Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses Obama’s Failure to Close Guantánamo on the Scott Horton Show


On Thursday, just after President Obama had spoken about Guantánamo, for the first time since the global protests on May 23 (the first anniversary of his promise to resume releasing prisoners after two year and eight months in which just five men had been released), the ever-indignant radio host Scott Horton asked if I was free to talk.

As one of the first radio hosts to take an interest in my work (back in August 2007), Scott is someone I always like to talk to, especially as we hadn’t spoken since February, and there was much to discuss. Our half-hour interview is available here, or see here for the link to the show on Scott’s own website. For the first time we used Skype for the interview, and I have to say that the sound quality is wonderfully clear.

President Obama had spoken about Guantánamo in a speech about America’s foreign policy at the US Military Academy at West Point, in which he said, “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being. But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it’s our willingness to affirm them through our actions. That’s why I will continue to push to close GTMO — because American values and legal traditions don’t permit the indefinite detention of people beyond our borders.”

One of the things that Scott and I talked about was whether or not the president meant to imply that American values and legal traditions do permit the indefinite detention of people within America’s borders — through the National Defense Authorization Act, for example — or whether that was just an unfortunate choice of phrase.

The protests on May 23 — a global day of action initiated by the US-based activists of Witness Against Torture — marked the anniversary of a major speech on national security by President Obama, prompted by a prison-wide hunger strike and the widespread indignation it triggered in world leaders, NGOs, the global media and the million ordinary people who signed petitions calling for the prison’s closure.

In the speech, President Obama promised to appoint two new envoys — in the Pentagon and the State Department — to help with the closure of Guantánamo, dropped a ban on releasing Yemeni prisoners that he had imposed after it was revealed that a failed airline bomb plot in December 2009 had been hatched in Yemen, and promised to resume releasing prisoners who had been cleared for release by a high-level, inter-agency task force that he appointed shortly after taking office in January 2009.

At the time of his speech, 86 prisoners cleared for release were still held, and since then, although 17 men have been released — including 11 of the 86 men cleared for release, another man who agreed to a fixed sentence as part of a plea deal in his trial by military commission, and five men in a prisoner swap at the weekend (which I’ll be writing about very soon) — 75 other prisoners cleared for release by the task force are still held, plus three other men cleared for release since last year’s speech by Periodic Review Boards, convened to assess whether the majority of the rest of the prisoners — those not cleared for release by the task force — should be added to the list of those the US says it no longer wants to hold.

Of these 78 men, 58 are Yemenis, and although President Obama appointed the two envoys he promised to appoint, he has not yet released a single Yemeni. The last Yemeni to leave the prison alive was in July 2010, while another died in September 2012, despite having been repeatedly approved for release.

As I keep pointing out, releasing the Yemenis is essential, not only to show a respect for justice on the part of President Obama, but also to move towards his long-delayed promise to close the prison.

Scott and I talked about these issues, and many others, including whether or not President Obama will close Guantánamo before the end of his presidency, the Periodic Review Boards, the failure of the military commissions, and the Bush administration’s deliberate and long-lasting effort to confuse soldiers and terrorists, and I hope you have time to listen to the show, and to share it if you find it useful.

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 six-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.

39 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Holly Marie wrote:

    What a disappointment. Obama released 5 people the other day and not one word from you, Andy. I have to say, I am very surprised at your omission of facts and bending of things to suit your story.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Please, Holly, don’t pass judgments when you don’t have the facts. I was away at the weekend, and will be writing about the release of the five prisoners very soon. If you bothered to do a little research, you would find out that I have been writing consistently about Guantanamo for seven years, and I have never failed to write about the release of prisoners.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Holly Marie wrote:

    Last thing on your mind, was it? Sorry Andy – this is a big story, you even posted another story in the meantime, yet you continue on this narrative. It disrupts your narrative to admit 5 were released doesn’t it? Not a single peep out of you on it.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Please, Holly, stop your incessant attacks on me. If you can only attack me, please go away and leave me alone. Seriously. I’m not interested in your constant and inaccurate sniping. I was away from Friday morning until Sunday evening, when I wasn’t online at all, and the article I wrote and published. which you mentioned, I wrote on the train on the way back. It was about the Battle of the Beanfield, which I try to commemorate on June 1 every year.
    Why, in any case, do you think it’s important that I write about this prisoner swap immediately?

