By Andy Worthington
Next Saturday, May 14, is the next milestone in the Countdown to Close Guantánamo that we launched in January, to count down the last year of the Obama presidency, and to remind President Obama of his promise to close the prison before he leaves office, which he first made on his second day in office in January 2009.
Launched on January 20 with exactly one year to go -- by Close Guantánamo co-founder Andy Worthington and music legend Roger Waters on Democracy Now! -- the countdown has continued with posters every 50 days. 350 days was on February 4, and 300 days was on March 25, and we're now asking you for your photos for next Saturday, May 14, marking 250 days to go.
Over 300 supporters from across the U.S. and around the world -- including some celebrities -- have so far sent in photos, which can be seen here and here, and we are delighted to invite you to join them.
Please also visit, like, share and tweet the Gitmo Clock, which we recently relaunched as part of the Countdown to Close Guantánamo, and which is counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the end of Obama's presidency. The original clock was launched in 2013 to count how many days it was since President Obama's May 2013 promise to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, after nearly three years in which releases had largely ground to a halt because of unprincipled Congressional opposition, and the president 's refusal to spend political capital overcoming those obstacles, even though he had the means to do so.
At the time, 166 men were still held, but in the last three years 86 men have been freed, leaving just 80 men still held. At the start of the year, via the Pentagon, President Obama finally delivered a long-promised plan to close Guantánamo to Congress, which I wrote about here. It has been reassuring to hear that the administration intends to release all the prisoners approved for release by summer -- currently 26 of the men still held, and it is also reassuring to hear that the administration intends to hold Periodic Review Boards for all those who are eligible for them by the fall. The PRBs are reviewing the cases of everyone not already approved for release (by President Obama's high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2010) or facing trials (and just ten men are in this latter category), and have already approved 20 men for release.
We hope that several dozen more men -- at least -- are also approved for release by PRBs, but for President Obama to close Guantánamo he either needs the support of Congress, or, if that is not possible, he needs to close the prison via an executive order, something that former White House counsel Greg Craig and Cliff Sloan, the former State Department envoy for Guantánamo closure, believe is possible.
We also hope that Congress can be persuaded to support President Obama, for the reasons we have always explained -- because Guantánamo damages America's belief that it is founded on, and respects the rule of law every day that it remains open, and because it also damages its reputation around the world.
We are aware that some advocates for Guantánamo's closure are adamant that, for the prison to be closed, no one must be transferred to the U.S. mainland to be held without charge or trial. However, we must respectfully disagree with this position. The U.S. has the right to hold prisoners seized in wartime without charge or trial until the end of hostilities, and although the Guantánamo prisoners have been deprived of the rights to which they were entitled under the Geneva Conventions, the U.S. government is still able to make a case that they are held according to the laws of war.
Moreover, if they are moved to the U.S. mainland, we fervently believe that they will have rights under the U.S. Constitution that, to date, they have been deprived of -- in particular, since appeals court judges in Washington, D.C., in 2010-11, cynically gutted habeas corpus of all meaning for the prisoners, despite their resounding Supreme Court victories in 2004 and 2008. It is also noticeable that the Supreme Court has persistently failed to take back control of detainee issues from the appeals court.
Describing the prisoners' rights if moved to the U.S. mainland, "Close Guantánamo" co-founder Tom Wilner has explained:
If the detainees are brought to the United States, the government loses its prime argument for denying them constitutional rights. The imprisonment of anyone without charge or trial on the U.S. mainland is radically at odds with any concept of constitutional due process. Bringing them to the United States means that they would almost certainly have full constitutional rights and the ability to effectively challenge their detentions in court. They would then no longer be dependent solely on the largesse of the Obama administration, or whatever administration happens to follow it, but could gain relief through the courts.
That said, it would obviously make sense for the U.S. to prosecute anyone it wants to carry on holding who is allegedly involved in any way with terrorism, and we hope the administration is looking closely not only at prosecuting in federal court those currently in interminable pre-trial hearings in the largely discredited military commissions, but also in adding to their number anyone else against whom a criminal case can be made.
In conclusion, we hope that President Obama recognizes the importance of fulfilling his promise to close Guantánamo before he leaves office. If he is succeeded by a Democrat, it is probable that efforts to close the prison will continue, but that is not the case with the Republican challengers, and, in any case, the health of President Obama's legacy depends on not having failed, over the course of eight long years, to fulfill a promise to close the stain on America's reputation that is Guantánamo that he made back in January 2009.
Thank you for your support.
If you want to do more, please feel free to call the White House on 202-456-1111 or 202-456-1414 or submit a comment online.