24 Senators Send a Letter to President Biden Urging Him to Close Guantánamo

20.4.21

Campaigners calling for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay outside the Supreme Court on Jan. 11, 2017, the 15th anniversary of the prison’s opening (Photo: Susan Melkisethian via Flickr).

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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.





 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

In the long struggle to try to secure the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, there has rarely been adequate support from lawmakers, so it was extremely reassuring, on April 16, to see that 24 Democratic Senators — almost half of the Democrats in the Senate — have written a letter to President Biden urging him to close the prison once and for all.

Led by Senate Majority Whip and Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, and including Patrick Leahy, Dianne Feinstein, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, the 24 Senators not only urged President Biden to close the prison, but also provided detailed proposals for how that can be achieved.

These proposals involve re-establishing the Office of the Special Envoy for Guantánamo Closure at the State Department, which we discussed in an article just last week, and also appointing a “senior White House official” to be “accountable for the closure process.”

Regarding the 40 men still held, the Senators point out that, “Once re-appointed, the Envoy should immediately begin the work of repatriating or resettling the six men who are already cleared for transfer, as well as preparing for the transfer of any remaining detainees who will not be charged with crimes.”

We discussed the six men approved for release last week, calling for them to be granted their freedom as swiftly as possible, but we are delighted to see that the Senators have also insisted that anyone who is not going to be charged with a crime must also be freed, as I also discussed in a previous article.

This is particularly significant for the 22 men in this category, who have long been described by the media with shocking accuracy as “forever prisoners,” and it is reassuring that the Senators also recognize that, “If the Justice Department were not to oppose habeas petitions in appropriate cases, those detainees could be transferred more easily pursuant to court orders.”

In addition, the Senators are to be commended for seeking to break the deadlock regarding the men facing trials in the broken military commission trial system — currently ten of those still held — by urging President Biden “to direct the Justice Department to explore pursuing plea agreements remotely, via video conference, with detainees for whom there are federal charges available and against whom the Department has sufficient untainted evidence to bring such charges.”

The full letter is posted below, and I hope that you have time to read it, and that you’ll share it widely if you appreciate this very important position taken by the Senators.

Letter to President Biden from 24 Senators, Urging Him to Close the Prison at Guantánamo Bay

United States Senate

April 16, 2021

President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear President Biden:

We applaud your pledge to “put universal rights and strengthening democracy at the center of our efforts to meet the challenges of the 21st century.” One critical step toward doing so is finally closing the detention facility at U.S. Naval Station Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. As a symbol of lawlessness and human rights abuses, the detention facility continues to harm U.S. national security by serving as a propaganda tool for America’s enemies and continues to hinder counterterrorism efforts and cooperation with allies.

The detention facility was established in 2002 to detain individuals suspected of involvement in the terrorist attacks on our country on 9/11. For nearly two decades, the offshore prison has damaged America’s reputation, fueled anti-Muslim bigotry, and weakened the United States’ ability to counterterrorism and fight for human rights and the rule of law around the world. In addition to the $540 million in wasted taxpayer dollars each year to maintain and operate the facility, the prison also comes at the price of justice for the victims of 9/11 and their families, who are still waiting for trials to begin.

We welcome the recent announcement that the White House is leading an interagency review on closing the prison. Only 40 men remain in detention at Guantánamo — all of them aging and many with complex health problems. Six of those men have been approved for transfer by the executive branch, in some cases for over a decade. After years of indefinite detention without charge or trial; a history of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; and multiple attempts at a thoroughly failed and discredited military commission process, it is past time to close Guantánamo’s detention facility and end indefinite detention.

With sufficient political will and swift action, your administration can finish the job that Presidents George W. Bush and Obama began.

Strong and effective leadership from the White House will be necessary. A senior White House official should be accountable for the closure process, including ensuring interagency cooperation and resolving any disputes that may arise. Because indefinite detention at Guantánamo is at its core a human rights problem — one that demands solutions rooted in diplomacy and that uphold U.S. human rights and humanitarian law obligations — the National Security Council’s human rights directorate should play a leading role in both the review you have ordered as well as throughout the closure process.