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Mark Bailey wrote:

    I’ve been following Andy a long time and not sure what you are on about at all Holly.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Holly Marie wrote:

    I am tired of seeing how you warp the story, that’s how I see it. I am sorry, but you have a duty to your readers, supporters and the TRUTH to not do this. You vent at Obama and omit much of the truth, like failing to say a darn thing about this story.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Holly Marie wrote:

    FIVE TALIBAN released and you still scream about Obama ‘keeping his promises”

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Bye bye, Holly. I won’t stand for personal abuse. I HAVE NOT HAD THE TIME TO WRITE ABOUT IT YET. I will be writing about it tomorrow. Do not expect any more responses from me. I will delete all comments you make from now on. You cannot abuse people with impunity and expect to get away with it.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Ryan Hunt wrote:

    Wow, Holly! Instead of trying to browbeat Andy into writing exactly what you want him to, why don’t you simply write it yourself? In fact, why don’t you spend years tirelessly and selflessly devoting your time and effort to raising public awareness around a particular issue through blogging and online activism. That will certainly be a more productive use of your time, and will probably also lead you to a more sympathetic perspective toward the years of work Andy has put into this issue!

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Toia Tutta Jung wrote:

    Holly Marie has the typical behaviour of a troll, maybe she´s a real person, with real and genuine worries, but then she should seek help. I hope you don´t get disturbed by these events, Andy.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Amy Phillips wrote:

    Thanks for everything you do Andy – I can tell you that you have certainly educated me and have sparked a fire within me for doing whatever I can to protest this horror.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Mo D’oh wrote:

    i hope you know that most of us support the work you do, Andy…. the shares show it

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Ryan, Toia, Amy and Mo D’oh for the supportive words. I did get disturbed, Toia, because it wasn’t the first time I’d been attacked by this person, and it’s upsetting when it’s directed in a personal manner, but I’m OK now. This is the first person I have ever blocked, as I generally believe people have the right to express themselves, and my page is open to anyone, but I have always said that I draw the line at personal attacks – and this was personal.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Charmaine Dolan wrote:

    Typical trolling, attacked Andy from the start. Maybe fake profile …

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Carol Anne Grayson wrote:

    My article on Bowe as have been active on this prisoner exchange..

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for that, Carol. Good to hear from you.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Toia Tutta Jung wrote:

    Prob coming directly from Obama Care Team 🙂 Andy please, do not take these attacks seriously. They only prove that your work is bothering some people.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Toia Tutta Jung wrote:

    Excellent article Carol Anne Grayson.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    And thanks again, Toia, and thanks also, Charmaine.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Willy Bach wrote:

    Andy, you are right regarding Holly’s comments and her unwarranted personal attacks on you. I welcome the release of the five Afghans, but aren’t they going into Qatari custody?

    An interesting phenomenon that I have observed regarding the proposed release of these five Afghans from Guantanamo is the interviews with Bowe Bergdahl’s mother.

    It is remarkable that in ten years the Taliban only captured one US soldier, perhaps they shot the rest. It is also remarkable that he has remained in Taliban custody for five years – and he does appear to be in reasonable shape. We, the world audience, are made aware of his mother’s pain. She misses him, she prays for him. All understandable, yes of course.

    Yet, all this focus of attention takes place without the slightest embarrassment to the US government and not a thought for the many Guantanamo abductees whose families also grieve with the added torment of knowing their loved one is suffering torture and brutal, humiliating treatment. Their stories must also be told – as you have been doing for the past seven years.

