Photos and Report: The Global Vigils for the Closure of Guantánamo on the 22nd Anniversary of the Prison’s Opening

Coordinated global vigils for the closure of Guantánamo on January 11, 2024. Clockwise from top left: New York, Washington, D.C., Mexico City and London.

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Campaigners in Washington, D.C., including representatives of Amnesty International, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), Witness Against Torture and Dorothy Day Catholic Worker held a vigil outside the White House on January 11, 2024. (Photo: NRCAT).
Campaigners in New York City held a vigil on the steps of the New York Public Library on 5th Avenue on January 11, 2024. The event was organized by the World Can’t Wait, whose National Director, Debra Sweet, is on the mike. Other supporters included Brooklyn for Peace, Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace and NY War Resisters League. Around 60 people attended in total, and other speakers were Daphne Eviatar of Amnesty International USA, Jeremy Varon of Witness Against Torture, Jessica Murphy of September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, Imam Saffet Catovic, and Rosemarie Pace and Mary Yelenick of Pax Christi. A video by Joe Friendly is here. The event also raised money for the Guantánamo Survivors Fund. (Photo: Felton Davis).
Campaigners in San Francisco held a vigil outside the Ferry Building on January 11, 2024, organized by Gavrilah Wells of Amnesty International and Curt Wechsler of the World Can’t Wait. Gavrilah wrote, “Curt and I organized a small and poignant event at the SF Ferry Building today. We had a few speakers, a couple chalkers, a table with flyers, postcards and actions to take including donating to the Guantánamo Survivors Fund. Curt made a fantastic board with enlarged photos of 15 of the detainees cleared for release and Amnesty colleague Ron Malveaux read the names and their dates of incarceration and dates they were cleared for release, which was very moving. Faisal, another Amnesty colleague, told his personal story of leaving Afghanistan and spoke about human rights and the history of prisons through the centuries. We also read Mansoor Adayfi’s beautiful words about his dear brother Khalid Qasim — he sounds like such a beautiful and amazing person. I pray he gets safely released ASAP.”
Campaigners in Los Angeles held a vigil outside the Federal Building in Downtown L.A. on January 11, 2024, organized by Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, with speakers including Mohammad Tajsar of the ACLU of Southern California, Jim Lafferty of the Lawyers Guild, Rev. Kelvin Sauls and Vincent DeStefano of the Assange Defense Network.
Campaigners in London, with the UK Guantánamo Network, held a vigil outside the US Embassy in Nine Elms, London on January 11, 2024. (Photo: Andy Worthington).
Campaigners in Mexico City (Natalia Rivera Scott, Alli McCracken and Mary) held a vigil outside the US Embassy on January 11, 2024.
Campaigners in Cobleskill, NY held a vigil on January 11, 2024, organized by the Peacemakers of Schoharie County.
Campaigners in Minneapolis held a vigil on January 11, 2024 outside the Federal Building on 3rd Avenue S, organized by the Minneapolis-St Paul chapter of Amnesty International. Amy Blumenshine took this photo of Aaron Tovo and Wilbur Ince.
Campaigners in Detroit held a vigil on January 11, 2024 outside the Federal Building on Michigan Avenue, organized by Detroit Amnesty. Geraldine Grunow wrote, “We’ll continue to protest the existence of Guantánamo and to lobby for the release of cleared detainees and ‘forever prisoners,’ as well as for adequate support for those already released.”
Campaigners in Raleigh, NC held a vigil on January 11, 2024, organized by NC Stop Torture Now. Christina Cowger wrote, “We had about 25 people outside Rep. Deborah Ross’ office; she’s a Democrat in a safe seat and her constituents have long called on her to speak out about rendition, torture, and Guantánamo, but so far she’s done zilch.” (Photo: Beth Brockman).
Campaigners in Greenfield, MA held a vigil on January 11, 2024, organized by No More Guantanamos, CODEPINK and the World Can’t Wait, and then held a second vigil in Northampton, MA. Around three dozen campaigners had photos taken with Close Guantánamo’s poster marking 8,036 days of the prison’s existence. Photo via the Witness Against Torture Facebook page.
Campaigners in Northampton, MA on January 11, 2024. Photo via the Witness Against Torture Facebook page.
Campaigners outside the State Armory in Augusta, Maine on January 11, 2024. Photo via the Witness Against Torture Facebook page.
Campaigners with the Northwest Ohio Peace Coalition, American Muslims for Palestine Toledo and other groups at Lucas County Courthouse in Toledo, Ohio on January 11, 2024. Photo via the Witness Against Torture Facebook page.
Campaigners in Berkeley, LA held a vigil at Berkeley Law School on January 10, 2024, organized by CODEPINK S.F. Bay Area, followed by a bake sale for the Guantánamo Survivors Fund, and, as Cynthia Papermaster explained, to “get signatures on a petition to 1) request that John Yoo [a law professor at UC Berkeley] donate a year’s salary, about $500,000, to the fund and 2) call for Yoo’s prosecution for complicity in torture.” As she asked, “Shouldn’t the author of the legal opinions giving the green light to torture ‘enemy combatants’ feel some responsibilty for the torture of Guantánamo prisoners, most of whom were never charged with crimes?”
Campaigners in Boston, MA (Susan McLucas and Christopher Spicer Hinkle) held a vigil on January 11, 2024 at Boston Common.
Kady Manneh sent this photo of “From Guantánamo to Gaza: War is Terror”, a vigil on January 11, 2024 outside the Celebrezze Federal Building in Cleveland, Ohio.
Campaigners with the Comité Free.Assange.Belgium in Brussels.
Campaigners with Amnesty Events Copenhagen.
In Dublin, former Guantánamo prisoner Mansoor Adayfi sent this photo for the vigils during his book tour in Ireland for his compelling memoir, Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantánamo.

