Emptying Guantánamo: Obama to Release 17 or 18 Prisoners Before Trump Takes Over

Muieen Abd al-Sattar, a stateless Rohingya Muslim, who is not one of the men who will be released before President Obama leaves office, despite having been approved for release in 2009. The photo is from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $3000 (£2400) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo into the new year.

 

Excellent news from Guantánamo yesterday, as Charlie Savage, in the New York Times, confirmed what those of us seeking the prison’s closure had hoped — that the majority of the 22 men approved for release (out of the 59 men still held) will be freed before President Obama leaves office.

Because of requirements put in place over many years by a hostile Congress, the Pentagon must notify Congress 30 days before a release — a “transfer” — is to take place, and the deadline for securing releases before Obama leaves office was therefore this Monday, December 19. By late in the day, officials told the Times, the administration had secured homes for 17 or 18 of the remaining prisoners, who, crucially, will be sent to Italy, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The Gulf countries have all taken prisoners in the last two years — almost all of them Yemenis, for whom third countries had to be found because the entire US establishment is unwilling to repatriate Yemenis based on fears about the security situation in their homeland. Four were sent to Oman in January 2015, another six in June 2015, and five were sent to the UAE in November 2015. Another ten were sent to Oman in January 2016, and another 12 were sent to the UAE in August 2016 (with three Afghans, whose repatriation had been prohibited by Congress, based on fears about them ending up taking up arms against US forces). In addition, another nine Yemenis were sent to Saudi Arabia in April 2016. Read the rest of this entry »

Periodic Review Boards Approve Another Two Yemenis for Release from Guantánamo

Salman Rabei'i, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $3000 (£2400) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo into the new year.

 

Attentive Guantánamo-watchers will recall that, in September, the first round of Periodic Review Boards was completed at Guantánamo, for prisoners assessed as being “too dangerous to release,” or as eligible for prosecution by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama set up shortly after taking office for the first time in January 2009. For full details, see my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website.

On both fronts, the decisions taken about these men back in 2009 were dubious. For those deemed “too dangerous to release,” the task force acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, rather undermining the credibility of their assessment, because, if information cannot be produced at a trial, it is fundamentally unreliable and does not rise to the level of evidence — and with Guantánamo, of course, torture and abuse run through everything, distorting all manner of claims regarding the credibility of the US authorities’ information about the prisoners.

41 men put forward for the PRBs were regarded as “too dangerous to release,” while 23 others had been recommended for prosecution, until the basis for prosecutions at Guantánamo — in the much-criticized military commission system, dragged unwisely from the history books after 9/11 — largely collapsed as a result of a number of appeals court rulings, which overturned some of the few convictions secured in the commissions, on the basis that the war crimes for which the men in question had been convicted were not internationally recognized, and had, in fact, been invented by Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

Please Read My Latest Article for Al-Jazeera, on Obama and Trump, Guantánamo and Torture

A screenshot of my latest article for Al-Jazeera on the website.Dear friends and supporters,

I hope you have time to read Obama v Trump on Guantánamo and torture, my latest article for Al-Jazeera, and to share it if you find it informative.

Al-Jazeera asked me to compare and contrast the president and the president-elect in relation to Guantánamo, giving me an opportunity to run through the history of President Obama’s failures to close the prison, as he promised when he first took office in January 2009. I also briefly discussed Obama’s position on torture, and compared and contrasted Donald Trump’s views.

President Obama has repeatedly blamed Congress for his failure to close the prison, but in fact he had control of Congress in his first two years in office, but failed to capitalise on it, and later, although Congress raised considerable obstacles to his efforts to close the prison, he refused to use a waiver that existed in the legislation allowing him to bypass Congress, and he also refused, at any point, to make the closure of the prison a priority to the extent that he was prepared to properly challenge Congress and work with supportive lawmakers to find a way to get Guantánamo closed. Read the rest of this entry »

Please Write to the Remaining Prisoners in Guantánamo in Obama’s Last Month in Office

Photos of some of the Guantanamo prisoners, made available when classified military files were released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $3000 (£2400) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo into the new year.

 

Twice a year, since 2010, I’ve asked those who oppose the ongoing existence of Guantánamo to write to the prisoners still held there, to let them — and the US authorities — know that they have not been forgotten. For the last letter-writing campaign, in March, I expressed my hope that President Obama might fulfill the promise he made on his second day in office in January 2009, to close the prison for good, but that has not happened, of course, and now the specter of Donald Trump hovers over the wretched facility, with his promises to keep it open, and to send new prisoners there.

