Please visit, like, share and tweet the Gitmo Clock, which marks how many days it is since President Obama’s promise to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo (450), and how many men have been freed (17).
By Andy Worthington, August 16, 2014
Last August, we at "Close Guantánamo" launched the Gitmo Clock, an initiative designed to perform two functions: firstly, to measure how long it is since President Obama's promise, in a major speech on national security on May 23, 2013, to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo; and, secondly, how many men have been released.
Today (August 16) marks 450 days since that promise, and we hope that you will visit the Gitmo Clock, like it, share it and tweet it to act as a reminder of what has been achieved in the last 15 months, and, more importantly, what remains to be achieved.
In the two years and eight months up to President Obama's promise, just five men were released from Guantánamo, even though, throughout that period, 86 of the remaining prisoners were cleared for release. Those recommendations were made by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established, shortly after taking office in 2009, to review the cases of all the prisoners still held at the time, and to decide whether they should be released or prosecuted, or whether, in some cases, they should continue to be held without charge or trial.
The task force delivered its final report in January 2010, but the men were not freed for two reasons. The first was because cynical lawmakers in Congress passed legislation designed to prevent the release of prisoners under any circumstances (although there was a waiver in the legislation allowing the president to bypass Congress if he regarded it as being in the national security interests of the U.S. -- a waiver that he chose not to use).
The second reason was because two-thirds of the cleared prisoners were Yemenis, and the entire U.S. establishment has been unwilling to release Yemenis because of fears about the security situation in Yemen. In January 2010, following a failed airline bomb plot that was hatched in Yemen, President Obama responded to widespread hysteria following the failed attack by issuing a ban on releasing any of the cleared Yemeni prisoners, which stood until he dropped it in his speech last May.
Despite this, no Yemeni has been released since the promise in May 2013, although President Obama has released 17 other prisoners in the last 15 months, with the assistance of the two envoys for the closure of Guantánamo that he appointed following his speech last May -- Cliff Sloan in the State Department and Paul Lewis in the Pentagon. Two Algerians were released last August, and two more in December, and also in December two Saudis, two Sudanese and the last three Uighurs in the prison (Muslims from China's Xinjiang province) were released as well. In March this year, another Algerian was released, and in May five Taliban prisoners were released in exchange for the U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl.
Although the release of these men constitutes progress, it is important to remember that, of the 149 men still held, over half of them -- 79 in total -- have been cleared for release but are still held: 75 cleared by the task force in January 2010, and four others cleared for release since the start of the year by Periodic Review Boards, convened to review the cases of 71 men who were not recommended for release by the task force.
By all accounts, six other men will soon be freed, and given new homes in Uruguay, but President Obama still needs to do much more to fulfil the promise he made last May. What is particularly needed is for the refusal to release Yemenis to be overcome. These men need to be freed; otherwise, the decisions that were taken to release them mean nothing, and all that differentiates America from a dictatorship is that dictators do not hold review processes for prisoners held without charge or trial and then refuse to release men cleared for release by those review boards.
For America not to be more cruel than a dictatorship, the Yemenis must be freed now.
Call the White House and ask President Obama to release the Yemenis cleared for release. Call 202-456-1111 or 202-456-1414 or submit a comment online.