For those of us who care about quaint notions like the rule of law, due process, habeas corpus, the Geneva Conventions, the prohibition on the use of torture, the right to a fair trial, and the right not to be indefinitely imprisoned without charge or trial, the arrival, every year, of January 11 is always a difficult occasion.

January 11, 2002 was when the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay first opened, when all of the above were jettisoned by the Bush administration in a bonfire of all domestic and international laws and treaties regarding the imprisonment of individuals.

This year marked the 22nd anniversary of the opening of the prison, and yet, alarmingly, all of the violations outlined above are still largely in place, and, just as alarmingly, almost no one in the United States — in the government, the media and the population as a whole — even cares, even though, in the last seven years, just eleven men have been freed from the prison.

The violations of all domestic and international norms regarding the imprisonment of individuals at Guantánamo are so severe that last June, after Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism, became the first UN Rapporteur to be allowed to visit the prison, she wrote in a devastating report that the systemic legal and medical problems at Guantánamo, as well as the ongoing dehumanization of the men held, and the restrictions on contact with their families, were so severe that they amount to “ongoing cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” that “may also meet the legal threshold for torture.”

30 men are still held at Guantánamo — out of the 779 men and boys held at the prison since it first opened — and yet all are still trapped in circumstances that would be intolerable if they were applied anywhere else in the US justice system, or, indeed, anywhere else in the world.

16 of these men have been unanimously approved for release by high-level US government review processes, and yet they have continued to be held for years since the US authorities first decided that they no longer wanted to hold them indefinitely without charge or trial. In the cases of 13 of these men, they had been held for between 475 and 1,169 days since these decisions were taken, as of January 11, and in the other three cases for an unforgivable 5,102 days.

There is is still no sign of when, if ever, they will be freed, because the decisions taken to release them were purely administrative, and therefore have no legal weight, meaning that there is no one they can appeal to if, as is clearly the case, the executive branch has demonstrably failed to regard the restoration of their freedom as any kind of priority.

Three others remain as “forever prisoners” — neither charged nor approved for release — and, although the remaining eleven have been charged with crimes, they are caught up in the broken military commission trial system, which has proven to be incapable of delivering justice — fundamentally because the men in question were brutally and extensively tortured in CIA “black sites,” and the use of torture is incompatible with any practical implementation of justice.

Last year, in other opinions by the UN Special Mandates, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a devastating opinion in the case of one of the “forever prisoners,” Abu Zubaydah, for whom the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program was first implemented, in which they condemned his ongoing imprisonment as arbitrary detention, ordered his release and compensation, and also expressed “grave concern” that the very basis of the detention system at Guantánamo “may constitute crimes against humanity.”

