Afghan Government Calls for Release of Guantánamo “Forever Prisoner” Asadullah Haroon Gul

Asadullah Haroon Gul, one of the last two Afghans at Guantánamo, as featured in a photo taken at the prison by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and made available to his family.

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As we await further information from the Biden administration about its planned review of Guantánamo, it’s reassuring to see that the Afghan government has submitted an amicus brief in a US court as part of efforts to secure the release and repatriation of Asadullah Haroon Gul, one of the last two Afghans in Guantánamo, after 14 years of imprisonment at Guantánamo without charge or trial, in which, for the first nine years, he didn’t even have representation by a lawyer.

I have followed Gul’s story since he arrived at Guantánamo from Afghanistan in June 2007, as one of the last prisoners to be sent to the prison. He had allegedly been involved with Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIA, also identified as HIG), a group led by the Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who had briefly been aligned with al-Qaeda after the US-led invasion in October 2001, but the US authorities had never regarded him as significant, because he is the only Guantánamo prisoner not to have been assigned a Guantánamo Internment Serial Number (ISN). Instead, his prisoner serial number (3148) is from Bagram. This is significant because a Guantánamo number is required to be eligible for an administrative review at Guantánamo (a Combatant Status Review Tribunal), which is required if a prisoner is to be charged.

Even more significant is the fact that, even if Gul was involved with HIA, Hekmatyar no longer has any connection to al-Qaeda, and HIA “ceased all hostilities with the United States” in 2016, following a peace agreement in 2016 between HIA and the Afghan government, as the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs explains in the brief, adding that “[d]etainees who are not a member of Al Qaida or the Taliban must be released if their organization is no longer engaged in hostilities with the United States.” In August, Hekmatyar’s return to Afghan political life was confirmed when he was appointed to the Afghan government’s High Council for National Reconciliation.

As the Ministry also points out, “Members of the United States Government have recognized this end to hostilities by negotiating with members of HIA. Thus, Haroon, a member of HIA, should be released.”

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Video: Mansoor Adayfi, James Yee and I Discuss Guantánamo and Its Closure in a Zoom Event Organized by Veterans’ and Peace Groups in California

A screenshot of a Zoom event about Guantánamo, organized by veterans’ and peace groups, primarily in California, which took place on Feb. 21, featuring Andy Worthington, Mansoor Adayfi and James Yee as speakers.

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A week last Sunday, February 21, I was delighted to take part in a panel discussion about Guantánamo with former prisoner Mansoor Adayfi, a talented, Yemeni-born author, who was resettled in Serbia in 2016 (and whose memoir, “Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantánamo,” will be published this August), and James Yee, the former Muslim chaplain at Guantánamo, who, for two months in 2003, was wrongly imprisoned as a spy.

The meeting was organized by a number of activist groups in California — Veterans for Peace Los Angeles, the Peace Resource Center of San Diego, the Long Beach Area Peace Network, the MLK Coalition of Greater Los Angeles and ANSWER Los Angeles, as well as the national Veterans for Peace, CODEPINK: Women for Peace, and Close Guantánamo, which I co-founded with the US attorney Tom Wilner in 2012 to campaign for the prison’s closure, and it was streamed live on Facebook.

I’m pleased to discover that it has now been made available on YouTube, on the Veterans for Peace YouTube channel, and I’ve posted it below. I hope you have time to watch it, and that you’ll share it if you find it useful.

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Radio: I Discuss the Possible Closure of Guantánamo under Joe Biden on the Peace and Justice Report on WSLR in Florida

Andy Worthington calling for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay outside the White House on January 11, 2020.

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On Wednesday (February 24), I was delighted to talk for half-an-hour about Guantánamo with Bob Connors and Tom Walker on their show, the Peace and Justice Report, on WSLR 96.5, a community radio station in Florida. I’ve appeared on the show previously, in 2018 and 2019, after Bob and Tom came across my work, but both of those occasions were during the heavy miasma of despair of the Trump years, and so it was refreshing to talk in a post-Trump world in which there is, at least, some hope of progress on Guantánamo.

The interview is available on the WSLR archive here. Scroll down to “Wednesday, February 24, 2021 9:00 am,” where it’s available for the next two months.

