Calling for the Closure of Guantánamo on the 16th Anniversary of the 9/11 Attacks


A sculpture by José Antonio Elvira in the town of Guantanamo, in Cuba, dated 2006 (Photo: Zósimo, a Creative Commons photo via Wikimedia Commons).It’s the start of my latest quarterly fundraiser. Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.


Today, as we remember the terrible terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, I am also aware that it was those attacks that, in turn, led to a terrible development by the United States that has consumed my life for the last eleven and a half years — the establishment, four months later, of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, where men have been subjected to torture, and are held indefinitely without charge or trial, for the most without anything resembling evidence.

Largely seized by America’s allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and sold for bounty payments, most of the prisoners arrived at Guantánamo without any information about them at all, and the US authorities then proceeded to create what they pretended was evidence by interrogating the prisoners using torture and other forms of duress, thereby rendering most of it worthless — although that conclusion remains something that, sadly, most US citizens, and a shockingly large number of lawmakers neither know nor care about.

Exactly nine years ago, on the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I had an op-ed published in the Guardian, “Bush’s bitter legacy,” in which I began by stating the following, which largely remains relevant today:

Today, as we pause to remember the 3,000 people who died in the dreadful attacks of September 11 2001, it is also important to remember that, in terms of the Bush administration’s response, the bitter legacy of that day remains a deep stain on America’s moral standing.

In order to pursue a “war” against a group of terrorist criminals, the administration flouted the US Constitution and the bill of rights, dismissed the Geneva conventions, endorsed imprisonment without charge or trial, created a system of show trials for terror suspects out of thin air, granted themselves the right to spy on American citizens with impunity, and invaded a sovereign country without justification.

I also noted how “[d]ecisive leadership is now required to correct these mistakes, and to revive the United States as a country founded on the rule of law,” and proceeded to suggest that “[s]ome of this can be accomplished with a few pieces of crucial legislation – upholding the absolute ban on torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, prohibiting the use of “extraordinary rendition”, holding prisoners seized in wartime in accordance with the Geneva conventions, and bringing criminals to justice within the US court system.”

Unfortunately, although the Bush program of torture and rendition is over, shady goings-on still take place in the shadows that attend America’s covert activities in numerous countries around the world, and assassinations by drone have replaced Bush’s network of “black sites.” In addition, at Guantánamo, men are still held without their imprisonment being in accordance with the Geneva conventions, and without anyone who has allegedly committed a crime being brought to justice within the US court system.

Nine years ago, some readers, I recall, thought it was unacceptably insensitive to even mention Guantánamo on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and so, today, 16 years after the attacks, I looked through the headlines to see if that has changed, and was reassured to see a handful of articles specifically dealing with Guantánamo in relation to 9/11.

In the Guardian, Joanna Walters asked, “Will accused 9/11 architect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed ever come to trial?”, looking at how unacceptable it is that the trial for those accused of the 9/11 attacks has not yet taken place — and is still probably many, many years away, if it is to take place at all.

Walters noted that, although military prosecutors hope that his trial by military commission will begin in January 2019, “[m]ost interested experts think that is wildly optimistic, and are asking if [he] will ever stand trial at all.”

His lawyer, David Nevin, said, “It will take another two, three or four years to get the case to trial and it will take a year or so to try. Walters added that he “estimated there would likely follow an initial appeal that could take five years, then that appeal going up to the circuit court – another three or four years – and, maybe four years after that, a conclusion in the US supreme court up to 18 years from now – 34 years after the attacks.”

As Nevin added, “There’s every possibility that my client will die in prison before this process is completed.” He also said, “So you have to ask, why exactly are we doing this, or doing it in this way? We are spending millions and millions of [public] dollars every week for something that could be pointless.”

Al-Jazeera also covered the 9/11 trial today, in an article entitled, “Justice remains elusive on 9/11 anniversary,” and, for the New Yorker, Amy Davidson Sorkin wrote a highly critical piece, criticizing the military commissions, which involve ten of the 41 men still held, and also looking at the other men still held, and how it is that the prison is still open.

As she stated:

Five other prisoners … have been cleared for release, a long process that includes multiple agencies determining that they pose no threat. These are people who probably never should have been sent to Guantánamo in the first place; in some cases, they were ordered released many years ago but are still being held. (One problem is figuring out where to send them.) There are also twenty-six people who are known as “forever prisoners,” meaning that the Obama Administration was too uncertain about their innocence to release them but too timid to file charges against them—whether this was out of fear of an acquittal or because something embarrassing to the government might have emerged, it is impossible to say without a trial. President Obama enshrined this hesitation in a process of “periodic reviews.” The status of these prisoners remains what it is: indefinite detention on no charge, a distinctly un-American condition. The day before Obama left office, he sent a letter to Congress complaining that “politics” had kept him from closing the base. That is true, to an extent: even though George W. Bush had transferred twice as many prisoners as Obama ever did, once Obama took office, the Republicans used the prison issue as a cudgel. When the Obama Administration put together a comprehensive analysis demonstrating, among other things, that supermax prisons did a good job of holding even the worst terrorists, Senator James Inhofe, the Republican of Oklahoma, said that the report was “simply giving cover to President Obama so that he can continue what he is already actively working towards, which is bringing terrorists onto U.S. soil.” But politics is not something that just descends on a President, like a hurricane. Even before Congress made it much harder, the Obama Administration had muddled its chances to close Guantánamo. In 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder said that he would bring Mohammed to New York, to stand trial in federal court. This was the key moment; we might have had a trial years ago if the Administration had stuck to that decision. But, in the face of opposition from Republicans and local politicians, the Administration backed down.