Whether the prisoners are worried is unclear. Eight years ago, they cheered President Obama’s victory, thinking that it meant Guantánamo would soon be closed, but eight years later many of them are still held, and presumably have every reason to believe that there is little to hope for. The day after the election, the Miami Herald reported that Army Lt. Col. John Parks, the spokesman for the prison, said that “[m]any detainees did stay up and watch the election results,” although they showed no reaction that he could discern. However, on December 1, on “CBS This Morning,” Margaret Brennan spoke to David Remes, the attorney for the Pakistani prisoner Saifullah Paracha, who “said that many detainees thought that it was the end of the world and felt terrible [and] asked for tranquilizers, sleeping pills, because they were so distraught.”

The letter-writing campaign was started six and a half years ago by two Facebook friends, Shahrina and Mahfuja Ahmed, and, as I mentioned above, it has been repeated every six months, more or less (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here for my other articles encouraging people to write to the prisoners). Read the rest of this entry »

In Final Counter-Terrorism Speech, Obama Targets Trump But Fails to Acknowledge His Own Mistakes on Guantánamo and War

President Obama and a quote about Guantanamo from a speech he made on January 5, 2010.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.

On Tuesday, at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, the home of US Special Operations Command and Central Command, President Obama made what is expected to be his final speech on counter-terrorism before he leaves office in just six weeks’ time.

As Jessica Schulberg noted for the Huffington Post, in his speech he “defended his legacy ― both from hawks who have accused him of withdrawing from the Middle East, and from liberals who have criticized his reliance on expansive surveillance and drones to fight wars,” and “sought to convince the country that he had struck the correct balance.”

Spying and drones

However, as Spencer Ackerman noted for the Guardian, this was “a highly selective account of his record, particularly about the mass surveillance architecture he embraced and the drone strikes that will be synonymous with his name.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Countdown to Close Guantánamo: With Just 50 Days Left for President Obama to Close the Prison, Please Send Us A Photo

Sharifa Mashrufa Karima, from a campaign called GuantaNOmo at Madani School for Girls in Whitechapel, east London, says, “Our campaign is focused on raising awareness about the reality of Guantánamo Bay whilst also working toward freeing at least one innocent detainee.”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.

On November 30, President Obama will have just 50 days left to close the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, which he inherited from George W. Bush, but which has been open under his watch for longer than under his predecessor.

To mark the occasion — and spurred on by the threat posed by the president-elect, Donald Trump, who promised on the campaign trail to keep Guantánamo open — we’re urging you to please print off a poster, take a photo with it, and send it to us — with a message to President Obama, if you wish (and to president-elect Trump as well, if you like).

You can also let us know where you are if you’d like to help us show how opposition to the existence of Guantánamo — which is a legal, moral and ethical abomination, and should never have opened — comes from across the US and around the world. Read the rest of this entry »

Donald Trump, Guantánamo and Torture: What Do We Need to Know?

An image made by supporters of Donald Trump based on his comments about Guantanamo.I wrote the following article (as “Donald Trump and Guantánamo: What Do We Need to Know?) 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.

So the bad news, on Guantánamo, torture, Islamophobia and war, is that, as Charlie Savage explained in the New York Times this week, “As a presidential candidate, Donald J. Trump vowed to refill the cells of the Guantánamo Bay prison and said American terrorism suspects should be sent there for military prosecution. He called for targeting mosques for surveillance, escalating airstrikes aimed at terrorists and taking out their civilian family members, and bringing back waterboarding and a ‘hell of a lot worse’ — not only because ‘torture works,’ but because even ‘if it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway.’”

As Savage also noted, “It is hard to know how much of this stark vision for throwing off constraints on the exercise of national security power was merely tough campaign talk,” but it is a disturbing position for Americans — and the rest of the world — to be in, particularly with respect to the noticeable differences between Trump and Barack Obama.

The outgoing president has some significant failures against his name, which will be discussed in detail below, but America’s first black president did not, of course, appoint a white supremacist to be his chief strategist and Senior Counselor, as Trump has done with Steve Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News, an alarming far-right US website. Nor did he call for a “total and complete shutdown” of America’s borders to Muslims, as Trump did last December, and nor did he suggest that there should be a registry of all Muslims, as Trump did last November. Read the rest of this entry »

Podcast: Andy Worthington Discusses Closing Guantánamo and the Rightward Drift of Politics in the US and the UK with Kevin Gosztola for Shadowproof

The image from Shadowproof for Kevin Gosztola's interview with Andy Worthington in November 2016.Last Thursday, just two days after the US Presidential Election, I was delighted to speak to Kevin Gosztola of Shadowproof (formerly FireDogLake) for his “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast series. The show was made available on the site on Sunday, but when it was posted the focus was on Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein, who was interviewed in the first half-hour of the one-hour show, along with a partial transcript of the interview.

