The Relentless Importance of Closing 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.

Two weeks ago, there was a flurry of activity in the mainstream media when it was announced that the State Department had reassigned Daniel Fried, the special envoy for closing the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo, and would not be replacing him. As Charlie Savage explained for the New York Times, “Mr. Fried’s office is being closed, and his former responsibilities will be ‘assumed’ by the office of the department’s legal adviser,” according to an internal personnel announcement.

The Times article continued: “The announcement that no senior official in President Obama’s second term will succeed Mr. Fried in working primarily on diplomatic issues pertaining to repatriating or resettling detainees appeared to signal that the administration does not currently see the closing of the prison as a realistic priority, despite repeated statements that it still intends to do so.”

The article also noted that Fried, a career diplomat, had “traveled the world negotiating the repatriation of some 31 low-level detainees and persuading third-party countries to resettle about 40 who were cleared for release but could not be sent home because of fears of abuse,” adding, that “the outward flow of detainees slowed almost to a halt as Congress imposed restrictions on further transfers, leaving Mr. Fried with less to do.”

Although the media largely spun the story to stress Charlie Savage’s suggestion that “the administration does not currently see the closing of the prison as a realistic priority,” it was actually more significant that Mr. Fried’s work had largely come to an end following the release of nearly 70 prisoners in 2009 and 2010.

However, the downturn in his work was not primarily because of Congress. The good will of countries around the world to take prisoners who could not be safely repatriated had largely dried up by the summer of 2010 — a situation that was not aided, it should be noted, by America’s own refusal, at every branch of the government, to bring any of these men to live in the US — and the President himself contributed to the deadlock. He quashed a plan by Greg Craig, the White House Counsel, to bring a handful of wrongly detained Uighurs (Muslims from China who could not be safely repatriated) to live in the US, when Republican critics caught wind of it, and he also imposed a ban on releasing any Yemenis from Guantánamo, following a hysterical backlash after a failed plane bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian recruited in Yemen, tried and failed to blow up a plane bound for the US on Christmas Day 2009.

This was particularly outrageous, because the President’s own interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force, consisting of around 60 career officials and lawyers from the main government departments and the intelligence agencies, had concluded that 86 of the 166 men still held should be released, and two-thirds of these men are Yemenis.

By refusing to stand up for these men, President Obama consigned them to rot in Guantánamo, a situation that was only compounded when Congress imposed onerous restrictions on releasing prisoners to any other countries that lawmakers regarded as dangerous. That, it turns out, appears to include almost every country on earth.

Of the 86 cleared men, 56 are Yemenis, whose fate rests with President Obama, leaving 30 others who no longer have even the nominal representation of Mr. Fried — the last five Tunisians, five Algerians (see here, here and here), four Syrians, four Afghans, a Saudi, the last Palestinian, the last Tajik, the last three Uighurs, one prisoner from Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates, and Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison.

As Guantánamo settles into its twelfth year of operations, President Obama needs to show that he can do more than just talk about the ongoing need to close the prison, a position that was expressed to the New York Times by Ian Moss, a spokesman for Daniel Fried’s office, who said that the closure of the office “did not mean that the administration had given up on closing the prison,” as the Times put it. Mr. Moss said, “We remain committed to closing Guantánamo, and doing so in a responsible fashion. The administration continues to express its opposition to Congressional restrictions that impede our ability to implement transfers.”

To add meaning to these words, we issue the following requests to President Obama:

1: Lift the ban on releasing any of the 56 cleared Yemenis from Guantánamo, imposed in January 2010.

2: Appoint a new person to deal specifically with closing Guantánamo, to find new homes for the cleared prisoners in need of assistance.

3: Take the fight to Congress to stop treating the cleared prisoners as pawns in a cynical game of political maneuvering, and to clear the way for all 86 cleared prisoners to be repatriated or safely rehoused in other countries.

Please help us by writing to President Obama, and to Secretary of State John Kerry:

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

or email the President.

Secretary of State John Kerry
US Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — 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. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed — and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

14 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, I wrote:

    Thanks to everyone who has liked and shared this. So this is essentially the first campaigning arrow of righteousness I’ve fired at the administration since the anniversary of Guantanamo’s opening, and the requests – the demands – will need repeating again and again and again: drop the ban on releasing cleared Yemenis, appoint an official to deal specifically with closing Guantanamo, and deal with Congress, and its opportunistic obstructions. 86 cleared prisoners need releasing. Excuses can no longer be tolerated!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Dessie Harris wrote:

    Well stated, thanks. I have read somewhere that children are prisoners at Guantanamo, is this correct ? Inhumane if it is!

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Dessie, at a conservative estimate, at least 22 juvenile prisoners were held. One of the last three former child prisoners, Omar Khadr, was sent back to Canada last September, although he’s still imprisoned there.
    Two more former juveniles are still there – one Yemeni, and another, Hassan bin Attash, who was 17 when he was seized, and sent to Jordan to be tortured. His elder brother, Walid, is one of the men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Jeannie Wells wrote:

    Andy, how on earth is he going to get the Republicans onside ?