We began by discussing Trump’s four dismal years as president, in which, even before he took office, he tweeted, “There must be no more releases from Gitmo,” and was true to his word, with the one exception of a Saudi prisoner who had previously agreed a plea deal that involved his repatriation to continued imprisonment in his home country.

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Remembering Ibrahim Idris, the Only Guantánamo Prisoner Freed Because of Illness, Who Has Died Aged 60

An image about the death of former former Guantánamo prisoner Ibrahim Idris, created by DOAM (Documenting Oppression Against Muslims).

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There was some sad news recently from Sudan, as Carol Rosenberg, for the New York Times, reported the death, at the age of 60, of former Guantánamo prisoner Ibrahim Idris.

Idris was repatriated from Guantánamo in December 2013, almost 12 years after he first arrived at the prison, in the first group of 20 prisoners to arrive by plane from Afghanistan in January 2002. To secure his release, his attorney Jennifer Cowan successfully argued in court that he was so mentally ill and so morbidly obese that he could not be regarded as a threat, and that the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), the law justifying imprisonment at Guantánamo, only allowed the government to hold a prisoner “for the purpose of preventing him from returning to the battlefield.”

As Cowan described Idris’s situation in her submission to Chief Judge Royce Lamberth in Washington, D.C., “Petitioner’s long-­term severe mental illness and physical illnesses make it virtually impossible for him to engage in hostilities were he to be released, and both domestic law and international law of war explicitly state that if a detainee is so ill that he cannot return to the battlefield, he should be repatriated. When interpreted in accordance with domestic law and the principles of international law, the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (‘AUMF’) does not permit the continued detention of Mr. Idris.”

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Biden Administration Announces “Robust” Review of Guantánamo, and “Intention” to Close the Prison

President Biden, and a screenshot of the Gitmo Clock website run by the Close Guantánamo campaign, founded by Andy Worthington and Tom Wilner in 2012, showing how long the prison has been open today, Feb. 15, 2021.

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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.

On Friday (Feb. 12), campaigners hoping that the Biden administration will commit to the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay were further reassured when White House press secretary Jen Psaki, “[a]sked whether Biden would shut” the prison “by the time his presidency ends,” as Reuters described it, told reporters, “That certainly is our goal and our intention.”

“There will be a robust interagency policy,” Psaki added, also noting that “[t]here are many players from different agencies who need to be part of this policy discussion about the steps forward.”

The comments were the first to be made publicly by administration officials since defense secretary Gen. Lloyd Austin told the Senate in written testimony during his confirmation hearing, “I believe it is time for the detention facility at Guantánamo to close its doors,” although, as the Associated Press noted, “The announcement of a closure plan was not unexpected. Biden had said as a candidate he supported closing the detention center.”

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111 Organizations, Including Close Guantánamo, Sign A Letter to President Biden Urging Him to Close the Prison and End Indefinite Detention

President Biden and the entrance to Camp 6 at Guantánamo.

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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.

We’re delighted that, two days ago, a letter we signed urging President Biden to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, and to bring to an end the process of indefinite detention without charge or trial that has typified its aberrations over the last 19 years, was delivered to the White House, signed, in total, by 111 organizations.

We’re grateful to the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Center for Victims of Torture for initiating the letter, and to everyone who signed on, from old friends and colleagues including Amnesty International USA, CODEPINK, Reprieve US, Sept. 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows and Witness Against Torture, to other organizations that are new to us.

As CCR and CVT explained in a press release, “The letter is signed by organizations ranging from those working to end anti-Muslim discrimination and torture to immigrant rights organizations and organizations working broadly on civil rights, civil liberties, and racial justice at the national and local level.”

The letter aptly describes Guantánamo as “the iconic example of the post-9/11 abandonment of the rule of law,” and “the most expensive prison in the world,” noting that, while the prison “continues to cause escalating and profound damage to the men who still languish there,” it also “continues to fuel and justify bigotry, stereotyping, and stigma” both at home and abroad, as exemplified, under Donald Trump, by his proposal to send undocumented immigrants to Guantánamo to be held as “enemy combatants,” by “his odious Muslim Ban, each iteration of which was explicitly promulgated under the false pretense of protecting the nation from terrorism,” and by the “militarized federal response to protests against the extrajudicial killings of George Floyd and other Black people.”

