150 Days of the GTMO Clock: Despite Obama’s Promise, Just Two out of 86 Cleared Prisoners Freed from Guantánamo


Today the GTMO Clock, an initiative launched by the “Close Guantánamo” campaign in August, marks a sad anniversary — 150 days since President Obama promised to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo who were cleared for release by an inter-agency task force he appointed when he took office in 2009. Although 86 men (out of 166 prisoners in total) were cleared for release when the president made his promise on May 23, just two of those 86 men have been freed in the last five months.

Please visit the GTMO Clock site, like it, share it and tweet it if you regard this as unacceptable.

President Obama made his promise in a major speech on national security issues, when he stated, “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.”

Since that speech, two envoys have been appointed — Cliff Sloan at the State Department (in June), and Paul M. Lewis at the Pentagon, in an appointment announced two weeks ago. Sloan, described by The Hill as “a veteran Washington attorney and civil servant,” clerked for Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, and, more recently, was the publisher of Slate magazine, and legal counsel for the Washington Post‘s online operations. Lewis has served as General Counsel for the House Armed Services Committee, and the director of the Office of Legislative Counsel in the Office of the General Counsel of the Department of Defense. He begins his job on November 1.

Encouragingly, a Pentagon press release described Lewis as the “Special Envoy for Guantánamo closure,” and it is to be hoped that he will help to fulfill the president’s other promises. Despite lifting his own moratorium on releasing cleared Yemenis, which he imposed following a failed bomb plot in December 2009 that was hatched in Yemen, the president has failed to release any Yemenis, even though they comprise two-thirds of the 84 cleared prisoners.

In fact, the president has released just two prisoners since he made his promise to resume releasing prisoners — two Algerians who were repatriated in August.

To demand the release of all the prisoners who were told in January 2010 that the US government no longer wished to hold them — and who, in many cases, were cleared for release by military review boards under President Bush, in 2006 and 2007 — please do the following:

What you can do now

1. Call the White House and ask President Obama to release all the men cleared for release. Call 202-456-1111 or 202-456-1414 or submit a comment online.

2. You can also call the Department of Defense, and ask Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to issue the certifications required by Congress to enable prisoners to be released, on 703-571-3343.

3. Please also feel free to write to the prisoners at Guantánamo.

Note: This article was published simultaneously here and on the website of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign.

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).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

8 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone supporting the GTMO Clock. It continues to shock and dismay me that so much effort has been required by so many to secure such an inadequate result to date – just two men freed after a prison-wide hunger strike, months of attention from the mainstream media globally, official complaints by the UN and the European Parliament, a million people signing petitions, and high-level criticism by Sen. Carl Levin and other senior Democrats. Everyone who has any power and authority in the US who is helping to keep this wretched place open should be profoundly ashamed.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    My apologies for a typo in the heading to this article. It read “Just Two out of 84 Cleared Prisoners Freed,” instead of “Just Two out of 86 Cleared Prisoners Freed.” I have been rather sleep deprived lately – an unfortunate by-product of the medication I’ve been taking for the blood disorder I suffer from – and being tired makes it difficult to concentrate.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Kathleen Kelly wrote:

    Andy, i sent him an email and got such a discouraging response. I can’t believe that he ever taught constitutional law. i’ll keep writng, though.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Kathleen, for your persistence. It is hugely important that we keep letting our leaders know that we haven’t forgotten the men in Guantanamo. I’d be interested to see the response you got, if you’d care to forward it to me.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Kathleen Kelly wrote:

    Andy, i must have deleted it– it was basically a recap of what his administration has done on the issue ( very little) and then a very insulting admonition. It was something like ” Al-Qaeda and their allies use Guantanamo for propaganda purposes and we mustn’t fall into that trap.” Andy–thank you so much for your continuing focus on this issue and don’t worry–I’ll keep writing and i’ll save my responses.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    This is what a friend received from Obama, Kathleen. Does it look familiar?

    Thank you for writing. I have heard from many Americans about the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, and I appreciate your perspective.

    As Commander in Chief, my highest priority is protecting the American people. I am using the full spectrum of diplomatic, economic, law enforcement, and military tools to address the security concerns we face, especially the threat posed by terrorists. Al-Qa’ida and its affiliates have repeatedly used the Guantanamo Bay detention facilities against us to mischaracterize the values of the United States in the public arena. We must deny al-Qa’ida and its affiliates and adherents this recruiting tool. I remain fully committed to doing what is in the national security interest of our country and closing the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay.

    Since I took office, my Administration has taken important steps to close Guantanamo. My Administration, for the first time ever, consolidated all information about the detainees held at Guantanamo. After carefully reviewing that information, the departments and agencies charged with protecting our national security unanimously agreed on the most appropriate disposition for each individual. In addition to prosecuting detainees in Federal court and reformed military commissions, we are working with our allies to repatriate and resettle detainees when that can be done in a manner consistent with our national security. We have also established a just and lawful process, including a thorough system of periodic review, for handling those detainees who cannot be prosecuted but are too dangerous to be resettled or released. To learn more about this commitment, please visit http://www.WhiteHouse.gov.

    Adhering to our Nation’s ideals is integral to protecting ourselves and defeating the extremists who threaten us and our allies. Our principles have made America a beacon of hope, and by upholding the rule of law, we are more respected and admired abroad, and better able to rally the world against our common foes. Again, thank you for writing about this important issue.


    Barack Obama

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Kathleen Kelly wrote:

    Very close–probably identical, except for the last paragraph. I clearly remember being warned about Al-Qaeda using Gitmo for “propaganda” purposes along with a warning to be careful not to fall into that “trap”. i remember it so specifically because I was absolutely infuriated. I am sure that you are being very closely watched, Andy. Please take care. My government has a history of retaliating against journalists who deviate from the party line.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Rather ironic you being warned not to fall into a “trap,” Kathleen, when the holder of the keys to that trap won’t do what is necessary to close it. As for surveillance, I try not to worry, as most of my work consists of analyses derived from publicly available documents, but that’s not true of all my work (as I worked as a media partner with WikiLeaks in 2011), and it’s clear from the Obama administration’s treatment of whistleblowers and those who expose secrets in general – and those who assist them – that this is an age of dangerous intolerance.

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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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