Is President Obama Planning an Executive Order for the Closure of Guantánamo?

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 Thursday, out of the blue, Carol E. Lee and Jess Bravin of the Wall Street Journal reported that senior Obama administration officials had told them that the White House was drafting options that would allow President Obama to close the “war on terror” prison established by President Bush at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, through the use of an executive order.

Such an order would bypass lawmakers in Congress, who have imposed a ban on bringing prisoners to the US mainland since 2010, in response to President Obama’s proposal to transfer prisoners from Guantánamo to a maximum-security prison in Thomson, Illinois. Lawmakers have also passed legislation designed to make it difficult to release prisoners to other countries.

Reading on, it became apparent that this was only an option being considered. As the article explained, the officials said that President Obama “strongly prefers a legislative solution over going around Congress.” However, because, as one official said, the president is “unwavering in his commitment” to closing the prison, which he promised to close on his second day in office, he “wants to have all potential options available on an issue he sees as part of his legacy.” Read the rest of this entry »

Gitmo Clock: 500 Days Since Obama’s Promise to Resume Releasing Prisoners; 79 Cleared Men Still Held

Please visit, like, share and tweet the Gitmo Clock, marking 500 days since President Obama’s promise to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo.

On May 23, 2013, President Obama promised, in a major speech on national security issues, to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, after a period of nearly three years in which just five prisoners were released.

The slow-down in prisoner releases came about because of Congressional obstruction to the release of prisoners for largely cynical reasons (in passages in the annual National Defense Authorization Act), and because President Obama was unwilling to spend political capital overcoming those obstructions, even though a waiver in the legislation allowed him to do so.

The slow-down was unacceptable because over half of the remaining prisoners had been approved for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009 — and yet they were held, year after year, making a mockery of America’s claims that it believes in justice. Read the rest of this entry »

On Guantánamo, No News is Bad News

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 Guantánamo, the news has largely dried up in recent weeks, which is not reassuring for the 79 men — out of the 149 men still held — who have had their release approved but are still held. 75 of these men were recommended for release in 2009 by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, and four others were recommended for release this year by Periodic Review Boards, established to review the cases of the majority of the men who were not cleared for release by the task force.

Since last May, when President Obama promised to resume releasing prisoners — after a period of nearly three years when only five men were released — 17 men have been released, which is obviously progress of sorts. The drought of releases from 2010 to 2013 was because of obstacles raised by Congress and the president’s refusal to use a waiver in the legislation to bypass Congress, but although it is reassuring that 17 men have been freed, the last of those releases was at the end of May, and campaigners for the closure of Guantánamo can be forgiven for wondering when the next prisoner will be released, especially as that last prisoner release — six Taliban leaders in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the sole US prisoner of war in Afghanistan — attracted such cynical and hysterical opposition.

According to reports in May, six of the cleared prisoners, from Syria, Palestine and Tunisia — all men who cannot be safely repatriated — were offered new homes in Uruguay after President Mujica responded positively to a request for assistance from the US. Read the rest of this entry »

Calling for the Closure of Guantánamo on the 13th Anniversary of the 9/11 Attacks

I wrote the following article, under the heading, “On the 13th Anniversary of 9/11, It’s Time for Guantánamo to Close,” 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 13 years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but while it remains important to remember all those who died on that dreadful day, it is also important to acknowledge the terrible mistakes made by the Bush administration in response to the attacks.

First came the invasion of Afghanistan, to overthrow the Taliban and defeat Al-Qaeda, in which, as Anand Gopal, the author of No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes, told me, the US vastly overstayed its welcome, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Then there was the illegal invasion of Iraq, and the blowback from that conflict that is evident in the rise of ISIS/ISIL in Iraq and Syria, as well as the hundreds of thousands of civilians killed in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In addition, the US also embarked, after 9/11, on a program of extraordinary rendition and torture, in defiance of domestic and international laws, as documented in the still-unreleased Senate Intelligence Committee report, and established, at Guantánamo, a prison where those held have been held neither as criminal suspects, nor as prisoners of war protected by the Geneva Conventions, but as “enemy combatants,” indefinitely imprisoned without charge or trial. For the first two and a half years of their imprisonment, they had no rights at all, and even though they eventually secured habeas corpus rights, the legal avenue to their release has been cynically cut off by appeals court judges. Read the rest of this entry »

