600th post since I began writing articles about Guantánamo on a full-time basis in May 2007. If you wish to make a donation to support my work, most of which is reader-funded, then please feel free to do so — I am still hoping to raise $1100 of my $3500 target for the next three months. Click on the ‘Donate’ button below to make a donation via PayPal.

Yesterday, March 25, marked 300 days until the end of Barack Obama’s Presidency, and, to mark the occasion, celebrities and concerned citizens across the US and around the world have been taking photos of themselves with posters, as part of the Countdown to Close Guantánamo campaign, reminding President Obama that he has just 300 days left to close the prison, as he promised to do on his second day in office back in January 2009. The poster is here, and you can send it to us here.

The actors David Morrissey and Juliet Stevenson, and the lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, the founder of Reprieve, which represents men still held at Guantánamo, are supporting the campaign, along with around 80 other people from the US and elsewhere, who, to date, have sent in photos of themselves with posters reminding the president that he has just 300 days left, to add to the 180 photos sent in when the campaign was launched in January, and marking 350 days last month. All the photos are available on the website here and here, and some are also on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

The Countdown to Close Guantánamo is an initiative of the Close Guantánamo campaign, which I founded in January 2012 (as a journalist, activist and Guantánamo expert) with the attorney Tom Wilner, who represented the Guantánamo prisoners in their habeas corpus cases before the Supreme Court in 2004 and 2008. I launched the Countdown to Close Guantánamo in January this year with music legend Roger Waters (ex-Pink Floyd) on Democracy Now! Read the rest of this entry »

Please Ask Your MPs to Support Caroline Lucas’s Early Day Motion Calling for the Closure of Guantánamo

Caroline Lucas MP (Green, Brighton Pavilion) supporting the We Stand With Shaker campaign in February 2015, with a poster for Valentine's Day declaring, "There is no love in Guantanamo." In March 2016, Caroline launched a new Early Day Motion calling for the closure of Guantanamo.

Contact your MP here.

Last week, Britain’s Green MP, Caroline Lucas, with the support of five other MPs, tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM 1260), entitled, ‘The Closure of Guantánamo Bay,’ which states, “That this House welcomes President Obama’s latest plan to fulfil his pledge to close Guantánamo Bay by the end of his Presidency; notes that this is President Obama’s last year in office and that his first executive order in January 2009 was to close Guantánamo; further notes that a recent US Senate report recognised the systematic use of torture in Guantánamo; believes that Guantánamo is now synonymous with torture, rendition and indefinite detention, rendering it a symbol of human rights abuses; further welcomes the release and return to the UK of British resident Shaker Aamer from nearly 14 years imprisonment in Guantánamo without charge or trial, but notes that 91 prisoners remain in Guantánamo; notes that many of these have been cleared for release without charge or trial so should be released without delay; further believes that the remaining detainees should have their full human rights restored and should either be released to countries that will respect their human rights or be given a fair trial; and urges the Government to support President Obama’s effort to close Guantánamo Bay but oppose any moves simply to relocate detainees from Guantánamo to another detention facility in the US.”

This is a comprehensive synopsis of the situation at Guantánamo with just 300 days left of the Obama Presidency, as currently highlighted by the Countdown to Close Guantánamo that I launched in January with music legend Roger Waters — mentioning the 91 men still held, even though 36 of them have been approved for release, the Senate Torture Report, and of course the release of Shaker Aamer.

Caroline has persistently opposed the existence of Guantánamo, tabling Early Day Motions calling for the prison’s closure in 2010 and 2011 (EDM 1093 and EDM 2558), and she was also one of the founding members of the All-Party Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group set up by John McDonnell MP (Labour, Hayes and Harlington) in November 2014, which played a major role in securing the release of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo last October. Read the rest of this entry »

Yemeni Is 27th Guantánamo Prisoner to Face Periodic Review Board; 4th Man Has Detention Upheld, 36 Others Await Reviews

Guantanamo prisoner Zohair al-Shorabi (aka Suhayl al-Sharabi) in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011. Al-Shorabi's Periodic Review Board was on March 1, 2016.

Please support my work!

In the long-running saga of ascertaining who is held at Guantánamo, and what should happen to them, the Bush administration’s refusal to recognize domestically and internationally accepted norms governing the treatment of prisoners continues to cast a long and baleful shadow over proceedings.

In the summer of 2004, in a rebuke to the Supreme Court, which granted the prisoners habeas corpus rights in a ruling in June of that year (in Rasul v. Bush), the Bush administration instigated Combatant Status Review Tribunals, intended, for the most part, to rubber-stamp the prisoners’ prior designation as “unlawful enemy combatants,” who could be held without any rights whatsoever. These were followed by Administrative Review Boards, with much the same function.

When he took office in 2009, President Obama set up a high-level, inter-agency review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, as a result of which 48 men were recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial.

In March 2011, President Obama issued an executive order authorizing these men’s ongoing imprisonment, but promising them further reviews to be completed within a year. Shamefully, these did not begin until November 2013, but since then the reviews — the Periodic Review Boards — have been reviewing these men’s cases, and have also begun to review the cases of 25 other men initially recommended for prosecution by the task force, until the basis for prosecution spectacularly collapsed under scrutiny in the appeals court in Washington, D.C. Read the rest of this entry »

The Countdown to Close Guantánamo: For Mar. 25, Send Us Your Photos and Tell Obama He Has Just 300 Days Left to Close the Prison

Andy Worthington promotes the latest phase of the Countdown to Close Guantanamo, pointing out to President Obama that he has just 300 days left to close Guantanamo, as he promised on his second day in office in January 2009.I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the 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 January, to mark the last year of the Obama presidency, music legend Roger Waters and I launched the Countdown to Close Guantánamo on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman. The initiative was designed to allow people to have their say in keeping up the pressure on President Obama to fulfill the promise to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay that he made on his second day in office in January 2009.

The Countdown to Close Guantánamo involves supporters of our campaign and of the need for the prison’s closure taking photos of themselves with posters counting down to the end of Barack Obama’s presidency. The first poster — marking 1 year to go — was for January 20, the second — 350 days — was for February 4, and we are now calling for supporters to print off the poster marking 300 days, and to send it to us by March 25.

If you’d like to include a personalized message, please do, and if you want you can also let us know where you are, to demonstrate the breadth of support for the closure of Guantánamo across the US, and around the world. 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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