The Working Group also issued another devastating opinion in the case of one of the men charged, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, also calling for his release and compensation, and quoting a medical expert, Dr. Sondra Crosby, who, after visiting him several years ago, described him as “one of the most severely traumatized individuals I have ever seen.” Al-Nashiri’s trial judge later condemned efforts by the government to erase the effects of his torture via testimony obtained “non-coercively” after his arrival at Guantánamo, and yet, although these stories (and Fionnuala’s report) caused brief ripples of interest in the media, the Biden administration’s response has been one of almost total indifference.

Although few people care about Guantánamo, those who do — and who recognize that last year’s reports have quite definitively portrayed the prison as an active crime scene — have persistently taken upon themselves the weight of everyone else’s abdication of responsibility, campaigning, petitioning and contacting their elected representatives, and persistently highlighting both the legal, moral and ethical abominations of Guantánamo, and its impact of the men held, who they have persistently sought to humanize.

Every year, on the anniversary, vigils take place across the US and around the world calling for the closure of Guantánamo. For ten years, from 2011 to 2020, I traveled to the US to take part in the annual vigil outside the White House, organized by numerous groups including Amnesty International USA, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Witness Against Torture and the World Can’t Wait.

Covid brought those annual visits to an end, but by the time that crisis had passed the interest in Guantánamo had dwindled to such an extent that it didn’t seem worthwhile any longer for me to contribute to the pollution caused by air travel to visit the country that is responsible for Guantánamo, but where the opportunities to use my vast knowledge of the prison, and those held there, to express my indignation and to try and reach out to people has become almost non-existent.

A year ago, after the typical flurry of activity on and around the anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, I decided to try to amplify the voices of activists on a more regular basis, following up on the monthly vigils that a group of activists, myself included, had recently started holding in London (largely involving activists with various local Amnesty International groups, coming together with other campaigners as the UK Guantánamo Network) by reaching out to friends and colleagues in the US and elsewhere around the world to encourage them to join us in holding monthly coordinated global vigils for Guantánamo’s closure.

With the support of Amnesty International USA and other groups (most noticeably Witness Against Torture and the World Can’t Wait), these have become a regular occurrence, typically involving coordinated protests in Washington, D.C., New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Cobleskill, NY, Detroit and Minneapolis, as well as London, Mexico City, Copenhagen and Brussels, and on January 11 these protests were augmented by other protests in Raleigh, NC, in Greenfield and Northampton, MA, in Augusta, Maine, in Toledo, Ohio, in Cleveland, Ohio, in Boston and in Berkeley.

Please see below for more photos from these vigils, at which campaigners also took photos with the Close Guantánamo campaign’s poster marking 8,036 days of the prison’s existence on January 11, as part of an ongoing campaign that began six years ago, and that involves posters marking every 100 days of Guantánamo’s existence, as well as marking the anniversaries of its opening. We received over 100 photos for January 11, and in December, when we marked 8,000 days, we received 170 photos.

I hope that as many people as possible will join us in 2024, as we resume our monthly vigils in February, on Wednesday February 7, continuing on the first Wednesday of every month thereafter, and that you’ll also join us for the ongoing photo campaign, marking 8,100 days of Guantánamo’s existence on March 15, 8,200 days on June 23, 8,300 days on October 1, and, sadly, 8,400 days on January 9, 2025, just two days before the 23rd anniversary of the prison’s opening. Hopefully, by then, the population of Guantánamo will be significantly smaller than it is now.

