By Andy Worthington, January 20, 2016
January 20, 2016 marked the beginning of the last year of the Obama presidency, and, to highlight President Obama's last chance to fulfill the promise to close the lawless prison at Guantánamo Bay that he made on his second day in office in January 2009, the "Close Guantánamo" campaign has launched a new initiative, the "Countdown to Close Guantánamo."
The "Countdown to Close Guantánamo" encourages celebrities, lawmakers and concerned members of the public, from the U.S. and around the world, to take photos of themselves holding signs counting down to the end of the Obama presidency, urging President Obama to close the prison before the inauguration of the next president on January 20, 2017.
Our first poster, reading, "President Obama, you have one year left to close Guantánamo" was made available when the campaign launched, on Jan, 20:
CloseGuantanamoCountdownFinal.pdf (Adobe PDF - 658Kb)
It will be followed, throughout the year, by posters counting down every 50 days -- so "350 days" (see below) is on February 4, "300 days" (also see below) is on March 25, "250 days" will be on May 14, and so on.
CloseGuantanamoCountdown350Days.pdf (Adobe PDF - 675Kb)
If you're reading this on or after Jan. 28 (and before Feb. 18), then please print off the "350 days" poster (above), take a photo of yourself holding it, and send it to us for Feb. 4 at: firstname.lastname@example.org
CloseGuantanamoCountdown300Days.pdf (Adobe PDF - 675Kb)
If you're reading this on or after Feb. 18, then please print off the "300 days" poster (above), take a photo of yourself holding it, and send it to us for Mar. 25 at: email@example.com
CloseGuantanamoCountdown250Days.pdf (Adobe PDF - 674Kb)
If you're reading this from Apr. 1 onwards, then please print off the "250 days" poster above, take a photo and send it to us, for May 14, at: firstname.lastname@example.org
CloseGuantanamoCountdown200Days.pdf (Adobe PDF - 674Kb)
If you're reading this from Jun. 1 onwards, then please print off the "200 days" poster above, take a photo and send it to us, for Jul. 3.
CloseGuantanamoCountdown150Days.pdf (Adobe PDF - 672Kb)
If you're reading this from the middle of July onwards, then please print off the "150 days" poster above, take a photo and send it to us, for Aug. 22.
CloseGuantanamoCountdown100Days.pdf (Adobe PDF - 672Kb)
If you're reading this from Sep. 1 onwards, then please print off the "100 days" poster above, take a photo and send it to us, for Oct. 11.
If you would like to send a message to accompany your photo, please feel free to do so. You can also let us know where you're located if you want (village/town/city and country). We will be publishing all the photos here, on two dedicated pages -- Celebrity Photos and Public Photos -- and also on our Facebook and Twitter pages. As well as Roger Waters, Shaker Aamer, we already have photos of another music legend, Brian Eno, former Guantánamo prisoners including Shaker Aamer, the last British resident held in Guantánamo, and a number of members of the public, with many more to follow.
"Close Guantánamo" was established in January 2012 by the US attorney Tom Wilner (who represented the Guantánamo prisoners in their habeas corpus cases before the US Supreme Court in 2004 and 2008) and the British journalist Andy Worthington to provide important information about Guantánamo and the men held there, and to work towards the prison's closure.
In November 2014, Andy established the "We Stand With Shaker" campaign in the U.K., with the activist Joanne MacInnes, to work towards securing the release of Shaker Aamer, and last May Tom arranged for a delegation of British lawmakers seeking Shaker's release to meet with Senators including John McCain and Dianne Feinstein. In October, eight years after he was first told that the U.S. no longer wanted to hold him, Shaker Aamer was finally freed, and returned to his family in the U.K.
"We Stand With Shaker" featured celebrities and lawmakers standing with a giant inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer, but we also encouraged members of the public to send in photos of themselves holding signs in support of Shaker's release, and the success of this -- and of the "Fast For Shaker" initiative launched just before Shaker's release, when celebrities and concerned members of the public stood with signs -- inspired us to encourage everyone who wants to see Guantánamo closed to get involved in this new campaign, which, we hope, will attract widespread support.
To coincide with the launch of the "Countdown to Close Guantánamo," we are calling on President Obama to observe the following five demands regarding the closure of the prison and the 91 men still held -- of whom 34 have been approved for release, 44 are awaiting Periodic Review Boards (or the results of PRBs) to establish whether they too should be approved for release, three have had their ongoing detention approved by PRBs (subject to further reviews), and just ten men are facing, or have faced trials.
