The Shameful Human Cost of Inertia at Joe Biden’s Guantánamo

Lutfi bin Ali, a Tunisian held at Guantánamo, who recently died in Mauritania, having been unable to secure the medical treatment he needed, which he had also been unable to secure in Kazakhstan, the country to which he was first released in 2014.

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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.

Today, the prison at Guantánamo Bay has been open for 7,033 days — that’s 19 years and three months — and Joe Biden has been president for 84 days, and yet, apart from some hopeful murmurings from a handful of administration officials regarding a “robust” inter-agency review of the prison, and aspirations for its closure, no concrete proposals have been issued to indicate that any movement is imminent that will break the inertia of Donald Trump’s four lamentable years as commander in chief, when just one prisoner was released, leaving 40 men still held when Biden took office, mostly held indefinitely without charge or trial.

It may be that President Biden is unwilling to discuss Guantánamo in any detail until he has firm plans for dealing with all of the men still held, and if this is the case, then it is, sadly, understandable, because the merest mention of Guantánamo tends to provoke cynical and unbridled opposition from Republicans in Congress — although if this is the case then it only shows the extent to which, as under Barack Obama, political pragmatism — and fear of unprincipled opposition from those who cynically use Guantánamo for cheap political advantage — are considered much more important than telling Americans the truth about the prison:, that every day it remains open, holding men indefinitely without charge or trial, ought to be a source of profound national shame.

Beyond political maneuvering, however, Biden’s inertia also prolongs the grinding injustice experienced on a daily basis by the men still held at Guantánamo — as well as having dangerous, and sometimes life-threatening repercussions for some of the men already released.

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A Celebration of Guantánamo Activism Past and Present by Witness Against Torture’s Jeremy Varon

Witness Against Torture activists occupy the Smithsonian National Museum of American History on January 11, 2014, the 12th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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The following cross-posted article, with my introduction, was originally published on 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.

Two weeks ago, we marked 7,000 days of Guantánamo’s existence as part of our ongoing photo campaign, with supporters sending in photos of themselves holding up posters marking how long the prison had been open, and urging President Biden to close it.

Since President Biden’s inauguration two months ago, his administration has thrown only a few crumbs of hope to campaigners for the closure of the prison, with which we have had to sustain ourselves — defense secretary Gen. Lloyd Austin telling the Senate that it’s “time for Guantánamo to close its doors,” and press secretary Jen Psaki announcing a “robust” review of the prison, in the 20th year of its operations, and the administration’s “intention” to close it.

As we await further news, we’re delighted that a great friend of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, Jeremy Varon, has written a detailed article for Waging Nonviolence, “an independent, non-profit media platform dedicated to providing original reporting and expert analysis of social movements around the world.”

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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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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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Close Guantánamo: Online Events Marking the 19th Anniversary of the Opening of the Prison on January 11, 2021

Campaigners from Witness Against Torture and other organizations call for the closure of Guantánamo outside the White House on January 11, 2012, the 10th anniversary of the prison’s opening.

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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.

For the last ten years, I have traveled to the US from London (since 2012 as the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign, which I co-founded that year with the US attorney Tom Wilner) to take part in events marking the anniversary, on January 11, of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, with a particular focus on a vigil outside the White House, with representatives of numerous NGOs including Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and Witness Against Torture.

This year, sadly, because of Covid, the vigil is only happening online, and my visit has been called off, although I am currently finalizing details of online replacements for events that I usually undertake in person — a panel discussion with our other co-founder Tom Wilner at New America in Washington, D.C., and another at Revolution Books in New York with Guantánamo lawyer Shelby Sullivan-Bennis — as well as some other online discussions. See my post here about the Revolution Books event, which is on Sunday January 17, and begins at 4pm Eastern time. It will be livestreamed on YouTube and Facebook. I hope to have details about the New America event soon.

For this year’s anniversary, I urge you to join Close Guantánamo’s photo campaign, taking a photo with our poster marking how long Guantánamo has been open on January 11 — 6,941 days — and sending it to us at info@closeguantanamo.org. You can also take a photo with our follow-up poster for January 20, the day of Joe Biden’s inauguration, when the prison will have been open for 6,950 days. We’ll be posting the photos on our website, and sharing them on social media.

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Torture Victims Lead Call for Torture Apologists Avril Haines and Mike Morell Not to be Confirmed as Director of National Intelligence and CIA Director

Avril Haines and Mike Morell, who both have a troubling history as torture apologists. In an open letter, opponents of torture, myself included, urge President-elect Biden not to nominate Mike Morell as CIA Director, and urge the Senate not to confirm Biden’s appointment of Avril Haines as Director of National Intelligence.

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I’m delighted to be a signatory to an open letter, initiated by Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK and Marcy Winograd of Progressive Democrats of America and CODEPINKCONGRESS, urging President-elect Joe Biden not to nominate Mike Morell as CIA Director, and asking the Senate not to approve Biden’s nominee Avril Haines as Director of National Intelligence (the head of the 16 branches of the US Intelligence Community) — and I’m particularly gratified that I was able to reach out to a number of former Guantánamo prisoners to encourage them to sign the letter.

Both Morell and Haynes have a troubling history of defending torture. Morell, who was a CIA analyst under George W. Bush, and Deputy and Acting CIA Director under Barack Obama, defended the use of torture when speaking to VICE in 2015. “I don’t like calling it torture for one simple reason: to call it torture says my guys were torturers,” he said, adding, “I’m gonna defend my guys till my last breath.” As Medea Benjamin and Marcy Winograd explained in an article for Common Dreams yesterday, Morell “put his CIA buddies above truth, the law and basic decency.”