The vigil outside the White House on January 11, 2024. (Photo: NRCAT).
A very appropriate banner at the vigil outside the White House on January 11, 2024. (Photo: NRCAT).
Another important banner at the vigil outside the White House on January 11, 2024. (Photo: NRCAT).
Campaigners at the vigil outside the White House on January 11, 2024. (Photo: NRCAT).
The vigil in New York City on January 11, 2024. (Photo: Felton Davis).
The vigil in New York City on January 11, 2024. (Photo: Felton Davis).
The vigil in New York City on January 11, 2024. (Photo: Felton Davis).
Curt Wechsler with the display showing 15 of the 16 men approved for release from Guantánamo at the vigil in San Francisco on January 11, 2024.
Andy Worthington with the poster showing the 16 men approved for release from Guantánamo at the vigil in London on January 11, 2024. As Andy said on the day, “It may be deeply unfashionable to focus on the animosity towards Muslims of all four presidents who have been in charge of Guantánamo, but it is undeniably true. In President Biden’s case, having facilitated the deaths of tens of thousands of Muslim civilians in Gaza over the last three months, it would be helpful if he not only called for an immediate ceasefire, but also tried to at least repair some of the damage by releasing the 16 Muslim men at Guantánamo who have long been approved for release but who are still held.”
Rosemary, at the vigil in London, holding up the poster showing how long the 16 men approved for release from Guantánamo have been held since the US authorities first decided that they no longer wanted to hold them. (Photo: Andy Worthington).
Ciaron O’Reilly, a long-standing campaigner for Julian Assange, with a poster he made for the 22nd anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo outside the US Embassy in London on January 11, 2024.
The vigil in Mexico City on January 11, 2024.
A great aerial shot of the vigil in Mexico City on January 11, 2024.
Another great aerial shot of the vigil in Mexico City on January 11, 2024.
A placard at the vigil in Detroit on January 11, 2024, adjusted over the last 12 years, since 2012, to reflect how long Guantánamo has been open.
The vigil in Raleigh, NC on January 11, 2024. (Photo: Beth Brockman).
The vigil at Boston Common on January 11, 2024.
A call to arrest UC Berkeley law professor John Yoo, the author of the notorious “torture memos” of August 2002, at the vigil in Berkeley on January 10, 2024.
The check for $500,000 for the Guantánamo Survivors Fund that campaigners in Berkeley sought to have signed by John Yoo at their vigil on January 10, 2024. As Cynthia Papermaster explained, “At the end of our action we went to Dean Chermerinsky’s office to ask him to get John Yoo’s signature on the check for $500,000. We left the check with Erwin’s assistant and she said she would give it to the Dean with our request. Significantly, in 2014, Dean Chemerinsky told the Nation that Yoo should be criminally prosecuted. “I think he [John Yoo] should be,” Chemerinsky said. “All who planned, all who implemented, all who carried out the torture should be criminally prosecuted. How else do we as a society express our outrage? How else do we deter it in the future, except by criminal prosecutions?”

* * * * *

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 (see the ongoing 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 you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.50).

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, in 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to try to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody.

Since 2019, Andy has become increasingly involved in environmental activism, recognizing that climate change poses an unprecedented threat to life on earth, and that the window for change — requiring a severe reduction in the emission of all greenhouse gases, and the dismantling of our suicidal global capitalist system — is rapidly shrinking, as tipping points are reached that are occurring much quicker than even pessimistic climate scientists expected. You can read his articles about the climate crisis here.

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.

A Roadmap for the Closure of Guantánamo

The US flag at Guantánamo Bay (Photo: Brennan Linsley/Reuters).

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.

With just five weeks to go until the Presidential Election, we’re pleased to note that, recently, six organizations involved in the long struggle to try and get the prison at Guantánamo Bay closed — 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 — published detailed proposals for how, if voters remove Donald Trump from the White House in November, a new administration can move towards the closure of the prison.

Following up on our thoughts about this topic, which we published in July, in an article entitled, If Elected in November, Will Joe Biden Close Guantánamo?, we’re cross-posting below the NGOs’ proposals, as published on the Just Security website, which we think deserve to be as widely read as possible.

We are particularly taken with two suggestions put forward by the NGOs: firstly, that “the executive branch can expedite transfers by not opposing detainees’ habeas cases”; and, secondly, that progress towards the prison’s closure can also be effected by “charging a small subset of the remaining detainees in federal courts.”

Read the rest of this entry »

US Readers: Please Tell Congress to Ease Restrictions on Transferring Prisoners Out of Guantánamo in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)

A photo of the operating room at the prisoner hospital at Guantánamo, taken by a member of the US military on December 3, 2002.

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.





 

Ever since Barack Obama left the White House, in January 2017, having failed to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, despite promising to do so on his second day in office eight years before, it has been difficult to see any light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to that wretched offshore prison. 

