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 »

As Three Yemenis Are Freed from Guantánamo, Video Highlights Plight of 52 Others, Long Cleared for Release

Fahd Ghazy, photographed before his capture and his rendition to Guantanamo.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 January 11, 2015, the prison at Guantánamo Bay will have been open for 13 long and unforgivable years. In the last year, President Obama has released 30 prisoners from Guantánamo, leaving 127 men still held, and today, on the last day of the year, the last of those 30 men — three Yemenis and two Tunisians, all approved for release in 2009 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009 — were given new homes in Kazakhstan.

This is progress, after the lean period between October 2010 and July 2013 when just five men were released, because Congress imposed obstacles that the president was unwilling to expend political capital overcoming. However, 59 of the prisoners still held are men who, like the five just freed, are men the Guantánamo Review Task Force said should no longer continue to be held back in 2009, and their continued detention, therefore, remains a source of serious concern.

Of the 59, all but seven are Yemenis, and whilst it is reassuring that Yemenis approved for release are finally being freed — after nearly five years in which their release was banned by both the president and Congress, following a foiled airline bomb plot in December 2009 that was hatched in Yemen — it is still a significant uphill struggle for the administration to find new homes for these 52 men. Read the rest of this entry »

UN Says Force-Feeding at Guantánamo Constitutes Ill-Treatment in Violation of the Convention Against Torture

A powerful image from Witness Against Torture in the US.I’ve been so busy lately with the launch of We Stand With Shaker, the new campaign to secure the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, that I haven’t had time to write anything — until now — about the United States’ recent appearance before the United Nations Committee Against Torture to explain its position on the torture and ill-treatment of prisoners in its custody.

The session — which took place on November 12 and 13, and was the first US report to the Committee Against Torture since 2006, when George W. Bush was president — led to numerous criticisms in the Committee’s response, adopted on November 20; in the Guardian‘s words, of “indefinite detention without trial; force-feeding of Guantánamo prisoners; the holding of asylum seekers in prison-like facilities; widespread use of solitary confinement; excessive use of force and brutality by police; shootings of unarmed black individuals; and cruel and inhumane executions.”

The Committee was also concerned about the US record on torture, expressing “its grave concern over the extraordinary rendition, secret detention and interrogation programme operated by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) between 2001 and 2008, which involved numerous human rights violations, including torture, ill-treatment and enforced disappearance of persons suspected of involvement in terrorism-related crimes” — concerns expressed in a 2010 UN report about secret detention on which I was the lead author (and also see here, here and here) — and reminded the US about “the absolute prohibition of torture reflected in article 2, paragraph 2, of the Convention [Against Torture], stating that ‘no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.'” The Committee also called for the long-delayed Senate Intelligence Committee torture report — or, more accurately, its executive summary — to be issued without further delay. Read the rest of this entry »

76 US Lawmakers Ask Obama to Let Them See Guantánamo Force-Feeding Videos

Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who sent a letter to President Obama on October 30, 2014, asking to be allowed to see videotapes of force-feeding at Guantanamo.

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 Thursday, 76 members of the US Congress — the Congressional Progressive Caucus, represented by co-chairs Raúl Grijalva and Keith Ellison — sent a letter to President Obama asking to be allowed to see videotapes of force-feeding at Guantánamo.

In May, District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered videotapes of the force-feeding — and “forcible cell extractions” (FCEs) — of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner, to be made available to his lawyers, who had to travel to the Pentagon’s secure facility outside Washington D.C. to see them. After viewing them, Cori Crider, his lawyer at the legal action charity Reprieve, said, “While I’m not allowed to discuss the contents of these videos, I can say that I had trouble sleeping after viewing them,” and added, “I have no doubt that if President Obama forced himself to watch them, he would release my client tomorrow.”

On October 3, in response to a motion submitted in June by 16 major US media organizations, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, McClatchy, the Guardian, the Associated Press and others, Judge Kessler ordered the videotapes — eleven hours of footage, consisting of 28 tapes in total — to be publicly released, once they have been “redacted for ‘all identifiers of individuals’ other than Mr. Dhiab.” Read the rest of this entry »

12 Nobel Peace Prize Winners Tell President Obama to Reveal Full Details of the US Torture Program and to Close Guantánamo

Yesterday (October 27), 12 Nobel Peace Prize winners, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, sent a powerful and important letter to President Obama — himself a recipient of the prize — calling for him to disclose in full “the extent and use of torture and rendition by American soldiers, operatives, and contractors, as well as the authorization of torture and rendition by American officials,” and to provide “[c]lear planning and implementation for the closure of Guantánamo prison, putting an end to indefinite detention without due process.”

The 12 Nobel Peace Prize winners also called for verification that all “black sites” abroad have been closed, and also called for the “[a]doption of firm policy and oversight restating and upholding international law relating to conflict, including the Geneva Convention and the UN Convention against Torture, realigning the nation to the ideals and beliefs of their founders — the ideals that made the United States a standard to be emulated.”

It is unfortunate that these demands remain necessary — that, as the authors of the letter explain, “In recent decades, by accepting the flagrant use of torture and other violations of international law in the name of combating terrorism, American leaders have eroded the very freedoms and rights that generations of their young gave their lives to defend.” Read the rest of this entry »

Fifth Guantánamo Prisoner’s Release Recommended by Periodic Review Board, But When Will These Men Be Released?

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.

“What does it take to get out of Guantánamo?” is a question I have asked before, but it remains, sadly, one of permanent relevance. Last week it surfaced again when two decisions were announced regarding men — both Saudis — whose cases had been considered by Periodic Review Boards (PRBs), a process established last year to review the cases of the Guantánamo prisoners who have not been approved for release, and are not facing trials. At the time the PRBs were set up, that involved 71 men, but some of those men have since been freed.

The PRBs decided that one man, Muhammad Murdi lssa al-Zahrani, whose review took place in June, should be freed. The board explained that they “considered the uncorroborated nature of the information about the detainee’s level of involvement with al-Qaeda, the detainee and his family’s lack of ongoing contacts or ties with at-large extremists, the detainee’s behavior while in detention, and the detainee’s candor with the board about his presence on the battlefield, expressions of regret, and desires for a peaceful life after Guantánamo.”

The board members also stated that they had “considered the Saudi rehabilitation program,” and were “confident in the efficacy of the program for a detainee with his particular mindset,” adding, “The detainee demonstrated an understanding of the Saudi rehabilitation program and a willingness to participate, and his family also expressed support for the program.” Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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Andy Worthington

Campaigning investigative journalist and commentator, author, filmmaker, photographer, singer-songwriter and Guantánamo expert
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