    I would add for North American friends: hey, learn to empathise. Other people suffer pain too. It is not all about you.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Willy. Yes, from what I’ve read they will be held in Qatar for at least a year, so as far as I can see the right-wing hysteria looks rather shrill and empty.
    As for your point about empathy, yes it would be progress, wouldn’t it, if some people could look at issues involving pain and conflict from both sides …

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Ted Cartselos wrote:

    It’s causing a huge stink here in the US news media.
    Aside from the fact that the five released were high ranking Taliban officials deemed “dangerous” is the fact that Bergdahl appears to have deserted his post and walked off his base without permission or a weapon. Six U.S. soldiers were killed trying to find him. He has written extensively that the U.S. mission in Afghanistan was immoral and wrong. The backlash to all this is just starting to heat up. I don’t think we’re going to see many more detainees released anytime soon.

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Ted Cartselos wrote:

    Here you go. I saw this reported twice on the national news:
    Pentagon to review claims US soldiers killed during search for Bergdahl

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Ted Cartselos wrote:

    This article appeared in Rolling Stone two years ago. It’s eerie:
    America’s Last Prisoner of War

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Ted,
    Thanks for the comments and links. I do believe, however, that the hysteria will die down. Chuck Hagel made it clear that they moved swiftly, and with apparent secrecy, because they had worries about Bergdahl’s health, and those who are saying he should have been abandoned are, in any case, ignoring the fact that, in December, the drawdown of US troops will mean that the US will have no further justification for holding Taliban prisoners.

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    Carol Anne Grayson wrote:

    Excellent work Andy, doing a great job as always. Regarding the latest exchange, just discovered that Bowe was being held in Miranshah, N Waziristan. which has been subjected to intense shelling recently from Pakistan airforce to the point that Taliban has advised civilians to move across the border to Khost Afghanistan… lots of casualties. I feel this is likely why the exchange happened now you cant bargain with a dead soldier and B would be at risk plus Taliban set for more heavy fighting video to be released to media very soon so we hear. Taliban had in fact assisted forwarding messages on my behalf from Robert Bergdahl also to relevant group to push for his release and go forward with prisoner exchange and I was was trying to get message not to go for military ops but peaceful exchange as US were ready to release the 5 Taliban.

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    Carol Anne Grayson wrote:

    Regarding whether B[owe Bergdahl] deserted… his fellow soldiers put story out today saying he had… From messages received from his father, he was definitely unhappy about the war and was distressed about loss of friend that affected him badly so we need to wait to hear from Bowe himself… Hopefully this exchange will speed things up for others… I hear another 19 Afghans are likely to be released over coming year and we must keep up pressure for Shaker Aamer and others… I believe Robert will help push for this once he has spent time with his son and I am grateful for assistance from key Taliban commanders who listened to me and said they would do what they could to help me… they were true to their word….

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your perspective, Carol. Very interesting. Just for clarification, there are now 12 Afghans still held in Guantanamo, and as you say, we must keep up the pressure for the release of all the prisoners cleared for release – who include four of these Afghans, as well as Shaker Aamer, 58 Yemenis and 15 others.

  29. Bill Jones says...

    I’m always impressed just how thoroughly prepared Scott Horton is for his interviews.

  30. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, he’s good, isn’t he, Bill? I admire Scott’s particular energy and indignation, but I think being well-informed is something that intelligent outsiders often share. The establishment, seduced by power and wealth, generally has less interest in the intellect than it should have.

  31. arcticredriver says...

    Andy, WRT Holly Marie’s demands, there is something I hope you will allow me to respond to.

    Andy, you have been incredibly diligent about your well-researched and well thought out coverage of Guantanamo related issues for years. Quarterly, you ask readers to make a donation to help support your work. Your work is highly professional, and really merits donations.

    It is my impression that those donations have been relatively modest — when compared with professional alarmists, who I think show questionable intellectual honesty, like Evan Kohlmann, and Thomas Jocelyn. Kohlmann seem to be rolling in financial support. Kohlmann has an institute, which I believe implies he has support staff that your work richly deserves.