Hopefully, as they also noted, “Morell’s traction may be on the wane with the Biden administration … after progressives launched a campaign against [him], and Senator Ron Wyden — a powerful Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee — called him a ‘torture apologist’ and said his appointment to head the CIA was a ‘non starter.’”

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President Elect Biden, It’s Time to Close Guantánamo

Eight of the 40 remaining Guantánamo prisoners, who, along with other men still held, should be released by Joe Biden as soon as possible after he becomes president in January 2021. Top row, from L to R: Abdul Latif Nasser, Sufyian Barhoumi and Tawfiq al-Bihani, all approved for release by high-level government review processes under President Obama, and Saifullah Paracha, Guantánamo’s oldest prisoner. Bottom row, from L to R: Khaled Qassim, Asadullah Haroon Gul, Ahmed Rabbani and Omar al-Rammah. Paracha and the four others in the bottom row haven’t been approved for release, but they should be, as none of them pose a threat to the US.

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.

Congratulations to President Elect Joe Biden and Vice President Elect Kamala Harris for persuading enough people to vote Democrat to end the dangerous presidency of Donald Trump.

Trump was a nightmare on so many fronts, and had been particularly dangerous on race, with his vile Muslim travel ban at the start of his presidency, nearly four long years ago, his prisons for children on the Mexican border, and, this last year, in his efforts to inflame a race war, after the murder of George Floyd by a policeman sparked huge protests across the country.

At Guantánamo, Trump’s racism manifested itself via indifference to the fate of the 40 Muslim men, mostly imprisoned without charge or trial and held for up to 15 years when he took office. To him they were terrorists, and he had no interest in knowing that very few of the men held at Guantánamo have ever been accused of involvement with terrorism, and that, of the 40 men still held, only nine of them have been charged with crimes, and five of them were unanimously approved for release by high-level government review processes under President Obama.

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Guantánamo Voices: An Amazing Comic Book Version of the Guantánamo Story

The front cover of “Guantánamo Voices: True Accounts from the World’s Most Infamous Prison,” and a page from the chapter based on an interview with attorney Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, featuring the campaign to secure the release of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, drawn by Kasia Babis, a Polish cartoonist and political activist.

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. 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.

I have nothing but praise for “Guantánamo Voices: True Accounts from the World’s Most Infamous Prison,” a brand-new book, just published by Abrams, which was written by Portland-based multi-media journalist Sarah Mirk, and illustrated by a number of talented graphic artists.

I should say upfront that I was the fact checker for the book, having been in contact with Sarah for many years. In 2018, I appeared, in comic book form, illustrated by the Australian artist Jess Parker, in Guantánamo Bay is Still Open. Still. STILL!, a story in the comics anthology magazine The Nib, for which Sarah is an editor, based on an interview she had conducted with me in October 2017.

Previously, I had met Sarah in London in January 2009, when she came to the UK with former Guantánamo guard Chris Arendt for an extraordinary tour of the UK, also featuring former prisoner and British citizen Moazzam Begg (released in 2005) and other ex-prisoners, called “Two Sides, One Story,” which was organized by the advocacy group Cageprisoners (now CAGE).

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“My Best Friend and Brother”: A Profile of Guantánamo Prisoner Khalid Qasim by Mansoor Adayfi

Khalid Qasim (left), who is still held at Guantánamo, and his friend Mansoor Adayfi, released in 2016, and resettled in Serbia, who has written a powerful and moving profile of him, published below.

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. 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.

Today we’re delighted to be publishing a brand-new article by former Guantánamo prisoner Mansoor Adayfi, about his friend Khalid Qasim, who is one of the 40 men still held in the prison at Guantánamo Bay in its latest iteration under Donald Trump — a place without hope, cruelly and pointlessly still in existence 18 years after it first opened.

To try and shine a light on the continuing injustice of Guantánamo — and the plight of the men still held — we were delighted, two weeks ago, to publicize an exhibition of prisoners’ artwork taking place at CUNY School of Law in New York, in an article entitled, Humanizing the Silenced and Maligned: Guantánamo Prisoner Art at CUNY Law School in New York. The exhibition was formally launched on February 19, and I wrote about its launch here, but my initial article focused on the work of just one prisoner, whose work had ben shown before the official launch, during my annual visit to the US in January, to call for the closure of the prison on the anniversary of its opening.

The prisoner is Khalid Qasim (also identified as Khalid Qassim or Khaled Qassim), and as I was writing my article I noticed that Mansoor Adayfi had posted a message on Facebook stating, “My best friend and brother Khalid Qassim, 18 years behind bars at Guantánamo, without any charges or trial. What is enough for Trump?”

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As Mohamedou Ould Slahi is Denied a Passport, Remember That All Former Guantánamo Prisoners Live Without Fundamental Rights

Mohamedou Ould Slahi, photographed in the desert after his release, with a message of peace. Photo from Mohamedou's Facebook page.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. 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 quest for justice for the 779 men and boys held at Guantánamo, it’s not just the 40 men still held who are victims of the US’s contempt for the law in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Although they, shamefully, remain held indefinitely without charge or trial, or are charged in a broken trial system, the military commissions, that seems incapable of delivering justice, those who have been released from the prison also face problems that, in many cases, will make the rest of their lives a misery.

This is an important fact that those paying attention were reminded of two weeks ago, when Literary Hub published an article about the tribulations of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, torture survivor and best-selling author, who, after nearly 15 years in US custody, was released in his native Mauritania in October 2016.

Although he was never charged with a crime, along with the majority of former Guantánamo prisoners, Slahi expected that there would be restrictions on his freedom following his release, and, sure enough, as Literary Hub described it, “the day after he returned to Nouakchott, Mauritania’s director of state security told him that he couldn’t leave the country for two years.”

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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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