In conclusion, the letter urges President Biden “to act without delay, and in a just manner that considers the harm done to the men who have been imprisoned without charge or fair trials for nearly twenty years.”

Publicizing the letter, Scott Roehm, Washington director at the Center for Victims of Torture, said, “The president has supported closing Guantánamo since his days as a senator, and now he has the power to do it. This isn’t an intractable problem, but it’s also not one that lends itself to perfect solutions. If the president is determined to close the prison, he can, and in relatively short order. Unless and until he does, Guantánamo’s corrosive impact — both literally and for what it represents — will continue to deepen and spread.”

Aliya Hussain, Advocacy Program Manager at the Center for Constitutional Rights, added, “There is wide-ranging public support for President Biden to close Guantánamo. He must take bold and decisive action, and we will hold him accountable until he does.”

The letter is posted below, and we hope you have time to read it, and that you’ll share it if you find it useful.

Letter to President Biden urging the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay by 111 NGOs

February 2, 2021

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

Dear President Biden:

We are a diverse group of non-governmental organizations working at both the local and national level and on issues including immigrants’ rights, racial justice, and combatting anti-Muslim discrimination. We write to urge you to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and to end indefinite military detention.

Among a broad range of human rights violations perpetrated against predominantly Muslim communities, Guantánamo — designed specifically to evade legal constraints, and where Bush administration officials incubated torture — is the iconic example of the post-9/11 abandonment of the rule of law. Nearly eight hundred Muslim men and boys were held at Guantánamo after 2002, all but a handful without charge or trial. Forty remain, at the astronomical cost of $540 million per year, making Guantánamo the most expensive prison in the world.

Guantánamo embodies the fact that, for nearly two decades following the September 11, 2001 attacks, the United States government has viewed communities of color — citizens and non-citizens alike — through a security threat lens, to devastating consequences. This is not a problem of the past. Guantánamo continues to cause escalating and profound damage to the men who still languish there, and the approach it exemplifies continues to fuel and justify bigotry, stereotyping, and stigma. Guantánamo entrenches racial divisions and racism more broadly, and risks facilitating additional rights violations.

For example, President Trump proposed sending undocumented immigrants to Guantánamo to be held as “enemy combatants.” He further built upon the discriminatory animus, policies, and practices that Guantánamo represents through his odious Muslim Ban, each iteration of which was explicitly promulgated under the false pretense of protecting the nation from terrorism. And the Trump administration’s militarized federal response to protests against the extrajudicial killings of George Floyd and other Black people was fueled by the war-based post-9/11 security architecture and mindset that Guantánamo epitomizes.

It is long past time for both a sea change in the United States’ approach to national and human security, and a meaningful reckoning with the full scope of damage that the post-9/11 approach has caused. Closing Guantánamo and ending indefinite detention of those held there is a necessary step towards those ends. We urge you to act without delay, and in a just manner that considers the harm done to the men who have been imprisoned without charge or fair trials for nearly twenty years.

Please contact Aliya Hussain at the Center for Constitutional Rights (ahussain@ccrjustice.org) and Scott Roehm at the Center for Victims of Torture (sroehm@cvt.org) with any questions or to discuss.