Pentagon Defends Bowe Bergdahl/Guantánamo Prisoner Swap as Government Accountability Office Delivers Critical Opinion

In a move that has no legal weight, but which will embolden supporters of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, the Government Accountability Office, the non-partisan investigative arm of Congress, which is “charged with examining matters relating to the receipt and payment of public funds,” has concluded that the Department of Defense broke the law when, in May, five Taliban prisoners in Guantánamo were released in Qatar in a prisoner swap for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only US prisoner of war in Afghanistan.

The GAO concluded that the DoD acted in violation of section 8111 of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2014, which “prohibits DOD from using appropriated funds to transfer any individuals detained at Guantánamo Bay unless the Secretary of Defense notifies certain congressional committees at least 30 days before the transfer.”

When the prisoner swap was announced, a tsunami of manufactured outrage poured forth from Republicans and right-wing pundits, even though both defense secretary Chuck Hagel and President Obama provided robust explanations about why they had bypassed Congress. As I explained at the time, Hagel said that the decision to go ahead with the swap — which, it should be noted, had been mooted for at least two years — came about after intelligence suggested Bergdahl’s “safety and health were both in jeopardy, and in particular his health was deteriorating.” Read the rest of this entry »

Free the Yemenis! Gitmo Clock Marks 450 Days Since President Obama’s Promise to Resume Releasing Prisoners from Guantánamo

The logo for the new "Gitmo Clock" website, designed by Justin Norman.Please visit, like, share and tweet the Gitmo Clock, which marks how many days it is since President Obama’s promise to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo (450), and how many men have been freed (17). This article was published yesterday, as “Gitmo Clock Marks 450 Days Since President Obama’s Promise to Resume Releasing Prisoners from Guantánamo; Just 17 Men Freed,” on 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 August, we at “Close Guantánamo” launched the Gitmo Clock, an initiative designed to perform two functions: firstly, to measure how long it is since President Obama’s promise, in a major speech on national security on May 23, 2013, to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo; and, secondly, how many men have been released.

Yesterday (August 16) marked 450 days since that promise, and we hope that you will visit the Gitmo Clock, like it, share it and tweet it to act as a reminder of what has been achieved in the last 15 months, and, more importantly, what remains to be achieved.

In the two years and eight months up to President Obama’s promise, just five men were released from Guantánamo, even though, throughout that period, 86 of the remaining prisoners were cleared for release. Those recommendations were made by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established, shortly after taking office in 2009, to review the cases of all the prisoners still held at the time, and to decide whether they should be released or prosecuted, or whether, in some cases, they should continue to be held without charge or trial. Read the rest of this entry »

The 9/11 Trial at Guantánamo: The Dark Farce Continues

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.

In two articles — this one and another to follow soon — I’ll be providing updates about the military commissions at Guantánamo, the system of trials that the Bush administration dragged from the US history books in November 2001 with the intention of trying, convicting and executing alleged terrorists without the safeguards provided in federal court trials, and without the normal prohibitions against the use of information derived through torture.

Notoriously, the first version of the commissions revived by the Bush administration collapsed in June 2006, when, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court ruled that the commission system lacked “the power to proceed because its structures and procedures violate both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the four Geneva Conventions signed in 1949.”

Nevertheless, Congress subsequently revived the commissions, in the fall of 2006, and, although President Obama briefly suspended them when he took office in 2009, they were revived by Congress for a second time in the fall of 2009. Read the rest of this entry »

The Rule of Law Oral History Project: How the Guantánamo Prisoners Have Been Failed by All Three Branches of the US Government

Two days ago I posted excerpts from an interview about Guantánamo and my work that I undertook as part of The Rule of Law Oral History Project, a five-year project run by the Columbia Center for Oral History at Columbia University Library in New York, which was completed at the end of last year.