    I think someone needs to point out to Holly Marie how unfair it is for her to demand you cover events to her schedule when you deserve to have a private life; when you deserve to pick your topics to fit within your schedule. Even if Holly Marie had donated generously, your choice of topics, and the schedule you wrote about them should remain yours.

    I really wish we lived in a world where intelligent and fair-minded discussion of these important issues, such as you provide, enjoyed as much support at that given to professional alarmists, who cater to prejudices, and hysteria.


  32. Andy Worthington says...

    And thank you, arcticredriver. I won’t address the issue with Holly anymore, except to say that she took exception to my reporting about Sulaiman Abu Ghaith’s trial and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s testimony earlier this year, and then embarked on something of a vendetta against me, so it was no longer something rational.
    I agree that I deserve a private life and some free time, and I agree wholeheartedly that the professional alarmists, as you so wonderfully describe them, are shockingly well-funded, whereas I am not. I could really do with a fundraising assistant, to be honest, but in the meantime I will be holding another fundraiser next week, and anyone who wishes to donate can do so via the “Donate” button at the top right of the site.
    Plug over!

  33. Andy Worthington says...

    Carol Anne Grayson wrote:

    Thanks for figures… the Afghans mentioned was not clear how many were Gitmo or elsewhere…

  34. Andy Worthington says...

    Carol Anne Grayson wrote:

    So I think a combination of declining food which worried his captors and the bombardment… set to get worse with Taliban splits and one insurgent group friendly to govt having now pulled away in NWA… video on this expected very soon… will share when I receive from Taliban

  35. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks again, Carol. I hope you’re coping with the insanity of much of the US reporting and the posturing of politicians. Disgraceful, really.
    We’ve had John McCain calling the released prisoners “the five biggest murderers in world history!” When John Kerry questioned that claim, McCain said, “They killed Americans! I suppose Senator Kerry is OK with that?”
    The truth, however, is more along the lines of what Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor of the military commissions, told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now: “It was disappointing hearing not just Senator Cruz, there have been many, John McCain and others, that have tried to use this as political capital to make President Obama look weak. I think that is a false narrative and unfortunately, too many of the public buy into it. Senator Cruz said, how many Americans died trying to capture these five Taliban figures? As best I can tell, the answer to his question is none. There is information available to the public about the five individuals and how they were captured. Two I believe surrendered to the Afghan government. There is one captured I believe in Pakistan. There’s no indication that any of these people — I think the picture that is trying — that’s being painted is that in the midst of battle that the U.S. forces captured these guys and lives were lost in the process, and that simply is not the case.”

  36. Andy Worthington says...

    Pamela Hardyment wrote:

    Obama releases five men who have not been tried and subject to any judicial process? How civilised is that Holly? I hope the rest of Guantanamo’s captives are released and especially the remaining British man..I am not sure what Holly is on but it sounds like an excess of Obama fruit, steered a good conversation into a silly we have tens of thousands of grunts on our European soil thanks to Obomber..anybody who can’t see where he is coming from needs a brainwash.

  37. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Pamela. I too hope that the hysteria dies down and more prisoners are released – the 78 cleared for release. it really shouldn’t be asking for too much.

  38. Thomas says...

    The problems with letting people out of Guantanamo are

    1-there are a few genuine bad guys in there and
    2-if the prisoners did not hate the US before, they do now.

  39. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the comments, Thomas. As ever, though, there have never been many genuine bad guys in Guantanamo, and, while many of the men still held may well hate the way they have been treated by the US government, they also know that not all Americans are responsible. They know the attorneys representing them, for example, and they know that many people are working to close the prison and are appalled by what has been done in their name. I think very few of them will have been so damaged by their experiences that it will have turned them into something they weren’t before (i.e. terrorists) – and in most cases all they will want to do is to be reunited with their families, and to try to put their lives back together again.

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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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