Sincerely,

Action Center on Race & the Economy
Adalah Justice Project
Advocate Visitors with Immigrants in Detention
American Civil Liberties Union
American Friends Service Committee
American Friends Service Committee, Colorado
American Muslim Empowerment Network (AMEN)
Amnesty International USA
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus
Bellevue Program for Survivors of Torture
Birmingham Interfaith Human Rights Committee
Black LGBTQ+ Migrant Project
Borderlands for Equity
Bridges Faith Initiative
Capital District Coalition Against Islamophobia, Albany, NY
Center for Constitutional Rights
Center for Gender & Refugee Studies
Center for International Policy
Center for Victims of Torture
Central American Martyrs Center
Central Jersey Coalition Against Endless War
Centro de Trabajadores Unidos – IWP
Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America – CRLN
CLEAR project (Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility)
Cleveland Catholic Worker, Ohio
Cleveland Jobs with Justice
Close Guantánamo
Coalition for Civil Freedoms
CODEPINK
Defending Rights & Dissent
Demand Progress Education Fund
Denver Justice and Peace Committee
Detention Watch Network
EarthSong
Going Beyond Sustainability
Government Information Watch
Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters, USA-JPIC
Hope House
Human Rights First
Immigrant Advocacy Project
Immigrant Defense Project
Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants
International Refugee Assistance Project
InterReligious Task Force on Central America (IRTF Cleveland)
Islamophobia Studies Center
Jews Against Anti-Muslim Racism
Justice for Muslims Collective
Kairos Community, NY
Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church
Louisiana Advocates for Immigrants in Detention
MADRE
MoveOn
Muslim Advocates
Muslim Justice League
Muslim Solidarity Committee
Muslim Solidarity Committee, Albany, NY
Muslims For Liberty
Muslims for Social Justice
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
National Immigrant Justice Center
National Immigration Project (NIPNLG)
National Network for Immigrant & Refugee Rights
National Religious Campaign Against Torture
Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA)
No More Guantanamos
NorCal Resist
North Carolina Stop Torture Now
Northern Illinois Justice for Our Neighbors
NWI Resistance
Oak Grove Church of God
Open Society Foundations
Pakistan Association of New York Capital District
Palestinian Rights Committee, Upper Hudson Peace Action
Peace Action
Peace Action: The New School
Peacemakers of Schoharie County, NY
Physicians for Human Rights
Project SALAM, Albany, NY
Project South
Provincial Council Clerics of St. Viator (Viatorians)
Reformed Church of Highland Park, NJ
Refugee Council USA
Reprieve US
Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment
Rural Awakening
School of the Americas Watch (SOA Watch)
School of the Americas Watch, Illinois Chapter
Sept. 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
Southwest Asylum & Migration Institute (SAMI)
T’ruah
Tea Project
The Advocates for Human Rights
The Feminist Front (FF)
Tsuru for Solidarity
Transformations CDC
UC Davis Immigration Law Clinic
United Stateless
US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR)
USC Gould International Human Rights Clinic
Veterans For Peace
Veterans For Peace, Chapter 10
Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Inc.
Washington Office on Latin America
Win Without War
Witness Against Torture
Witness at the Border
Witness for Peace Southeast
Women Against War
Yemeni Alliance Committee
Yemeni American Merchants Association

* * * * *

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.

Seven Authors, All Former Guantánamo Prisoners, Urge President Biden to Close the Prison Before its 20th Anniversary

The books of the seven authors and former Guantánamo prisoners who have just written an open letter to President Biden, urging him to close the prison, which was published in the New York Review of Books.

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As the Biden administration settles in, and we await news of its plans for Guantánamo — after defense secretary Gen. Lloyd Austin told the Senate during his confirmation hearing, “I believe it is time for the detention facility at Guantánamo to close its doors” — it’s good to see the need for Guantánamo to be closed being discussed in the New York Review of Books by seven former prisoners who have all written books about their experiences.

The seven authors are Mansoor Adayfi, whose memoir Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantanamo is being published this August, Moazzam Begg (Enemy Combatant, 2006), Lakhdar Boumediene (Witnesses of the Unseen: Seven Years in Guantanamo, 2017), Sami Al Hajj (Prisoner 345: My Six Years in Guantánamo, 2018), Ahmed Errachidi (The General: The Ordinary Man Who Challenged Guantánamo, 2013), Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Guantánamo Diary, 2015) and Moussa Zemmouri (Onschuldig in Guantánamo, 2010).

I’ve read all of the above — with the exceptions of Moussa Zemmouri’s book, which hasn’t been translated into English, and Mansoor Adayfi’s, which hasn’t been published yet  — and what I know from all of them is how eloquent the authors are, and how keenly they experienced and articulated the injustices of Guantánamo.

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Gen. Lloyd Austin, Biden’s Defense Secretary, Says it’s “Time for Guantánamo to Close its Doors,” as DoD Announces New Military Commission Charges

Gen. Lloyd Austin at his Senate confirmation hearing as defense secretary in President Biden’s administration, Jan. 19, 2021, and a photo of Camp 6 at Guantánamo.

