69 Senators and Representatives Urge Congress to Lift Restrictions on Transferring Guantánamo Prisoners to the US Mainland

Campaigners calling for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay walk past Congress on January 11, 2012, the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison.

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In the long and shameful 20-year history of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, obstacles to the prison’s closure — and to the conditions in which prisoners are held — have been raised persistently, since 2010, after President Obama lost control of Congress in the mid-term elections, by Republican lawmakers, in the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This year, as in previous years, concerned Democrats are hoping to overturn these provisions, and below I’m posting a letter they wrote recently to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, but before I get to that it’s worthwhile looking back at the long history of these Congressional obstacles.

In December 2010, when Congress passed the NDAA for 2011, it included, for the first time, three provisions regarding Guantánamo that represented an unacceptable intrusion on the president’s authority: firstly, a ban on the use of funds to bring any Guantánamo prisoners to the US mainland for any reasons, even to face trials; secondly, a ban on the use of funds to purchase or construct any facility on the US mainland for housing prisoners held, at the time, at Guantánamo; and, thirdly, a requirement that, before any prisoner is released, the defense secretary must sign off on the safety of doing so.

The first of these provisions was specifically aimed at derailing the Obama administration’s proposals to try Khalid Shiekh Mohammed (KSM) and the other men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks on the US mainland in federal court (and, just to make it clear, it mentioned KSM by name), while the second was designed to prevent the closure of Guantánamo by derailing the administration’s efforts to buy the empty Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois to transfer men from Guantánamo so that the prison could be closed. The third provision, meanwhile, was meant to make the release of prisoners unpalatable, as any post-release problems would become the responsibility of the defense secretary.

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Radio: I Discuss the Never-Ending Limbo of Guantánamo with Chris Cook on Gorilla Radio

Andy Worthington calling for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay outside the White House on January 11, 2020, and the logo for Chris Cook’s Gorilla Radio show in Victoria, Canada.

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Yesterday, I was delighted to talk to Chris Cook, for his Gorilla Radio show, broadcast every Thursday morning on CFUV 101.9FM in Victoria, on Vancouver Island in Canada. Chris and I have spoken many times over the years, and his show admirably fulfills its remit to cover topics relating to “social justice, the environment [and] community,” and to “provid[e] a forum for people and issues not covered in the corporate media.”

Chris and I spoke in the second half of the one-hour show, which is available here as an MP3.

At the start of the show, Chris spoke about the US’s recent drone attack in Afghanistan, in which civilians, mistakenly identified as ISIS-K terrorists, were killed. He noted that Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has “expressed regret for those killed in what he characterized a ‘mistake with horrific consequences,’” but asked, pointedly, “why America was continuing its attacks against the country it has reportedly withdrawn from.”

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75 House Representatives Urge President Biden to Close the Prison at Guantánamo Bay

Campaigners calling for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay stand in front of the U.S. Congress on January 11, 2020, the 19th anniversary of the prison’s opening (Photo: Alli Jarrar).

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.





 

Ever since the inauguration of Joe Biden as President, nearly seven months ago, an impressive and unprecedented number of organizations and significant individuals have been queuing up to urge him to finally close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, that wretched symbol of executive overreach created as part of the misguided “war on terror” that the Bush administration launched in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

In January, seven former prisoners (all authors) had a letter published in the New York Review of Books calling for the prison’s closure, followed in February by a letter from 111 human rights organizations, including the Close Guantánamo campaign, which I co-founded in January 2012 with the U.S. attorney Tom Wilner.

There have also been op-eds by former Bill Clinton advisor Anthony Lake and Tom Wilner, by Lee Wolosky, the former Special Envoy for Guantánamo Closure in the State Department, by retired Rear Admirals Donald J. Guter and John Hutson, by former CIA analyst Gail Helt, by Valerie Lucznikowska of September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, by the attorney Benjamin R. Farley, who represents one of the men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks, as part of the DoD’s Military Commissions Defense Organization, and by Omar Ashmawy, a former prosecutor in the military commissions.

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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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