And so, yesterday, Kevin posted an article focusing on my interview with him, including a transcript of much of our interview. The interview is available here, as an MP3, beginning 30 minutes in, and I hope you have time to listen to it and to share it if you find it useful. You can also listen just to my interview, in an edit made by my friend the campaigner Bernard Sullivan, which is available on Soundcloud here.

Kevin had picked up on a press release I sent him about the video for the Close Guantánamo campaign that I launched last Thursday, in the hope of maintaining pressure on President Obama to do all in his power to close Guantánamo before he leaves office in January. The video is also on Facebook, and anyone wanting to get involved is urged to print off a poster to remind President Obama that, on November 30, he will have just 50 days left to close the prison, to take a photo with it, and to send it to us, to add to the more than 500 photos that have been sent in by celebrities and concerned citizens across the US and around the world since the Countdown to Close Guantánamo was launched in January. Read the rest of this entry »

The Messed-Up Trial of the Century: Lawdragon’s Exhaustive Report on the 9/11 Pre-Trial Hearings at Guantánamo

The co-defendants in the painfully slow-moving and contentious 9/11 trial at Guantanamo. From top to bottom: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Mustafa al-Hawsawi, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali (aka Ammar al-Baluchi) and Walid bin Attash.The military commissions at Guantánamo, as I have been reporting for ten years, are a shamefully deficient excuse for justice, a system dreamt up in the heat of America’s post-9/11 sorrow, when hysteria and vengeance trumped common sense and a respect for the law, and it was decided, by senior Bush administration officials and their lawyers, that prisoners seized in the “war on terror” and subjected to torture should be tried in a system that allowed the use of information derived through the use of torture, and swiftly found guilty and executed.

Military prosecutors, however, soon turned against the system and pointedly resigned, and in 2006 the Supreme Court ruled the whole system illegal. Nevertheless, the Bush administration, with the enthusiastic support of Congress, revived the commissions in the fall of 2006, followed by further resignations (see here and here), and a third version of the commissions ill-advisedly emerged under President Obama in his first year in office (see here and here). The commissions have been tweaked to be less unjust, but they are still a Frankenstein’s Monster facsimile of a working trial system, full of so many holes that it is difficult for them to function at all, and at their heart is the specter of torture, which the government endlessly tries to hide, while the prisoners’ defence teams, of course, try constantly to expose it, as no fair trial can take place without it being discussed.

In recent years, my coverage of the commissions has been less thorough than it was between 2007 and the summer of 2014, largely because it seemed to me that the commissions were so broken and were going round and round in circles so pointlessly that it was no longer even worth trying to follow what was — or, more often, what wasn’t — happening. In one way, this was a fair reflection of the futility of the commissions’ efforts to secure anything resembling justice, but the more fundamental reality was that, however broken the proceedings may have been, pre-trial hearings were still taking place, however little they were being reported, which, one day, would constitute a damning indictment of America’s post-9/11 flight from justice and the law, and its embrace of torture and indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial. As a result, the commissions really ought not to be allowed to drop off the radar. Read the rest of this entry »

Close Guantánamo World Exclusive Video: Shaker Aamer Urges President Obama to Shut the Prison Now

A screenshot of former Guantanamo prisoner Shaker Aamer urging President Obama to fulfill his promise to close Guantanamo, in a video recorded by Andy Worthington, the co-founder of Close Guantanamo, on October 11, 2016.

Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2700 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo for the next three months.

 

Yesterday, I visited Shaker Aamer at his home in London, to record a short video message to President Obama, of Shaker urging the president to close the the US prison at Guantánamo Bay before he leaves office in January.

Shaker was the last British resident in Guantánamo until his release last October, and I, along with many others, worked hard to secure his release — via the We Stand With Shaker campaign, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign and the London Guantánamo Campaign, and through working with supportive MPs and the media.

The video I recorded yesterday was for the Close Guantánamo campaign that I set up in January 2012 with the US attorney Tom Wilner, and, specifically, for the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative that I launched in January this year with music legend Roger Waters (ex-Pink Floyd). 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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