 

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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 a flurry of activity on his first day in office, President Biden issued 17 executive orders, undoing some of the worst policy disasters of his predecessor, Donald Trump — including rejoining the Paris climate accord, stopping the US’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization, reversing Trump’s Muslim travel ban, and canceling the much-criticized Keystone XL pipeline.

Yesterday, in what the Guardian described as “a sweeping new set of climate executive orders,” he instructed the US government “to pause and review all oil and gas drilling on federal land, eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and transform the government’s vast fleet of cars and trucks into electric vehicles.”

Missing in all this commendable activity, sadly, is anything relating to the prison at Guantánamo Bay. As Vice President, Joe Biden was with President Obama 12 years ago, on January 22, 2009, when he issued Executive Order 13492, promising to close Guantánamo, which was undone by Trump in Executive Order 13823 — the absurdly-named “Protecting America Through Lawful Detention of Terrorists” — on January 30, 2018.

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Video: Mohamedou Ould Salahi and I Discuss the Closure of Guantánamo with Lewes Amnesty Group on Jan. 11, 2021

A screenshot of former Guantánamo prisoner Mohamedou Ould Salahi speaking to Lewes Amnesty Group on January 11, 2021, the 19th anniversary of the prison’s opening.

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On January 11, the 19th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, I was pleased to take part in a couple of events, to make up for my inability, because of Covid, to visit the US to campaign for the prison’s closure, as I have been doing every year since 2011.

To mark the occasion, I was interviewed by Kevin Gosztola of Shadowproof, for a video that is available here, and earlier I had taken part in an online meeting organized by the Lewes Amnesty Group, a very active group, dating back to the days when campaigners across south east England, and beyond, including campaigners in Lewes, fought to secure the release from Guantánamo of Brighton resident Omar Deghayes (who was released in 2007), and Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who was finally released in 2015 after a huge campaign that involved MPs, the media, celebrities and two particular groups, the long-running Save Shaker Aamer campaign, and We Stand With Shaker, which I set up with campaigner Joanne MacInnes in 2014, and which involved getting MPs and celebrities to stand with a giant inflatable figure of Shaker, to demand his release.

The featured guest of the Lewes Amnesty Group’s meeting was former prisoner Mohamedou Ould Salahi, the author of the best-selling Guantánamo Diary (UK edition here), and a survivor of US torture in Jordan, Afghanistan and Guantánamo, whose story has been adapted by Hollywood for a new feature film, ‘The Mauritanian,’ which will be released next month.

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Close Guantánamo: Lawyers Decry Broken Military Commission System and Status of “Forever Prisoners” in Washington Post Op-Ed

Campaigners calling for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay outside the US Congress on Monday January 11, 2021, the 19th anniversary of the opening of the prison. (Photo by Alli Jarrar of Amnesty International).

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As the 19th anniversary of the the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay recedes, and the inauguration of Joe Biden hoves into view, it remains crucial that all of us who oppose the continued existence of Guantánamo continue to discuss the 40 men still held there, the inadequacy of the status of all of them (six approved for release but still held, nine charged or tried in a broken trial system, and 25 consigned to oblivion as “forever prisoners”), and to demand its closure.

On the anniversary, along with the various online events and interviews, Newsweek distinguished itself by being the only mainstream US media outlet to focus on the anniversary, publishing a powerful op-ed by former prisoner, torture victim and best-selling author Mohamedou Ould Salahi, which I posted the day after on the Close Guantánamo website.

The only other mainstream media coverage I’ve found came the day after the anniversary in the Washington Post, where two attorneys with the Military Commissions Defense Organization, civilian defense counsel Brian Bouffard, and Aaron Shepard, a lieutenant commander in the US Navy JAG Corps, wrote what really ought to be an epitaph for Guantánamo’s broken military commission trial system, and for the rotten policy of indefinite detention without charge or trial that is the main hallmark of Guantánamo’s unforgivable exceptionalism, as the prison begins its 20th year of operations. The op-ed is cross-posted below.

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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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