Also critical is immediately re-establishing the Special Envoy for Guantánamo Closure at the State Department, and rebuilding appropriate closure infrastructure at the Defense Department. Diplomacy is essential to the closure process, which is why President Obama established the Envoy’s office. The State Department must lead in identifying transfer countries and negotiating transfer agreements, but President Trump discarded that capacity when he eliminated the Envoy’s position. Once re-appointed, the Envoy should immediately begin the work of repatriating or resettling the six men who are already cleared for transfer, as well as preparing for the transfer of any remaining detainees who will not be charged with crimes.

We also urge you to make use of our federal court system in ways that are consistent with current law but that have been underutilized by previous administrations. For example, detainees’ habeas cases provide an opportunity to expedite foreign transfers. If the Justice Department were not to oppose habeas petitions in appropriate cases, those detainees could be transferred more easily pursuant to court orders.

Article III courts can also be utilized more directly at Guantánamo itself. Given the current statutory prohibition on transfers to the United States, we urge you to direct the Justice Department to explore pursuing plea agreements remotely, via video conference, with detainees for whom there are federal charges available and against whom the Department has sufficient untainted evidence to bring such charges. In the event that a detainee is sentenced to a period of incarceration beyond time already served at Guantánamo, your administration could negotiate with foreign governments to allow the remaining time to be completed in the transfer country subject to the terms of the plea agreement.

Finally, in service of both closing the Guantánamo detention facility and upholding the United States’ human rights obligations, we urge you to reverse erroneous and troubling legal positions taken by the Trump Administration regarding the application of relevant international and domestic legal protections to Guantánamo, including in particular the position that the Constitution’s Due Process Clause does not apply to the men detained there.

After the unprecedented damage of the last four years to America’s standing in the world, closing the Guantánamo detention facility is more important than ever for sending a message about what we stand for as a nation. We urge you to act swiftly to ensure that message is loud and clear.

Sincerely,

RICHARD J. DURBIN
United States Senator
PATRICK LEAHY
United States Senator
DIANNE FEINSTEIN
United States Senator
PATTY MURRAY
United States Senator
SHELDON WHITEHOUSE
United States Senator
ELIZABETH WARREN
United States Senator
KRISTEN GILLIBRAND
United States Senator
MAZIE K. HIRONO
United States Senator
EDWARD J. MARKEY
United States Senator
BERNARD SANDERS
United States Senator
BRIAN SCHATZ
United States Senator
ALEX PADILLA
United States Senator
GARY C. PETERS
United States Senator
RON WYDEN
United States Senator
CHRIS VAN HOLLEN
United States Senator
BENJAMIN L. CARDIN
United States Senator
CORY A. BOOKER
United States Senator
CHRISTOPHER A. COONS
United States Senator
JEFFREY A. MERKLEY
United States Senator
MARTIN HEINRICH
United States Senator
BEN RAY LUJAN
United States Senator
RICHARD BLUMENTHAL
United States Senator
AMY KLOBUCHAR
United States Senator
TINA SMITH
United States Senator

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer (of an ongoing photo-journalism project, ‘The State of London’), 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 see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison 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, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.55).

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of the documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the resistance continues.

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, The Complete Guantánamo Files, 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.

15 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Well, this is significant. 24 Democratic Senators – including Dick Durbin, Patrick Leahy, Dianne Feinstein, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders – have sent a letter to President Biden, urging him to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

    The Senators, crucially, are calling for all the prisoners who are not going to be charged with crimes to be released, which, at present, is 28 of the 40 men still held. They also call for President Biden to urgently appoint a “senior White House official” to be “accountable for the closure process,” and to re-establish the Office of the Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure in the State Department, which was opened under Barack Obama but closed under Donald Trump.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Toia Tutta Jung wrote:

    This is really good news, Andy!

