Further Calls for the Closure of Guantánamo from the United Nations and the European Parliament


Since the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo began, four months ago, it has been reassuring to see international organizations, the mainstream media and nearly a million members of the public (through various petitions) queuing up to criticize President Obama, and to urge him to address the reasons for the hunger strike, to resume the release of prisoners — especially of the 86 men (out of 166 in total), who were cleared for release by an inter-agency task force he established in 2009, and to revive his long-abandoned promise to close the prison once and for all.

It took the desperation of the prisoners to reach this point, even though their abandonment by all three branches of the US government has been evident since 2010, when President Obama failed to fulfill his promise to close the prison within a year, when Congress ramped up its opposition to the President’s plans, and when judges in the court of appeals in Washington D.C. passed rulings that prevented any prisoner from being released through the courts, by rewriting the rules governing their habeas corpus petitions, and ordering the judges examining their habeas petitions to regard every claim put forward by the government — however ludicrous — as accurate.

Once the news of the hunger strike began to seep out of Guantánamo, the pressure on President Obama led to him finally addressing the problems highlighted by the many critics of his inaction, first in a news conference at the White House, and then, on May 23, in a major speech on national security issues at the National Defense University, in which he said, “I am appointing a new, senior envoy at the State Department and Defense Department whose sole responsibility will be to achieve the transfer of detainees to third countries. I am lifting the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen, so we can review them on a case by case basis. To the greatest extent possible, we will transfer detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries.”

No action has yet taken place to demonstrate that the President has any sense of urgency when it comes to fulfilling his promises, and it is crucial, therefore, that pressure continues to be exerted.

On May 27, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, followed up on her criticism of the Obama administration in April (which I wrote about here), when she said that the prison at Guantánamo Bay was in “clear breach of international law,” by discussing Guantánamo in her Opening Statement at the 23rd session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. After referring to “the objective of the global struggle against terrorism” as being “the defence of the rule of law and a society characterized by values of freedom, equality, dignity and justice,” she complained that, “time and again, my Office has received allegations of very grave violations of human rights that have taken place in the context of counter-terrorist and counter-insurgency operations. Such practices are self-defeating. Measures that violate human rights do not uproot terrorism: they nurture it.”

She then explained:

The United States’ failure to shut down the Guantánamo detention centre has been an example of the struggle against terrorism failing to uphold human rights, among them the right to a fair trial. Allegedly, more than half of the 166 detainees still being held in detention have been cleared for transfer to either home countries or third countries for resettlement, yet they remain in detention at Guantánamo Bay. Others reportedly have been designated for indefinite detention.

The continuing indefinite detention of many of these individuals amounts to arbitrary detention, in breach of international law, and the injustice embodied in this detention centre has become an ideal recruitment tool for terrorists. I have repeatedly urged the Government of the United States of America to close Guantánamo Bay in compliance with its obligations under international human rights law. I therefore acknowledge President Obama’s statement last Thursday outlining practical steps towards closing the detention facility, such as the lifting of the moratorium on transferring relevant detainees to Yemen. I encourage the United States to ensure that all such measures are carried out in compliance with its obligations under international human rights law. In the meantime, so long as Guantánamo remains open, the authorities must make every effort to ensure full respect for the human rights of detainees, including those who choose to go on hunger strike.

Another organization criticizing President Obama for failing to fulfill his promise to close Guantánamo is the European Parliament. On May 22, the day before President Obama delivered his major speech on national security, I posted the text of a European Parliament resolution on Guantánamo that was due to be debated just hours before President Obama’s speech. The text adopted by the European Parliament after the various member countries debated the topic is quite different from the version I posted two weeks ago, so I’m posting that below.

My friend Anna, who managed to locate it on the European Parliament’s website, sent me the link and noted that, although it was of course good news that the resolution was adopted, “unfortunately quite a few points have been deleted, such as (among others) European countries accepting released prisoners.” This was something I had noted in the original, and I am sorry to see it removed, as countries are still needed to take cleared prisoners who can’t be safely repatriated, but I understand that it was not something that all member states were interested in promising.