The 40 men still held are, for the most part, held indefinitely without charge or trial, while the few who are charged are caught in seemingly endless pre-trial hearings in the military commissions, a broken facsimile of a functioning judicial system. And in the White House, of course, is Donald Trump, who has no interest in justice when it comes to the Guantánamo prisoners; Donald Trump, who wants no one released under any circumstances, and would happily add to the prison’s population if he could.

However, a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel finally re-emerged in November, in the mid-term elections, when Democrats took back control of the House of Representatives. Given the track record of the Obama years, it would be unwise to read too much into this slight shift in the balance of power amongst the US’s elected representatives, but, as Shilpa Jindia noted in a recent article for the Intercept, “On the anniversary of the prison’s opening in January, a coalition of NGOs visited with key House Democrats, who expressed support for various tactics to close Guantánamo.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Rights Groups Send An Open Letter to President Obama and Ashton Carter: Free the 57 Guantánamo Prisoners Approved for Release

A collaged image of President Obama and a guard tower at Guantanamo.Below is an open letter that has just been made available by 13 human rights organizations and lawyers’ groups calling for immediate action by President Obama and defense secretary Ashton Carter to secure the release of the 57 men still held at Guantánamo (out of the 122 men still held) who have been cleared for release — or approved for transfer, in the administration’s careful words. The signatories also call on the administration to try or release the other men, and to move towards the eventual closure of the prison, as President Obama first promised when he took office in January 2009.

The spur for the letter, which I initiated on behalf of Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker, is the second anniversary of President Obama’s promise to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, after Congress raised legislative obstacles, which he made in a major speech on national security issues on May 23, 2013.

Also of great relevance is the arrival in Washington, D.C. today of a British Parliamentary delegation calling for the release and return to the UK of one of the 57, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison. The four MPs involved are the Conservative MPs David Davis and Andrew Mitchell, and the Labour MPs Andy Slaughter and Jeremy Corbyn, who are part of the cross-party Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, and they will be meeting administration officials and Senators to try to secure a timeline for Shaker Aamer’s release. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: Close Guantánamo – The Washington D.C. Protest on the 12th Anniversary of the Prison’s Opening, Jan. 11, 2014

Close GuantanamoAndy Worthington calls for the closure of GuantanamoTorture is always wrongRev. Ron Stief calls for the closure of GuantanamoLeili Kashani calls for the closure of Guantanamo"Tell the world the truth": Shaker Aamer's words from Guantanamo
Medea Benjamin of Code Pink and a supporterThe "Close Guantanamo" march leaves the White HouseMr. President, you gave your word to close GuantanamoVeterans for Peace call for the closure of Guantanamo"Close Guantanamo" campaigners arrive at the Museum of American History"Close Guantanamo" campaigners at the Museum of American History
Shut down Guantanamo"Close Guantanamo" campaigners occupy the Museum of American HistoryWitness Against Torture activists call for the closure of Guantanamo in the Museum of American HistoryPalina Prasasouk reads out a letter from Shaker Aamer in GuantanamoThe Price of Freedom: Witness Against Torture activists call for the closure of Guantanamo in the Museum of American History

Close Guantánamo: The Washington D.C. Protest on the 12th Anniversary of the Prison’s Opening, Jan. 11, 2014, a set on Flickr.

On Saturday January 11, 2014, a coalition of groups involved in campaigns calling for the closure of Guantánamo — including Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Witness Against Torture, World Can’t Wait, and my own group, the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, which I co-founded and run with the attorney Tom Wilner — met outside the White House in Washington D.C., in the pouring rain, to tell President Obama to revisit his failed promise to close the prison, to continue releasing cleared prisoners as a matter of urgency, including the Yemenis who make up the majority of the 77 cleared prisoners still held, and to bring justice to the 78 other men still held, either by putting them on trial or releasing them.

These are my photos of the day, and as well as including some of the speakers outside the White House, the set also includes photos of the march from the White House along Constitution Avenue to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, where, as I explained in an article for “Close Guantánamo,” featuring a 10-minute video of the day’s events by Ellen Davidson (including clips of me and Tom), which I’m also posting below, activists with Witness Against Torture staged a creative and powerful occupation of the museum, under the clever slogan, “Make Guantánamo History.” Read the rest of this entry »

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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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