Rights Groups Send An Open Letter to President Obama and Ashton Carter: Free the 57 Guantánamo Prisoners Approved for Release


A collaged image of President Obama and a guard tower at Guantanamo.Below is an open letter that has just been made available by 13 human rights organizations and lawyers’ groups calling for immediate action by President Obama and defense secretary Ashton Carter to secure the release of the 57 men still held at Guantánamo (out of the 122 men still held) who have been cleared for release — or approved for transfer, in the administration’s careful words. The signatories also call on the administration to try or release the other men, and to move towards the eventual closure of the prison, as President Obama first promised when he took office in January 2009.

The spur for the letter, which I initiated on behalf of Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker, is the second anniversary of President Obama’s promise to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, after Congress raised legislative obstacles, which he made in a major speech on national security issues on May 23, 2013.

Also of great relevance is the arrival in Washington, D.C. today of a British Parliamentary delegation calling for the release and return to the UK of one of the 57, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison. The four MPs involved are the Conservative MPs David Davis and Andrew Mitchell, and the Labour MPs Andy Slaughter and Jeremy Corbyn, who are part of the cross-party Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, and they will be meeting administration officials and Senators to try to secure a timeline for Shaker Aamer’s release.

It is also reassuring that, in the last few weeks, three prominent Democratic Senators — Patrick Leahy, Dianne Feinstein and Dick Durbin — have written to President Obama calling for the release of the 57 men, as has retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who, in a speech in Washington, D.C., also said they might be due compensation for their long ordeal.

Whilst it is commendable that 44 men have been freed since President Obama’s speech two years ago, all of the organizations and groups involved in the open letter are committed to seeing further action to release the other men approved for release — including Shaker Aamer, who could be returned to his family in the UK tomorrow — as swiftly as possible.

Those responsible for the letter are also concerned that reviews for the men not cleared for release and not facing trials — the Periodic Review Boards — take place as swiftly as possible, as it remains intolerable that, over 13 years since Guantánamo opened, the majority of those still held are still subjected to indefinite detention without charge or trial, something that no country that claims to respect the rule of law should tolerate.

Please also feel free to visit the Gitmo Clock website, established by Close Guantánamo after President Obama’s May 2013 speech, to mark how many days it is since the promise to resume releasing prisoners, and how many men have been freed.

An Open Letter to President Obama and Ashton Carter: Free the 57 Guantánamo Prisoners Approved for Transfer

Together the undersigned organizations call for the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to be closed, and we ask President Obama and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to swiftly transfer the 57 prisoners at Guantánamo who have already been cleared for transfer—the majority for over five years—and release or charge in a federal court those who have not been cleared for transfer.

May 23 marks the second anniversary of President Obama’s promise to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, after Congress raised legislative obstacles, which he made during remarks at the National Defense University. The President’s promise was prompted in particular by a prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo, undertaken by men who—according to SOUTHCOM Commander General John Kelly—were “devastated” that the administration had “backed off” closing the prison.

Since that speech, 44 men have been freed. However, 122 men remain at Guantánamo, even though almost all of them have never been charged, let alone tried, for any crime. It is time for President Obama, and Defense Secretary Carter, to take action to transfer the 57 men still held who have already been approved to leave Guantánamo, and to release or charge in federal court those who remain.

The British Parliamentary delegation, at a briefing yesterday (May 18) prior to their departure for the US, to raise Shaker's case with the U.S. authorities. From L to R: MPs David Davis, Andy Slaughter, Andrew Mitchell and Jeremy Corbyn. (Photo by Stefano Massimo).Today, just days before the anniversary of President Obama’s promise, a delegation of British MPs is visiting Washington, D.C., to discuss the release of Shaker Aamer, one of the 57 and the last British resident in Guantánamo. This follows the creation of a cross-party Parliamentary Group, and a motion passed by the British Parliament in March, calling for his release and return to his family in the U.K., and a similar call made by Prime Minister David Cameron in a meeting with President Obama in January.

