By Andy Worthington, May 19, 2015
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 U.K. 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.
It is also reassuring that, in the last few weeks, three prominent Democratic Senators -- Patrick Leahy, Dianne Feinstein and Dick Durbin -- have written to President Obama calling for the release of the 57 men, as has retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who, in a speech in Washington, D.C., also said they might be due compensation for their long ordeal.
Whilst it is commendable that 44 men have been freed since President Obama's speech two years ago, all of the organizations and groups involved in the open letter are committed to seeing further action to release the other men approved for release -- including Shaker Aamer, who could be returned to his family in the U.K. tomorrow -- as swiftly as possible.
Those responsible for the letter are also concerned that reviews for the men not cleared for release and not facing trials -- the Periodic Review Boards -- take place as swiftly as possible, as it remains intolerable that, over 13 years since Guantánamo opened, the majority of those still held are still subjected to indefinite detention without charge or trial, something that no country that claims to respect the rule of law should tolerate.
Please also feel free to visit the Gitmo Clock website, established by Close Guantánamo after President Obama's May 2013 speech, to mark how many days it is since the promise to resume releasing prisoners, and how many men have been freed.
Together the undersigned organizations call for the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to be closed, and we ask President Obama and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to swiftly transfer the 57 prisoners at Guantánamo who have already been cleared for transfer—the majority for over five years—and release or charge in a federal court those who have not been cleared for transfer.
May 23 marks the second anniversary of President Obama's promise to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, after Congress raised legislative obstacles, which he made during remarks at the National Defense University. The President's promise was prompted in particular by a prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo, undertaken by men who—according to SOUTHCOM Commander General John Kelly—were "devastated" that the administration had "backed off" closing the prison.
Since that speech, 44 men have been freed. However, 122 men remain at Guantánamo, even though almost all of them have never been charged, let alone tried, for any crime. It is time for President Obama, and Defense Secretary Carter, to take action to transfer the 57 men still held who have already been approved to leave Guantánamo, and to release or charge in federal court those who remain.
Today, just days before the anniversary of President Obama's promise, a delegation of British MPs is visiting Washington, D.C., to discuss the release of Shaker Aamer, one of the 57 and the last British resident in Guantánamo. This follows the creation of a cross-party Parliamentary Group, and a motion passed by the British Parliament in March, calling for his release and return to his family in the U.K., and a similar call made by Prime Minister David Cameron in a meeting with President Obama in January.
As well as calling for the transfer of the 57 men cleared for transfer, including Shaker Aamer, we also call on the administration to speed up the Periodic Review Boards (PRBs), designed to review the cases of the men who have not been cleared for transfer and are not facing trials. Since the PRBs began in November 2013, 14 men have been reviewed and nine have been approved for transfer. If the process does not speed up, it will take until January 2021 to complete the reviews—19 years after Guantánamo first opened.
The prison at Guantánamo is an expensive mistake that—according to national security officials, and President Obama—harms U.S. security interests. The U.S. government must act to close the prison as quickly as possible.
Amnesty International USA
Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR)
Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR)
National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT)
No More Guantánamos
September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows
Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (TASSC)
Veterans For Peace
We Stand With Shaker
Witness Against Torture
For further information, please contact Andy Worthington of Close Guantánamo or Matt Hawthorne of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT).
For further information about the British Parliamentary delegation, please contact Katherine O'Shea of Reprieve.
Note: This article was published simultaneously here and on Andy Worthington's website.