I do, however, hope that some member states are interested in offering homes to some of these men — the last three Uighurs, for example, as well as four Syrians, and probably a handful of others.

For now, however, it is at least reassuring that the European Parliament expressed  “its regret that the commitment of the US President to close Guantánamo by January 2010 has not yet been implemented,” and reiterated its call for the US “to close Guantánamo,” and “to prohibit in any circumstances the use of torture, ill-treatment and indefinite detention without trial.”

Below is the full text of the resolution that was adopted on May 23:

European Parliament resolution of 23 May 2013 on Guantánamo: hunger strike by prisoners (2013/2654(RSP))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to its previous resolutions on Guantánamo,

–  having regard to its resolution of 18 April 2012 on the Annual Report on Human Rights in the World and the European Union’s policy on the matter, including implications for the EU’s strategic human rights policy,

–  having regard to the international, European and national instruments on human rights and fundamental freedoms and on the prohibition of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances and torture, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) of 16 December 1966 and the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of 10 December 1984 and the relevant protocols thereto,

–  having regard to the Joint Statement of the European Union and its Member States and the United States of America on the Closure of the Guantánamo Bay Detention Facility and Future Counterterrorism Cooperation, based on Shared Values, International Law, and Respect for the Rule of Law and Human Rights of 15 June 2009,

–  having regard to the Statement on the Guantánamo detention regime by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, on 5 April 2013, saying that ‘the continuing indefinite incarceration of many of the detainees amounts to arbitrary detention and is in clear breach of international law’,

–  having regard to the principles of the United Nations Charter and to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights,

–  having regard to Rule 122 of its Rules of Procedure;

A. whereas a large part of the 166 remaining prisoners at Guantánamo Bay have engaged in hunger strikes to protest about current conditions at the detention facility;

B. whereas 86 of the remaining prisoners have been cleared for release but are still being held indefinitely;

C. whereas the European Union and the United States share fundamental values of freedom, democracy, respect for international law, the rule of law and human rights;

D. whereas at least 10 detainees participating in the hunger strike have been force fed in order to stay alive; whereas international agreements among doctors require respect of an individual’s informed and voluntary decision to participate in a hunger strike;

E. whereas the European Union and the United States of America share the common value of freedom of religion; whereas there have been numerous reports stating the mistreatment of Korans belonging to the detainees by American military personnel during cell searches;

F. whereas the EU-US joint statement of June 15, 2009 notes the commitment of President Obama to order the closure of the Guantánamo Bay detention facility by January 22, 2010 and welcomes the ‘other steps to be taken, including the intensive review of its detention, transfer trial and interrogation policies in the fight against terrorism and increased transparency about past practices in regard to these policies’;

G. whereas the US is closing its only civilian flight into Guantánamo leaving the only flight available a military flight requiring individuals to receive permission from the Pentagon to board, thus limiting the access of the press, lawyers, and human rights workers;

1. Notes the close transatlantic relationship based on shared core values and respect for basic, universal and non-negotiable human rights, such as the right to a fair trial and the ban on arbitrary detention; welcomes the close transatlantic cooperation on a wide range of international human rights issues;

2. Calls on US authorities to treat detainees with respect for their inherent dignity to uphold their human rights and fundamental freedoms;

3. Expresses concern for the well-being of the detainees on hunger strike as well as for the detainees being force fed and calls on the US be respectful of their rights and decisions;

4. Urges the US to reconsider the closing of its only civilian flight into Guantánamo Bay which would limit the access of the press and civil society members;

5. Urges the US to oversee proper care of and respect for religious material while still following mandatory search procedures;

6. Underlines that prisoners still detained should be entitled to regular review of the lawfulness of their detention  in line with the article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which says that ‘anyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings before a court, in order that that court may decide without delay on the lawfulness of his detention and order his release if the detention is not lawful’;

7. Reiterates its indignation and outrage at all mass terrorist attacks, and its solidarity with the victims of such attacks and its sympathy for the pain and suffering of their families, friends and relatives; reiterates, however, that the fight against terrorism cannot be waged at the expense of established basic shared values, such as respect for human rights and the rule of law;