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I think so, Toia. It suggests that the Democratic establishment as a whole is taking seriously the need to finally get Guantanamo closed.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Sara Birch wrote:

    Excellent to hear!

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Definitely, Sara. And AIUSA has been very much involved in lobbying and briefing lawmakers, along with other organisations.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Gloria Monroe wrote:

    what our police departments through out this country need is to weed out and fire ALL law enforcement that hold white nationalist ideology …

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Very much so, Gloria. Hopefully the verdict today in Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd will not just be a one-off. To tackle racism, it would definitely help to have Guantanamo closed – a prison devoted to indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial, where only Muslims are held.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    I suspect they also want to improve relations with Cuba to which GTMO is also an impediment.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    I hadn’t thought of that angle, David. Perhaps it’s a contributing factor, but as Richard Sroczynski says below, the main driver is the lobbying that’s been going on for years, and that has built up massively since last year, both in the run-up to the election, in outreach to members of Biden’s team, after the election via the transition team, and, since the inauguration, through approaches to the new administration.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Richard Sroczynski wrote:

    You don’t think they could have been listening to what we all have been saying for years?

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Absolutely, Richard. All those efforts to lobby lawmakers – particularly those on the Senate and House committees – seem to have paid off. And there have been some very detailed and commendable proposals put together by NGOs, lawyers and former officials.

    This roadmap, by the ACLU, Human Rights First, the Center for Victims of Torture, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, was obviously helpful: https://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2020/09/30/a-roadmap-for-the-closure-of-guantanamo/

    As was this proposal by Benjamin R. Farley, Senior Adviser to the Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure at the State Department from 2013-17: https://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2020/11/27/a-guantanamo-insiders-detailed-proposal-for-how-joe-biden-can-finally-close-the-prison/

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    Andy, it’s a logical continuation of both policy directions … Al Gore would have ended Cuban sanctions in 2000 if the courts had backed him for President – and the Obama/Biden 8 years were again in that direction – This last bite to get GTMO closed is painfully overdue but probably the hardest to get past the security apparatus. Like FDR I’m sure Biden is not averse to inviting the progressives to apply pressure to allow him to respond. I feel slightly hopeful.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m feeling slightly hopeful too, David. I sense a growing awareness inside the administration that the US can’t indefinitely imprison people it isn’t going to charge. I imagine the security apparatus will be pushing for more charges to be filed against some of the 28 men who haven’t been charged, but after 20 years I think their arguments will look rather thin.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Byron Campbell wrote:

    It is 100% unethical to hold someone in detention without bringing charges against them. GTMO should have been closed 19 years ago.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, well said, Byron!

Leave a Reply

Back to the top

Back to home page

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).
Email Andy Worthington

CD: Love and War

The Four Fathers on Bandcamp

The Guantánamo Files book cover

The Guantánamo Files

The Battle of the Beanfield book cover

The Battle of the Beanfield

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion book cover

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

Outside The Law DVD cover

Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo

RSS

Posts & Comments

World Wide Web Consortium

XHTML & CSS

WordPress

Powered by WordPress

Designed by Josh King-Farlow

Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist:

Archives

In Touch

Follow me on Facebook

Become a fan on Facebook

Subscribe to me on YouTubeSubscribe to me on YouTube

The State of London

The State of London. 16 photos of London

Andy's Flickr photos

Campaigns

Categories

Tag Cloud

Afghans in Guantanamo Al-Qaeda Andy Worthington British prisoners Center for Constitutional Rights CIA torture prisons Close Guantanamo Donald Trump Four Fathers Guantanamo Housing crisis Hunger strikes London Military Commission NHS NHS privatisation Periodic Review Boards Photos President Obama Reprieve Shaker Aamer The Four Fathers Torture UK austerity UK protest US courts Video We Stand With Shaker WikiLeaks Yemenis in Guantanamo