By Andy Worthington, January 12, 2015
Remember President Obama's promise to close Guantánamo within a year, which he made on his second day in office in January 2009?
So do we, and yesterday, at the rally outside the White House, on the 13th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, we remembered that promise again, almost six years since it was made.
For many years now, these anniversaries have been cheerless occasions, as Congress sought to prevent the release of prisoners through the imposition of cynical and onerous legislation, and the president largely complied.
Then, almost two years ago, the prisoners took matters into their own hands. In despair at ever being released or being given justice, they embarked on a prison-wide hunger strike, which attracted so much criticism of the Obama administration's inaction, both domestically and internationally, that President Obama promised, in a major speech on national security issues on May 23, 2013, to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, after a period of nearly three years in which just five men had been released.
At the time of President Obama's speech, 86 of the remaining 166 prisoners had been cleared for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that the president had established shortly after taking office to review the cases of all the men he had inherited from George W. Bush, and in light of the promise, here at "Close Guantánamo," we established the Gitmo Clock to record how long it was since the promise and how many prisoners had been released -- and today the Gitmo Clock marks 600 days since President Obama's fine words.
By the anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo last January, eleven men had been freed, which provided grounds for cautious optimism, but in the year since 28 more men have been released, bringing the total number of men released since the promise to 39.
Outside the White House yesterday, we and other groups largely celebrated this progress, although we also noted that much remains to be done. Of the 127 men still held, 59 have been approved for release -- 55 in 2009 by the Guantánamo Review Task Force, and four in the last year by a newly established review process, the Periodic Review Boards, established to look at the cases of everyone not cleared for release.
These men -- who include Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and 52 Yemenis -- must be released as swiftly as possible if the very real progress towards the closure of Guantánamo is to be maintained. This will not be easy, because of the entire U.S. establishment's refusal to repatriate Yemenis, a refusal based on fears about the security situation in their home country, which necessitates the finding of third countries prepared to offer the men new homes.
And when these men are freed, so too should be the majority of the other 68 men. Just ten are facing trials, but the rest were designated as too dangerous to release by the task force, even though its members -- and President Obama, who endorsed their findings -- conceded that there was insufficient evidence to put any of these men on trial.
That, of course, means that it is not evidence at all, but a collection of dubious information -- multiple layers of hearsay, for example, produced by the prisoners themselves or their fellow prisoners, under torture or other forms of abuse, or through bribery or exhaustion. It is fundamentally unreliable, but the administration -- or its representatives in the Periodic Review Boards -- will have to accept this to enable these men also to be released.
While we wait to see whether this will happen -- or perhaps how quickly or slowly it will happen -- the Gitmo Clock remains a useful tool to keep track of developments -- or, the worst case scenario, the lack of them. We hope that you find it useful, and that, if you haven't done so already, you will visit it, like it, share it and tweet it.