By Andy Worthington, February 2, 2016
Two weeks ago, as the co-founder of "Close Guantánamo," I launched a new initiative, the Countdown to Close Guantánamo, with music legend Roger Waters, on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman. See the video of that show here.
We encouraged people to take photos of themselves with posters counting down to the end of the Obama presidency, urging President Obama to fulfill the promise he made to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, as he promised on his second day in office in January 2009, and to send them to us -- with personalized messages, if they wish. Supporters can also let us know where they are, to demonstrate the breadth of support across the U.S., and around the world.
Support initially came from Roger, from Brian Eno, from British MPs including John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, and from five former Guantánamo prisoners, including Shaker Aamer, the last British resident held in the prison, who was released in October.
I had co-founded another campaign, We Stand With Shaker, in November 2014, to call for Shaker's release. That campaign had focused on getting celebrities and MPs to be photographed standing with a giant inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer, but it had also involved concerned members of the public, from around the world, sending in photos of themselves with signs in support of Shaker -- later replicated in the Fast For Shaker initiative just before his release -- and these were the inspiration for the Countdown to Close Guantánamo.
Since the launch two weeks ago, almost a hundred people have joined the Countdown to Close Guantánamo -- many, we're glad to note, from across the U.S. These supporters took photos of themselves with our first poster, which reads, "President Obama, you have just 1 year left to close Guantánamo."
The next stage of the Countdown is this Thursday, February 4, and our new poster reads, "President Obama, you have just 350 days left to close Guantánamo."
Please join us -- and Nancy Mancias, national campaign organizer for CODEPINK Women for Peace, who sent in the photo above.
The next poster -- 300 days -- will be on March 25, then 250 days on May 14, and so on.
91 men remain at Guantánamo -- and, as we are pointing out, President Obama has just 350 days left to fulfill the promise he made, on January 22, 2009, to close the prison within a year.
It is hugely important for the U.S.'s claim to respect justice and the rule of law that Guantánamo is closed once and for all, and we believe that President Obama must continue to push for its closure without any delays.
Of the 91 men still held, 34 have been approved for release, and should be sent home, or found new homes, as swiftly as possible. Just ten are facing, or have faced trials, but it is the fate of the 47 others that is most pressing. These men are all eligible for Periodic Review Boards, a process set up in 2013 that, to date, has approved for release 17 men (out of 20 reviewed) who were previously described as "too dangerous to release" by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office.
That success rate -- 85% -- demonstrates how ill-advised was the description of prisoners as "too dangerous to release," as should have been apparent when the task force acknowledged that it had insufficient evidence to put these men on trial. What that meant, of course, was that the so-called "evidence" was no such thing, as was made clear by the other co-founder of "Close Guantánamo," the attorney Tom Wilner, in a recent article about Guantánamo in Rolling Stone:
“If you look at the evidence against these people, it’s absolutely bullshit,” says Tom Wilner … “In most cases, there is no evidence that a detainee committed a crime or trained for terrorist activities other than the word of another detainee who may, himself, have been tortured, or who told his interrogators what they wanted to hear.” Many of these informants have recanted, he says. “None of this would hold up in court. At best, it raises suspicions. And you cannot, in a democratic society, hold people based on suspicion.”
Around the same time we launched the Countdown to Close Guantánamo, defense secretary Ash Carter appeared on CNN with Fareed Zakaria, where he said, "I've said from the day I was nominated to be secretary of defense [that] I think, on balance, it would be a good thing to close Gitmo." He added, however, "There are people in Gitmo who are so dangerous that we cannot transfer them to the custody of another government, no matter how much we trust that government." Carter also said, "The reality is, this portion of the Gitmo population has to be incarcerated somewhere," adding later that "it would have to be in the United States."
Here at "Close Guantánamo," we accept that Guantánamo can only be closed by bringing some men to the U.S. mainland, overcoming a ban by Congress against bringing any Guantánamo prisoner to the U.S. mainland for any reason. While we wait to see if this might happen through Congressional cooperation or though an executive order, we are concerned by Carter's words about the dangerousness of an unspecified number of individuals. We believe that the U.S. can continue to hold men under the laws of war, but we also believe they will be able to challenge their detention through the courts, and that the number moved to the U.S. should be as small as possible -- hence the need for the Periodic Review Boards to be speeded up.
In closing, for now, the last thing we -- or anyone concerned with justice -- should accept is a claim that some prisoners remain "too dangerous to release," and that elaborate arguments must be made for continuing to justify their indefinite detention without charge or trial, when no such justification exists.