How Congress Is Finally Helping President Obama to Release Prisoners from 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.

Following three years of presidential inertia on Guantánamo — after Congress imposed onerous restrictions on the release of prisoners, and President Obama refused to spend political capital bypassing or challenging lawmakers — legislative amendments proposed by the Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by Sen. Carl Levin, have been accepted by Congress. The National Defense Authorization Act for 2014, which contains the amendments, was approved by the House of Representatives last week and passed the Senate by 84 votes to 15 on Thursday night.

The changes, which I wrote about last month in an article entitled, “Senate Passes Bill to Help Close Guantánamo; Now President Obama Must Act,” emerged from the committee in June. They were accepted by the Senate last month, after what the Associated Press described as “a quiet yet effective lobbying push” by senior administration officials, including President Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser Lisa Monaco and Cliff Sloan, the veteran diplomat appointed this year, along with Paul Lewis at the Pentagon, to be an envoy for the closure of Guantánamo. However, the House of Representatives, where Republicans have a majority, had voted to keep all the restrictions in place.

After the Senate vote last month, a compromise had to be thrashed out between the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, in which proposals to remove the onerous restrictions on the release of prisoners survived, but other proposals — allowing prisoners to be brought to the US for detention, for trials or for medical treatment — did not. Without these particular changes, it is still not possible for Guantánamo to be closed, but for now, at least, these amendments make it easier for the president to release prisoners who were cleared for release four years ago by his own high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force — and, perhaps even more importantly, reassure him that he has support for releasing prisoners in Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

Senate Passes Bill to Help Close Guantánamo; Now President Obama Must Act

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 rare that there is good news about Guantánamo, and even rarer that the good news involves Congress. However, on Tuesday, the Senate accepted a version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which originated in the Senate Armed Services Committee, and was put forward by the chair, Sen. Carl Levin, along with Sen. John McCain.

The Levin-McCain version of the NDAA is intended to make it much easier than it has been for the last three years for President Obama to release cleared prisoners from Guantánamo, and to seriously revisit his failed promise to close the prison once and for all, and we note, with thanks, the efforts of Senators and officials in the Obama administration to secure this victory.

This important version of the NDAA contains provisions relating to Guantánamo which allow President Obama to release prisoners to other countries without the onerous restrictions imposed by Congress for the last three years. These restrictions have led to the number of released prisoners dwindling to almost zero, even though 84 of the remaining 164 prisoners were cleared for release from the prison in January 2010 by a high-level, inter-agency task force appointed by President Obama shortly after he took office in 2009. Read the rest of this entry »

Will Carl Levin’s Amendments to the NDAA Help President Obama Close 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.

Ever since President Obama took office in January 2009, and almost immediately promised to close George W. Bush’s “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, he has faced opposition from Congress. Lawmakers only took four months to begin passing legislation designed to tie his hands, and, in recent years, they have imposed restrictions of increasing severity designed to keep Guantánamo open, and to prevent any more prisoners from being released, for reasons that involve either hysteria, cynical fearmongering or bleak games of political football.

It is to be hoped that this situation is about to come to an end, with some decisive intervention by key lawmakers in Congress, but it is never worth holding one’s breath for justice to be done where Guantánamo is concerned.

Rebellions in Congress, 2009-2012

The first rebellion against the president’s promise to close Guantánamo came in May 2009, when the Senate voted, by 90 votes to 6, to eliminate $80 million from planned legislation intended to fund the closure of Guantánamo, and to specifically prohibit the use of any funding to “transfer, relocate, or incarcerate Guantánamo Bay detainees to or within the United States.” Only six Democrats voted against the legislation, and three others abstained. Read the rest of this entry »

Join Me in Washington D.C. on January 11, 2013 to Tell President Obama to “Close Guantánamo”

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 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. 

CORRECTION: Please note that the panel discussion at the New America Foundation in Washington D.C. On January 11 will now take place at 10am, and not at 3pm, as listed below.

As the 11th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay approaches, we at “Close Guantánamo” are making our preparations for being in Washington D.C. to call on President Obama to fulfill the promise he made four years ago, when he took office, to close the prison for good.

At 12 noon on Friday January 11, 2013, the 11th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, the attorney Tom Wilner and the journalist Andy Worthington, who make up the steering committee of “Close Guantánamo,” will be joining members of 24 other groups outside the Supreme Court to call for the closure of Guantánamo. See Amnesty International’s page here, and the flyer here. Read the rest of this entry »

Torture, Torture Everywhere

For those of us who have been arguing for years that senior officials and lawyers in the Bush administration must be held accountable for the torture program they introduced and used in their “war on terror,” last week was a very interesting week indeed, as developments took place in Strasbourg, in London and in Washington D.C., which all pointed towards the impossibility that the torturers can escape accountability forever.

That may be wishful thinking, given the concerted efforts by officials in the US and elsewhere to avoid having to answer for their crimes, and the ways in which, through legal arguments and backroom deals, they have suppressed all attempts to hold them accountable. However, despite this, it seems that maintaining absolute silence is impossible, and last week one breakthrough took place when, unanimously, a 17-judge panel of the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of Khaled El-Masri, a German used car salesman of Lebanese origin, who is one of the most notorious cases of mistaken identity in the whole of the “war on terror.” See the summary here.

Describing the ruling, the Guardian described how the court stated that “CIA agents tortured a German citizen, sodomising, shackling, and beating him, as Macedonian state police looked on,” and “also found Macedonia guilty of torturing, abusing, and secretly imprisoning [him],” also noting, “It is the first time the court has described CIA treatment meted out to terror suspects as torture.” Read the rest of this entry »

How the National Defense Authorization Act Allows the President to Release Prisoners from Guantánamo

While I was in the US two weeks ago, for the 10th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, there was great deal of understandable outrage amongst activists — both those on the left, and libertarians — because of outrageous provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (PDF), which was passed by the Senate on December 15, and was signed into law by President Obama on December 31.