As well as calling for the transfer of the 57 men cleared for transfer, including Shaker Aamer, we also call on the administration to speed up the Periodic Review Boards (PRBs), designed to review the cases of the men who have not been cleared for transfer and are not facing trials. Since the PRBs began in November 2013, 14 men have been reviewed and nine have been approved for transfer. If the process does not speed up, it will take until January 2021 to complete the reviews—19 years after Guantánamo first opened.

The prison at Guantánamo is an expensive mistake that—according to national security officials, and President Obama—harms U.S. security interests. The U.S. government must act to close the prison as quickly as possible.

Amnesty International USA
Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR)
Close Guantánamo
Code Pink
Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR)
National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT)
No More Guantánamos
September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows
Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (TASSC)
Veterans For Peace
We Stand With Shaker
Witness Against Torture

For further information, please contact Andy Worthington of Close Guantánamo
or Matt Hawthorne of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT).

For further information about the British Parliamentary delegation, please contact Katherine O’Shea of Reprieve.

Note: This article was published simultaneously here and on “Close Guantánamo.”

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers). He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, the co-director of “We Stand With Shaker,” calling for the immediate release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — 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, the full military commissions 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.

21 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s an open letter to President Obama and Ashton Carter from 13 human rights organizations and lawyers’ groups – inc. Close Guantanamo and We Stand With Shaker – calling for the release of the 57 men still held at ‪Guantanamo‬ who have been approved for release, mostly since 2009. The letter marks two years since Obama’s promise to resume releasing prisoners, during 2013’s hunger strike, and also coincides with the arrival in Washington D.C. today of a delegation of British MPs calling for the release of Shaker Aamer, who is one of the 57. We also call for the closure of Guantanamo, and for the Periodic Review Board process to be speeded up. Please share widely!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    When my friend Jan Strain shared this, she wrote:

    From Andy Worthington:
    The continued call for freeing those 57 prisoners held in Guantanamo that have been cleared (more than once) for release.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jan. They’ve not all been approved for release more than once, but many of them have – like Shaker Aamer, and many of the Yemenis; enough to make one wonder how, metaphorically, the US establishment can bear to look at itself in the mirror.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    Andy, I suspect many of them don’t look in the mirror or spend all their time gazing in a mirror instead of paying attention to humanity.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I think the powerful are in general lacking in self-reflection, Jan.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Betty Molchany wrote:

    It has been six years – six years! – since most of these 57 men have been cleared for release from Guantanamo Bay. Who is committing a crime here?

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Betty. Yes, holding someone six years after you said you didn’t want to hold them is almost unbearably cruel, as far as I can see – a twist of the knife that would make a dictator blush.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Sarah Kay wrote:

    The UK Parliamentary Committee for Shaker Aamer is in DC today. Andy initiated a letter calling for release of 57 Guantanamo detainees – including Shaker – signed by 13 human rights organisations.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for sharing, Sarah. So great that this delegation finally happened!

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Sarah Kay wrote:

    Same! Excited. A bit anxious… But mostly hopeful

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, that’s about it, Sarah!

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Here’s a link to the open letter published, via Reprieve, on Common Dreams: http://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2015/05/19/rights-groups-send-open-letter-president-obama-and-ashton-carter-free-57

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Pauline Kiernan wrote:

    Thank you as always Andy. Sharing.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Pauline. I thought the two occasions – the 2nd anniversary of Obama’s promise to resume releasing prisoners, and the arrival in the US of the delegation of British MPs to discuss Shaker Aamer’s case – needed marking, and was glad that the groups involved in this letter were interested.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Pauline Kiernan wrote:

    Brilliant idea.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    🙂 Pauline.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Marion Heads wrote:

    Excellent as always Andy

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the support, Marion!

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Betty Molchany wrote, in response to 7, above:

    Thank you, Andy, for your many years of work long before six years to free these most unfortunate men.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    It’s nearly ten years since I first began researching Guantanamo, Betty – in September 2005. I found it completely unacceptable that the Bush administration wouldn’t even tell the world who it was holding, so I started looking into whatever information was publicly available. I had no idea at the time, of course, that I’d still be working to get the wretched place shut down nearly ten years later!

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m glad to note that Common Dreams also published an article about the open letter: http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/05/19/rights-groups-obama-no-more-foot-dragging-closing-guantanamo

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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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