As Guantánamo Turns 20, It Is Imperative That President Biden Finds the Political Will to Close It

Advocates for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, including Roger Waters, call on President Biden to close it on the 20th anniversary of its opening, Jan. 11, 2022. Check out all the photos here.

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It is, to be blunt, beyond dispiriting to have to be calling for the closure of the tired and discredited “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay 20 years — 7,306 days — since it first opened.

The prison, as I have long explained, is a legal, moral and ethical abomination, and every day that it remains open ought to be a source of shame to anyone with any respect for the law — or, for that matter, with any common decency.

In countries that respect the rule of law, the only way to be stripped of your liberty is as a criminal suspect or as a prisoner of war protected by the Geneva Conventions. At Guantánamo, the Bush administration threw away the rulebook, holding men without any rights whatsoever as “enemy combatants”, who could be held indefinitely, with no requirement that they ever face charges, and with no legal mechanism in place to ever ensure their release. And despite legal challenges over the last 20 years, that is still fundamentally the situation that prevails today.

Statistics alone can’t capture the misery and lawless brutality of Guantánamo on this grim anniversary. 779 men have been held at Guantánamo by the US military since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. Nine men have died at the prison, all held without charge or trial, and all slandered by military after their deaths, just one man was successfully transferred to the US court system, where he was tried and convicted and is serving a life sentence in a Supermax prison, and 730 men have been released.

Even when they are released from Guantánamo, however, these former prisoners are not free. Many have been accused of being “recidivists” — of returning to the battlefield — in US government reports that are fundamentally unbelievable, and those freed also remain haunted by the “taint” of Guantánamo — still existing fundamentally without rights, prevented from traveling, harassed indiscriminately and sometimes even imprisoned, and generally finding it impossible to find work to support themselves. Of particular concern are many of those who, for a variety of reasons, could not be safely repatriated, and who have ended up in third countries, based on confidential agreements between the US and their host countries that are not publicly disclosed, and that have often failed to provide them with any basic protections or support.

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On the 20th Anniversary of the 9/11 Attacks, the US Needs to Close Guantánamo and Bring to an End the Broken Military Commission Trials

The 9/11 attacks and Camp 6 at Guantánamo, photographed in 2016.

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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 the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States’ response to those attacks, both militarily and in terms of the law, couldn’t, in all honesty, have ended up more broken, unjust and embarrassing.

Having invaded Afghanistan a month after the attacks, the last US troops withdrew last month, effectively conceding defeat to the Taliban, whose overthrow had been one of the two justifications for the invasion, the other being the destruction of Al-Qaeda, the organization allegedly responsible for the attacks.

In fact, the Taliban were quite swiftly defeated after the US-led invasion, but, instead of withdrawing, US forces stayed on, blundering around the country, largely unable to identify allies from enemies, and definitively losing “heart and minds” through repeated bombing raids, often based on poor intelligence, that killed an enormous number of Afghan civilians, and through imprisoning many thousands of Afghans in lawless and often brutal conditions at Bagram and Guantánamo.

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Lee Wolosky, Former Envoy for Guantánamo Closure, Calls on President Biden to Close the Prison

A composite image of former Special Envoy for Guantánamo Closure Lee Woloskwy, and Camp 6 at Guantánamo, photographed in 2010.

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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.

It’s now two weeks since the end of the first 100 days of the Biden presidency, when there was a short flurry of mainstream media interest in the prison at Guantánamo Bay, which has been largely ignored by the Biden administration since taking office, except for brief mentions of embarking on a “robust” review of the prison’s operations, and an “intention” to secure its closure.

To mark Biden’s first 100 days, I cross-posted an op-ed written for The Hill by Anthony Lake, national security adviser to President Clinton from 1993 to 1997, and Tom Wilner, who represented the Guantánamo prisoners in their Supreme Court cases in 2004 and 2008, and with whom I co-founded the Close Guantánamo campaign in 2012.

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Radio: I Discuss the Prospects for Guantánamo’s Closure Under Joe Biden with Scott Horton

The Scott Horton Show, and Andy Worthington calling for the closure of Guantánamo outside the White House on Jan. 11, 2020.

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On Friday, I was delighted to discuss the prospects for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay under Joe Biden with the indefatigable Scott Horton, who always, flatteringly, refers to me as “the heroic Andy Worthington.” Scott and I have spoken on many dozens of occasions since 2007, and you can find our latest interview here as an MP3 or below via YouTube.

“Indefatigable” has to be the most apt description of Horton, who has conducted over 5,500 interviews since 2003, and has also found the time to write two books, 2017’s “Fools Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan,” and the recently published “Enough Already: Time to End the War on Terrorism.”

Nearly 20 years into Guantánamo’s existence, we ran briefly through the failures of George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump to close the prison — with several minutes spent discussing the Obama years — before bringing the story up to date with Joe Biden, the fourth president to be in charge of the prison.

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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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A Guantánamo Insider’s Detailed Proposal for How Joe Biden Can Finally Close the Prison

A composite image of President Elect Joe Biden and 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.

With Joe Biden’s victory in the Presidential Election, it’s reassuring that Guantánamo is back on the radar, after four long years under Donald Trump in which time may as well have stood still.

The Just Security website has just published a powerful article, “A Path for Renewing Guantánamo Closure,” which we’re cross-posting below. It was written by Benjamin R. Farley, who served as Senior Adviser to the Special Envoy for Guantánamo Closure at the U.S. Department of State from 2013-17, and is currently a Trial Attorney and Law-of-War Counsel at the U.S. Department of Defense, Military Commissions Defense Organization, assigned to the team representing Ammar al-Baluchi, one of the five co-defendants in the 9/11 trial.