There are currently 34 men in this category. 24 were approved for release in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009. Ten others were approved for release in the last two years by Periodic Review Boards, established in 2013 to review the cases of all the men not already approved for release by the task force, and not facing trials.
Currently, 41 men are awaiting Periodic Review Boards, but only four of those men have dates set for their reviews. Since the PRBs began, in November 2013, 23 men have had their cases reviewed, 20 decisions have been taken, and 17 of those have resulted in the men being recommended for release -- a success rate of 85%. However, at the current rate, the first round of reviews will not be completed until 2020. This is unacceptable. It means that some of the men will have waited ten years for a review, even though, when President Obama set up the PRBs in an executive order in March 2011, he promised, "For each detainee, an initial review shall commence as soon as possible but no later than 1 year from the date of this order."
In order to close Guantánamo, President Obama needs to be able to bring a number of prisoners to the U.S. mainland -- those to be put on trial, which, we believe, should be in federal court rather than in a version of the discredited military commissions on U.S. soil, and others to be held according to the laws of war, pending new legal challenges. Seven men are currently in pre-trial hearings, including the five men accused of being co-conspirators in the 9/11 attacks. Two others have accepted plea deals, but have not yet been sentenced, and one other man was given a life sentence after a military commission in 2008, a verdict he is currently challenging in the courts.
The law allows the administration to release prisoners pursuant to court order. As a result, there is no Congressional restriction on the release of men who prevail in their habeas corpus cases and receive a habeas order of release, whereas, for those men the administration wants to release without a habeas order of release, Congress has demanded that the defense secretary provides a 30-day notification prior to any release, and certifies that measures have been taken to mitigate any risk. Despite this, the administration has contested virtually every habeas case, even for men approved for release by the task force, and has taken advantage of an unduly restrictive legal regime imposed by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to do so. Most legal scholars agree that the legal regime is wrong and inconsistent with the Supreme Court's decision in Boumediene v. Bush (2008), granting the prisoners constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights. The administration should stop taking advantage of that restrictive regime to win cases. It should stop contesting these cases. and instead should consent to the entry of habeas orders.
As we have been saying since 2013, when President Obama appointed envoys for the closure of Guantánamo to roles in the State Department and the Pentagon, appointing someone to oversee the closure of Guantánamo in the White House would be the most constructive way for the president to try to fulfill his as yet unfulfilled seven year promise to close the prison. As the New York Times noted in an editorial in the New Year, "Pentagon officials can do a lot to thwart releases during Mr. Obama’s last year in office. He can make that less likely by empowering a senior official to set clear goals and deadlines, and order defense officials to meet them."
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In addition to the demands above, we recognize that not everyone the president intends to move from Guantánamo to the U.S. mainland, so that he can close the prison, will either be charged or released, and, as noted briefly above, we accept that the government will argue that some prisoners can continue to be held in accordance with the laws of war.
We hope this number will be as small as possible, as seems likely if the PRBs continue to approve prisoners for release in significant numbers, and while we do not approve of the government's failure to treat these men as prisoners of war for the last 14 years, we are convinced that, on the U.S. mainland, they will have constitutional rights previously denied to them, and will be able to launch new legal challenges that are not open to them at Guantánamo.
We also acknowledge that it is not yet known how Guantánamo will be closed. We hope that Congress, which has imposed a ban on bringing any prisoner to the U.S. mainland for any reason, will work with President Obama when a detailed plan for the prison's closure is delivered to lawmakers, and we anticipate that any plan can only suggest that prisoners facing trials be held in federal prisons, while anyone not facing charges be held in a military facility.
We also do not yet know what President Obama will do if Congress refuses to work with him, although we were reassured when, in November, Greg Craig, who was White House Counsel in 2009, and Cliff Sloan, the envoy for Guantánamo closure in the State Department from 2013-14, wrote that, despite the Congressional ban on transfers to the U.S., "Under Article II of the Constitution, the president has exclusive authority to determine the facilities in which military detainees are held."
For more about our position regarding the closure of Guantánamo, see our article from November, "Playing Politics with the Closure of Guantánamo," and our article in the New Year publicizing a panel discussion in New America in Washington, D.C. on January 11, at which Tom and I spoke in detail about how the prison can be closed. The video of that event -- also featuring the academic Karen Greenberg and moderated by New America's Peter Bergen -- is here.