In this follow-up article I’m posting further excerpts from my interview — with Anne McClintock, Simone de Beauvoir Professor of English and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison — although, as in the previous article, I also encourage anyone who is interested in the story of Guantánamo and the “war on terror” — and the struggle against the death penalty in the US — to visit the website of The Rule of Law Oral History Project, and to check out all 43 interviews, with, to name but a few, retired Justice John Paul Stevens of the Supreme Court; A. Raymond Randolph, Senior Judge in the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit; Ricardo M. Urbina and James Robertson, retired Senior Judges in the US District Court for the District of Columbia; Lawrence B. Wilkerson, Former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell; Joseph P. Hoar, Former Commander-in-Chief, United States Central Command (CENTCOM); former military commission prosecutor V. Stuart Couch and former chief prosecutor Morris D. Davis; Brittain Mallow, Commander, Criminal Investigation Task Force, and Mark Fallon, Deputy Commander, Criminal Investigation Task Force. Also included are interviews with former prisoners, lawyers for the men, psychologists and a psychiatrist, journalists and other relevant individuals.

In this second excerpt from the interview, I explain how, at the time Anne and I were talking (in June 2012), the situation for the Guantánamo prisoners had reached a new low point, as the Supreme Court had just failed to take up any of the appeals submitted by seven of the men still held. These all related to the men’s habeas corpus petitions, and the shameful situation whereby, for ideological reasons, primarily related to fearmongering, a handful of appeals court judges, in the D.C. Circuit Court, had effectively ordered District Court judges to stop granting habeas corpus petitions submitted by the prisoners (after the prisoners secured 38 victories), by demanding that anything that purported to be evidence submitted by the government — however risible — be given the presumption of accuracy unless it could be specifically refuted. Read the rest of this entry »

For Ramadan, Please Write to the Prisoners in Guantánamo, Forgotten Again

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 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 and here). This latest campaign also coincides with the holy month of Ramadan, which began on June 29.

Guantánamo remains a legal, moral and ethical abomination, a place where the men still held — 149 in total — are, for the most part, indefinitely imprisoned without charge or trial, even though over half of them — 75 men — 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 three others were cleared for release in recent months by a new review process, the Periodic Review Boards.

In 2010, the task force recommended who to release, who to prosecute, and who to continue holding without charge or trial, on the extremely dubious basis that they were “too dangerous to release,” even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. What this means, of course, is that the supposed evidence is no such thing, and consists largely of extremely unreliable statements made either by the prisoners themselves, or their fellow prisoners, in circumstances that were not conducive to telling the truth — involving the use of torture, for example, or other forms of abuse, and in some cases, bribery, when prisoners told lies to secure favorable treatment. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Lawyers Urge Obama Administration to Approve Release of Six Men to Uruguay

Lawyers for six prisoners at Guantánamo — four Syrians, a Palestinian and a Tunisian, who have long been cleared for release from the prison, but are unable to return home — sent a letter to the Obama administration on Thursday calling for urgent action regarding their clients. I’m posting the full text of the letter below.

It’s now over three months since President José Mujica of Uruguay announced that he had been approached by the Obama administration regarding the resettlement of five men — later expanded to six — and was willing to offer new homes to them. I wrote about the story here, where I also noted that one of the men is Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian man, consigned to a wheelchair as a result of his suffering at Guantánamo. Dhiab is on a hunger strike and being force-fed, and has, in recent months, mounted a prominent legal challenge to his treatment, securing access for his lawyers to videotapes showing his force-feeding and violent cell extractions. The other Syrians are Abdelhadi Faraj (aka Abdulhadi Faraj), Ali Hussein al-Shaaban and Ahmed Adnan Ahjam, the Palestinian is Mohammed Taha Mattan (aka Mohammed Tahamuttan), and the Tunisian, whose identity is revealed for the first time, is Adel El-Ouerghi (aka Abdul Ourgy (ISN 502)).

All six men were cleared for release from the prison in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama appointed shortly after taking office in 2009, and in their letter the lawyers provided detailed explanations of how the deal has progressed since first being mooted late last year and how it appeared to be confirmed months ago, before it had first been mentioned publicly. “In February,” they wrote, “some or us were informed that, while it was not possible to ascertain precisely when transfer would occur, it was ‘a matter of weeks, not months.’” Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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