I discussed these provisions in a number of articles — most recently in an article entitled, “A Tired Obsession with Military Detention Plagues American Politics” — in which I wrote about the shameful provisions requiring the mandatory military custody, without charge or trial, of anyone allegedly associated with al-Qaeda, and also wrote about the provisions preventing the release of prisoners from Guantánamo, which have stopped anyone being released in the last year.

In addressing concerns about the NDAA, I made a point of stressing that, although it is important that criticism should continue to be directed at lawmakers for subverting the entire basis of America’s foundation as a country based on the rule of law with their military detention provisions (for which they should all be hounded out of office), and although it is also of significance that the restrictions on releasing Guantánamo prisoners are based on fearmongering for nakedly political reasons, two other details should not be overlooked. Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington’s “Close Guantánamo” US Tour — San Francisco, Chicago and Six More Radio Interviews

Last week, I was in the US for a series of events to mark the 10th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, which I wrote about here and here. I also made three TV appearances, and undertook seven radio interviews, one of which was covered here. Three other appearances took place while I was in Washington D.C. On January 10, I was obliged to leave the Q&A session following a screening of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (the documentary film that I co-directed with filmmaker Polly Nash) to speak to the veteran progressive radio host Dennis Bernstein on his “Flashpoints” show on KPFA in Berkeley. The interview is available here (or here), and it starts just before 6 minutes in and lasts for ten minutes, with me talking to Dennis in the entrance of Busboys and Poets, with a cellphone clasped firmly to my ear, as people entered and left the premises, often speaking far louder than me.

I’ve also embedded the interview below: Read the rest of this entry »

With Right on Our Side: The Inspiring Guantánamo 10th Anniversary Protest in Washington D.C.

Last week, I was in Washington D.C., attending events to mark the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as part of a 12-day US tour organized by some of my great friends in the US — the activists of The World Can’t Wait, and their national director Debra Sweet, who is largely responsible for making sure that I don’t get lost, that I can find coffee when I need it, and that I don’t get too much sleep! — as well as being a tireless campaigner for justice.

In a progressively busier and busier schedule, Debra and I followed up on events in New York, which I wrote about here, with a bus trip to Washington D.C. on Monday, and a warm welcome at the house of Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, where we were very well looked after. On Tuesday lunchtime (January 10), we made our way to the first of two events that day, a panel discussion, filmed by C-SPAN, at the New America Foundation, moderated by my old college friend Peter Bergen, and featuring, as well as myself, Congressman Jim Moran, Col. Morris Davis and Tom Wilner, which I wrote about here (where there is also an embedded video of the event).

That was an excellent event, and afterwards Debra and I, and some other friends old and new, including Todd Peirce and Derek Poteet, military attorneys in the defense team for the Military Commissions at Guantánamo, whose lawyers I have met with, spoken with and occasionally briefed over the years, went for lunch, prior to Debra and I making our way to Busboys and Poets at 5th and K, for a screening of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” the documentary film that I co-directed with Polly Nash. The film, it seems, never fails to convey to audiences the tragic human cost of Guantánamo, as is made particularly clear in the testimony of former prisoner and British resident Omar Deghayes, whose statements are at the heart of the film. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: “Guantánamo Forever?” – Jim Moran, Andy Worthington, Morris Davis and Tom Wilner at the New America Foundation, January 10, 2012

See the entire event on C-SPAN here (and also via UStream below, from the website of the New America Foundation, where it was later replaced by a YouTube version, made available at the foot of this article).

On the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Bush administration’s prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which belonged to George W. Bush for seven of those ten years, but has belonged to Barack Obama for the last three, there is no reason for anyone with a heart, a conscience or a respect for America and the rule of law to be cheerful.

On Tuesday lunchtime, however, as part of my ongoing US tour, when I met up, at the New America Foundation in Washington D.C. with Tom Wilner, Counsel of Record in the Guantánamo prisoners’ habeas corpus cases in the Supreme Court in 2004 and 2008, and Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor of the Military Commissions at Guantánamo, who resigned in 2007 in protest at the use of torture, Col. Davis found it impossible not to crack a joke about it. “We must stop meeting like this,” he said, referring to the fact that, exactly a year ago, he and Tom and I were on a panel discussing Guantánamo on the 9th anniversary of its opening. Read the rest of this entry »

Terrorists as Warriors: The Fatal Confusion at the Heart of the “War on Terror”

Last week, when the Senate voted, by 93 votes to 7, to pass the latest National Defense Authorization Act (PDF), they passed legislation that not only approved a budget of $662 billion in military spending for the next fiscal year, but also demanded mandatory military custody for all terror suspects seized in future.

The military custody provisions were conceived, in a secretive manner, by the Senate Armed Services Committee, which also updated previous provisions preventing the closure of Guantánamo. This was achieved through two measures: banning the use of funds to purchase or adapt any other prison to hold the 82 prisoners that the Obama administration has said it wants to hold (for trial or indefinite detention), and imposing conditions on the transfer of any of the other 89 prisoners that the administration does not want to hold.

These designations were made through the careful deliberations of the interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force established by President Obama, which included career officials and lawyers not only from various government departments, but also from the intelligence agencies. However, while critics on the left and the right have long criticized any plan to move prisoners from Guantánamo to the US mainland, Congressional restrictions on releasing prisoners have become progressively more onerous over the last two years, since lawmakers first voted to prevent Guantánamo prisoners from being brought to the US mainland for any reason, except to face a trial. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

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Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo

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