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    The administration will need shaming, Jeannie. I don’t think even they – Obama and his advisors – realize quite how thoroughly poor the supposed intelligence is, which is used to justify the prisoners’ ongoing detention – or even to justify not releasing them after clearing them for release. I am looking at ways of forensically analyzing this material, picking up again on the – uncompleted – research I did on the WikiLeaks files, on which I worked as a media partner:

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  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Jennah Solace wrote:

    What irritates me so much about the rhetoric of the US government is the HYPOCRISY! When I read statements like this one — “Ian Moss, a spokesman for Mr. Fried’s office, said: ‘We remain committed to closing Guantánamo, and doing so in a responsible fashion.'” Yet, it’s been TWELVE years. What qualifies as a ‘responsible fashion’ in their estimation? We’re not getting any younger. The gray hairs are growing! And I’m not an innocent chained inside a prison having been illegally tortured by the Powers of the Civilized world, twelve years and counting. Lord, how these poor-souls must feel! It’s truly inconceivable!

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jennah. Yes, I agree. It is indeed inconceivable that this kind of ongoing injustice can be such a marginal issue, and that empty spin is allowed to replace the realization – however difficult – of a promise the President made four years ago to close Guantanamo.

  9. Gail Coleman says...

    Can anyone tell me why President Obama has signed any number of Executive Orders for anything he wanted, but he has not signed one to close this place? He can order anyone assassinated that he wants to, but he cannot free these people? Or at least have them transferred to a “normal” prison and put on trial? Where is his executive power in this case??

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Gail,
    Great to hear from you – and that’s a very pertinent question, of course.
    The answer has to be that he doesn’t want to deal with Guantanamo, as not enough people are sufficiently agitated about it for there to be any political importance attached to it.
    Forget injustice and unfairness, forget the broken promise made over four years ago; apparently now it’s no longer significant.
    What a disgrace …

  11. arcticredriver says...

    Thanks Andy for keeping these issues before the public.

    I think even the most conservative American would support closure of the camp, and repatriation of all but the handful of actual jihadists there, if they understood what a failure every aspect of the military and intelligence interrogation program has been.

    Unfortunately, I am afraid, many people accept the widely repeated premise that these interrogations have helped improve public safety. I think the public record shows the complete opposite. I think the transcripts from the CSR Tribunals, and the transcripts from those other annual OARDEC status review hearings, show US intelligence analysts routinely failed to do even the most obvious sanity checking. Captives faced allegations that weren`t even internally consistent.

    I think the biggest flaw in the new joint agency reviews President Obama replaced the OARDEC reviews with is that they too have made the simplifying assumption that the information in the captives`s dossiers is basically reliable.

    Andy, forgive me for trying to make a point I have mentioned before. The JTF-GTMO detainee assessments that WikiLeaks published two years ago kept stating that captives were suspected of being “evasive”, “deceptive”, or to have given conflicting accounts of themselves.

    I think there is a simpler explanation for the analysts simple-minded claims that the captives were deceptive, and gave differing accounts of themselves — the so-called “frequent flyer program”. We know from the case of Mohammed Jawad that the guard force was continuing to move captives around “off the books”, to keep them awake for days on end, long after this technique was withdrawn.

    Back in 2005 Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged that GIs guarding captives in Iraq had been feeding a captive they knew only as XXX (after a character from a then recent spy movie). XXX had been a former CIA captive, and George Tenet, the DCI had asked Rumsfeld if he could transfer this individual from CIA custody, to military custody. Tenet asked Rumsfeld to keep this individual “off the books”, to hide him from the Red Cross. The unexpected result was that by keeping him “off the books” neither the CIA, or senior DoD officials could find the man kept off the books.

    (1) The captives` attorneys have described waiting for their clients in Camp Echo, only to have the wrong guy delivered. (2) The height and weight records shows the medical technicians didn`t know, or didn`t care, when the wrong captives were delivered for their medical apointment.
    (3) Some of the captives told the officers at their Tribunal that they thought that the allegation memos must have been drafted for some other captive, because the allegations in them didn`t match the questions their interrogators asked them.

    I think that, applying Occam`s Razor, most of those inconsistencies are an unintended byproduct of continuing to allow the guard force to use the frequent flyer program. It left their records of which captive was in which cell in chaos, so the wrong captives were routinely sent to the wrong appointment. The wrong captives were not only sent to the habeas lawyers, and to the the medical technicians — but, I suggest, the wrong captives were sent to the interrogators, and the interrogators never noticed. They claimed that the captives routinely lied about their names, so they just didn`t believe captives who said they had tthe wrong name.

    So, when interrogators asked captive B questions intended for captive A, and recorded their answers in captive A`s dossier, of course the dossier for captive A contained inconsistent answers.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi arcticredriver,
    I do hope you know how much I respect all the thought you have put into this. The frequent flier program as an explanation for confused identities – and even weight anomalies: it all rings very true.
    One day, I hope, there will be a proper accounting of all this. In the meantime, I continue to search for ways to get a detailed and unassailable analysis of the depth of incompetence and unreliability in the official intelligence documents into the hands of those who need to see it -administration officials, above all.

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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