8. Expresses its regret that the commitment of the US President to close Guantánamo by January 2010 has not yet been implemented; Reiterates its call to the US authorities to review the military commissions system to ensure fair trials, to close Guantánamo, to prohibit in any circumstances the use of torture, ill-treatment and indefinite detention without trial;

9. Views with regret the US President’s decision of 7 March 2011 to sign the executive order on detention and the revocation of the ban on military tribunals; is convinced that normal criminal trials under civilian jurisdiction are the best way to resolve the status of Guantánamo detainees; insists that detainees in US custody should be charged promptly and tried in accordance with international standards of the rule of law or else released; emphasises, in this context, that the same standards concerning fair trials should apply to all, without discrimination;

10. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Convening Authority for Military Commissions, the US Secretary of State, the US President, the US Congress and Senate, the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the Council, the Commission, the governments and parliaments of the EU Member States, the UN Secretary-General, the President of the UN General Assembly and the governments of the UN member states.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and 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. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

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29 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Just so President Obama doesn’t get the idea that people have forgotten about Guantanamo now that he has delivered a nice-sounding speech on which he has yet to act, here are further calls for action to free prisoners and revisit his promise to close the prison from the United Nations and the European Parliament. Don’t let him forget his promises!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Miguelito Effing M’Gehee wrote:

    Give him time. He has to reopen that DoS office whose job it was to close the center, and which Obama closed down earlier this year.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Dejanka Bryant wrote:

    Hahaha, Miguelitto. (Sarcastic laugh)

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Hanann Baghdadi wrote:

    sounds like musical chairs with doors !

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Dejanka Bryant wrote:

    It’s so tragic to play with lives of those unfortunate people. There is no justification for these crimes.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Herbert J.Blakeney wrote:

    It’s a shame Justice is given out by the Unjust!

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Ted Cartselos wrote:

    Obama is very skilled at this. He gives a nice speech, dispenses hugs and handshakes for the TV cameras… then gets into his limo and that’s about it.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Martin A Gugino wrote:

    Yanqui, go home.
    Close Diego Garcia, close Manheim, close Kadina Air Base.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Ridwan Sheikh wrote:

    Sadly politics is about giving nice soundbites and the people are happy with that, by saying give him a chance. i mean really, How long does he need? Is it when he’s out of office people will begin to realise, ‘oh, yeah, he didn’t deliver’. Are the American people really that fickle? Yes, they are!

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Martin A Gugino wrote:

    A factual error by the UN Commission on Human Rights: Item “G”: [W]hereas the US is closing its only civilian flight into Guantánamo leaving the only flight available a military flight requiring individuals to receive permission from the Pentagon to board, thus limiting the access of the press, lawyers, and human rights workers”
    The Cuban government has authority, under the lease, to land seaplanes on Guantanamo Bay (Feb 23 1903, article II, and reaffirmed July 2, 1903 article VI), allowing people access to the base.
    Alternately, sky diving is an option, and should be done for publicity purposes.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Mary Shepard wrote:

    Has the US even said one word of regret for how it has completely lost its humanity?

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Ridwan Sheikh wrote:

    It would never do that Mary, for fear of opening a floodgate of lawsuits from those that it has wronged.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Ted Cartselos wrote:

    Mary, as you likely know, there has been a de facto blackout in the mainstream American news media about Guantanamo. You’ve been there. Tell me, who are the American reporters, radio and TV journalists who have been there covering the story?

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the comments, my friends. It’s two weeks tomorrow since Obama’s speech, and we need to show that we’ve noticed that there’s been no action yet. I hope to have news of a new initiative next week.
    On regret, Ridwan’s right, Mary. No lawyer would ever advise acknowledging a mistake, as that would lead to lawsuits. And it’s just part of the problem, of course, as there are also many other officials, in the military and the intelligence services, as well as lawmakers in Congress, who want to maintain the illusion that all the men in Guantanamo remain a threat to the US, even though 86 have been cleared for release, and only a few dozen, at most, have ever been accused of having any sort of involvement in international terrorism.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Ted, US TV news is a disaster area, for the most part, but there are good print journalists, editors and press agencies. Carol Rosenberg at the Miami Herald is top of the list, but there has also been – and still is – good coverage in the New York Times and the Washington Post, and by the Associated Press. The problem is that the non-right-wing media insists on its fabled “objectivity” and refuses to campaign on issues, whereas the right-wingers don’t care about objectivity, and their reporting is a kind of brainwashing hammer. As a direct result, the liberal media has created a class of consumers who believe that it’s OK not to get too worked up about anything, which is the problem that afflicts us more than just about anything else. People need to realize that they have to try to make a difference.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Ted Cartselos wrote:

    That’s why US broadcast journalists need to pay attention. Once they report on issues, they become part of the national debate and then move the polls. And Congress pays attention to the polls. Close attention.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Ted Cartselos wrote:

    Obama is a very weak President.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Ted Cartselos wrote:

    The hunger strike is an excellent example. Reporters started asking Obama questions about Guantanamo at his news conferences. People started talking about it again when his answers to CBS news failed to make much of any sense. So he gave a speech. I linked to it on my Wall. He made more promises. People stopped talking about it. Out of sight, out of mind.
    And that’s fine with Obama.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    That’s definitely partly true, Ted, but there is movement behind the scenes. Not everyone in the US political establishment is happy with the permanent self-inflicted black eye that Guantanamo is to Establishment America’s notion of itself. But we need to keep exerting pressure – to ask when Obama’s envoy will be appointed, and to call for the release of prisoners, to point out that you can’t ever put a positive spin on force-feeding hunger strikers in a prison where, whether by accident or design, the overwhelming majority of the men are indefinitely detained without charge or trial, even though 86 of them were supposed to have been freed.

  20. Tom says...

    How come the Stateside corporate MSM won’t do their job (or, at least 99%)? Because power and prestige come first. If I put this Code Pink protestor on-air, I’ll get fired. They’re a part of the story. Everyone knows that they are. However, my corporate bosses could care less about that. Am I going to throw away my very well-paying network job in this economy? I don’t think so.

    Is speaking out and trying to do something important? Yes it is. Then again, in this Depression, when push comes to shove, personal survival for many comes first. I’ve been homeless twice. I’m currently on benefits. I see homeless and illegal people in my neighborhood every day. I see people wait 3 hours or longer in low-income health clinics hoping that they’ll be seen by a doctor because they can’t afford to go to a hospital. 98% of my accurate daily news comes online from abroad.

    Not all but many progressive pundits here and news outlets are so desperate for money they’ll literally do almost anything. Many are told as long as they support Obama and the Democrats they’ll be rewarded (book and lecture tours, pundit jobs on cable TV shows, their own syndicated radio talk shows, and more). If you’re given a platform like that, how many will take a stand and tell the truth about Obama? I haven’t seen one.

    If your choices are either keep your home and food on your dining room table or protest for someone you’ve never met (and odds are you never will), which would you do?

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Ted Cartselos wrote:

    Which is why you should come here and tell that story. It’s a big story, Andy.

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Idrees Amin Shah wrote:

    thr is anger within ur community. War on iraq and afgh. Has left these countries in terrible state. I wonder how ur govt will justify this war to its tax payer. I wish thr was no 9/11 and thr was no war.. I wish blood bath stops.

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Breeze Edwards wrote:

    I have watched Obama make promises from the beginning, and wondered if he could do it. Not yet. All that has happened, is that taxes have gone up, services have been compromised, and not that many are better off then they were six years ago. All that has happened is mass paranoid feelings. This second term, Obama is a lame duck. The US has two more years of this uncertainty as far as I can see.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Ted, Idrees and Breeze. Your comments are very much appreciated. And Idrees, it’s impossible to argue with your heartfelt plea for a more peaceful world.

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    We will see what happens, Tom. When regimes that look tolerably bad, because people have to make a living, become intolerably indecent, but people still don’t complain, because they still need to make a living, is that OK? I fear not, as I also fear that, as a result, those who are supposed to monitor and talk about these things – media outlets – are failing to protect, say, the homeless and the systematically incarcerated black people in the US, and the disabled and unemployed here. As well as those men in Guantanamo whose plight takes up so much of my life …

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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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