She added, “What this means, in short, is that although Obama scaled Guantánamo down, and brought it a great distance from the days when prisoners were abused there, his successor, Donald Trump, could easily scale it up again.”

16 years after 9/11, this is, sadly, a possibility. As Amy Davidson Sorkin reminded readers, “He has said that he wants to keep it open: during the campaign, he said, ‘We’re gonna load it up with some bad dudes, believe me, we’re gonna load it up.’ That hasn’t happened yet, but, last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that the job of the State Department official assigned to work on closing Guantánamo would be eliminated. The retired general John Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff, oversaw Guantánamo when he led the military’s Southern Command, and has dismissed criticisms of the site as media exaggerations.”

While we wait to see if recent suggestions that Trump is still committed to expanding Guantánamo will come to fruition, we must not allow anyone to suggest that the terrible events of September 11, 2001 provide any basis whatsoever for the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, a moral, legal and ethical abomination that shames the United States, and its claimed respect for the rule of law, every day that it remains open.

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, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), 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.

8 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, in which I quote from an op-ed I wrote for the Guardian nine years ago today, remembering the tragic loss of life on 9/11, but also calling for Guantanamo to be closed as a brutal, lawless and counter-productive response to the attacks. in 2008 I was criticized for my article, but I notice that today criticism of Guantanamo is more widespread, and I cite articles in the Guardian, Al-Jazeera and the New Yorker, criticizing the military commissions, and the long, perhaps endless wait for justice for the 9/11 victims, and worrying about Donald Trump’s alarming desire to keep Guantanamo open.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    It’s the first day of my quarterly fundraiser today. If you can help out at all with a donation, it will be very gratefully received:

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Here’s an interesting op-ed in the Washington Post by Jeremi Suri, professor of history and public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, reflecting on “How 9/11 triggered democracy’s decline” in the US. He cites Guantanamo when referring to how the US government “interrogated thousands of alleged terrorists without due process in military prisons, including Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca in Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba,” but it’s just part of the sweep of his analysis about how “[w]e are fighting wars against our own democracy”:

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    And this is very much worth a read – Andrew Cockburn on the Saudi background to 9/11:

  5. Tom says...

    Hi Andy. Listening to an old 9/11 radio interview you did w/a US station. Nowhere here does anybody say if you really want to respect the memory of the victims, reopen the 9/11 “investigation”.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you, Tom. Is that interview on The Monitor show? I received a notification via this link:
    I just found Andrew Cockburn’s new article for Harper’s, which is interesting, shedding light on the role of the Saudis. I posted the link above, but here it is again:
    I think that addresses some of your concerns.

  7. Tom says...

    Yes, it was KPFT. Re: Saudi involvement in 9/11, that still doesn’t change the fact that the “investigation” was one of the biggest jokes ever. Can you think of a better way to massively insult the memories of the victims?

    Using my legal training. If an investigation was incredibly sloppy, normally there would be some consequences somewhere. I’m not sure about the UK system. But in the US, most prosecutors operate on a points system. If someone wants a prosecution, they decide several things. How will this make my bosses/dept look good? Will this score political points for us in the media? If it doesn’t meet these thresholds, they don’t prosecute. Also, how do you control leaks?

    An investigation is killed for several reasons. It was sloppy and won’t stand up in court. It wasn’t funded and resourced properly from the beginning. Or, the people at the top said kill it. Why won’t many powerful people push for a proper investigation?

    The don’t want embarrassing information exposed.
    They don’t want to be labelled as conspiracy theory nutcases.

    So how do they stop these calls?
    You shout them down.
    You publically humiliate them.
    You threaten to prosecute them for some bogus charge. Many times this will be malicious prosecution which can backfire on prosecutors.
    If necessary, you insist that something’s classified.

    To prosecute a case, you need evidence that can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt (the common standard for criminal cases. For civil, it’s different). If the evidence is classified (or witnesses are under non disclosure agreements), you have no evidence. Which means no case. Even if you know you’re right and can prove it.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tom. Yes, there has been no effort to provide justice for the victims of 9/11 – the woeful investigation you discuss, and also of course the failure to prosecute those allegedly responsible for the attacks. It’s actually quite shocking to hear David Nevin, KSM’s attorney, say that he thinks it possible that his client will die before a trial proceeds.

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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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