Farley explains how, of the 40 men still held, 30 can be released “simply by restoring, with slight modification, the successful GTMO closure policy process developed during the Obama administration,” although he concedes that, “[t]o finish the remaining 25 percent of the project, [he] will likely need the historically elusive support of Congress.”

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The Ongoing and Unjustifiable Persecution of Julian Assange

A van bearing the message ‘Don’t extradite Assange’, photographed today, September 9, 2020, in Waterloo (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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A hugely important struggle for press freedom is currently taking place in the Old Bailey in London, where, on Monday, three weeks of hearings began regarding the proposed extradition to the US of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. In 2010 and 2011, WikiLeaks published documents leaked by a serving member of the US military — Bradley, now Chelsea Manning — that exposed evidence of war crimes committed by the US and, in the case of my particular area of expertise, Guantánamo.

The Guantánamo revelations were contained in classified military files relating to almost all of the 779 men held at the prison by the uS military since it opened in January 2002, which, for the first time, explicitly revealed how profoundly unreliable the supposed evidence against the prisoners was, much of it having been made by prisoners who had made numerous false statements against their fellow prisoners. I worked with WikiLeaks as a media partner for the release of the Guantánamo files, and my summary of the files’ significance can be found in the article I wrote when they were first published entitled, WikiLeaks Reveals Secret Guantánamo Files, Exposes Detention Policy as a Construct of Lies.

I should add that I am one of the witnesses for the defence, and will be appearing in court sometime over the next few weeks to discuss the significance of the Guantánamo files. See this post by Kevin Gosztola of Shadowproof listing those taking part, who include Professor Noam Chomsky, Jameel Jaffer, the executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, journalists John Goetz, Jakob Augstein, Emily Dische-Becker and Sami Ben Garbia, lawyers Eric Lewis and Barry Pollack, and Dr. Sondra Crosby, a medical doctor who examined Assange while he was in the Ecuadorian Embassy, where he lived for almost seven years after claiming asylum in 2012.

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If Elected in November, Will Joe Biden Close Guantánamo?

A composite photo of Joe Biden and a guard tower at Guantánamo.

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 four months to go until the US Presidential Election, there is hope, in some quarters, that Donald Trump will lose to Joe Biden. The fact that this is not a foregone conclusion shows how broken American politics has become. Openly racist, Trump has been the most incoherent president imaginable, and is currently mired in a COVID-19 crisis of his own making, as the virus continues on its deadly path, largely unchecked, through swathes of the US population. And yet he retains a base of support that doesn’t make it certain that he will lose in November.

His opponent, Joe Biden, Barack Obama’s vice president for eight years, faces problems of his own. 77 years old, he is even older than Trump, and in terms of representing the people of the US, it is somewhat dispiriting that the choice is between two white men in their 70s. Nevertheless, on many fronts — not least on Guantánamo — it is inconceivable that Biden can do a worse job than Trump has over the excruciating three and a half years since he took office in January 2017.

On Guantánamo, Trump announced in a tweet, several weeks before his inauguration, that “there must be no more releases from Gitmo,” and he has been almost entirely true to his word. He inherited 41 prisoners from Obama, and only one of those men has been released — a Saudi citizen who was transferred back to Saudi Arabia for ongoing imprisonment in February 2018, to honor a plea deal agreed in his military commission trial in 2014.

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Closing Guantánamo, the Democrats and the NDAA

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.

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 and dispiriting story of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, where, in defiance of its purported values, the US is holding men indefinitely without charge or trial, the role of Congress is not always well understood.

Under George W. Bush, lawmakers were largely compliant with the shameful innovations introduced after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, passing the Authorization for Use of Military Force, the week after the attacks, which allowed the president to pursue anyone that he felt was associated with Al-Qaeda, the Taliban or associated forces, and to imprison them at the Guantánamo prison, which was deliberately established on the US naval base in Cuba to be beyond the reach of the US courts.

From the beginning, the men — and boys — held there were held without rights, and although long legal struggles led to them eventually securing habeas corpus rights, Congress fought back. However, when their habeas rights were eventually gutted of all meaning, the responsibility lay with ideologically malignant appeals court judges rather than Congress.

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Abandoned in Guantánamo: Abdul Latif Nasser, Cleared for Release Three Years Ago, But Still Held

Guantánamo prisoner Abdul Latif Nasser, cleared for release from the prison over three years ago, but still held, and Camp 6, where he remains imprisoned with 23 other low-level prisoners.

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.

Over 17 and a half years since the prison at Guantánamo Bay opened, it is, sadly, rare for the mainstream US media — with the bold exception of Carol Rosenberg at the New York Times — to spend any time covering it, even though its continued existence remains a source of profound shame for anyone who cares about US claims that it is a nation founded on the rule of law.

Given the general lack of interest, it was encouraging that, a few weeks ago, ABC News reported on the unforgivable plight of Abdul Latif Nasser, a 54-year old Moroccan prisoner, to mark the third anniversary of his approval for release from the prison. Nasser is one of five of the remaining 40 prisoners who were approved for release by high-level US government review processes under President Obama, but who are still held.

In Nasser’s case, as I reported for Al-Jazeera in June 2017, this was because, although he was approved for release in June 2016 by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process that approved 38 prisoners for release from 2013 to 2016, the necessary paperwork from the Moroccan government didn’t reach the Obama administration until 22 days before Obama left office, and legislation passed by Republicans stipulated that Congress had to be informed 30 days before a prisoner was to be released, meaning that, for Nasser, as I described it, “the difference between freedom and continued incarceration was just eight days.”

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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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