By Andy Worthington
Dear friends and supporters,
Thanks to everyone who has supported the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative that we launched in January, when our co-founder Andy Worthington appeared on Democracy Now! with the music legend Roger Waters.
The Countdown began on Jan. 20 with supporters taking photos of themselves with posters reminding President Obama that he had just one year left to close Guantánamo, and has been followed by posters counting down every 50 days — 350 days on Feb. 3, 300 days on Mar. 25, 250 days on May 14, and 200 days on Jul. 3. Over 400 photos have been submitted to date, which can be found here, here and here.
The next significant date is Aug. 22, when President Obama will have just 150 days left to fulfill the promise he made on his second day in office back in January 2009, and we’re hoping that you’ll be able to join us in seeking to keep Guantánamo on the radar as the presidential race threatens to drown it out.
We will be publicizing the Countdown reaching the 150-day mark, and also posting your photos on the website and on social media (on Facebook and Twitter). Please also feel free to include a message to President Obama, and, if you wish, let us know where you are, so we can show the geographical breadth of support for closing Guantánamo.
We maintain that the existence of the prison at Guantánamo Bay is as much of an affront to U.S. values now as it was when it opened in January 2002, because no country that claims to respect the rule of law should be holding people indefinitely without charge or trial. Soldiers should be held according to the Geneva Conventions until the end of hostilities — and not in a phony “global war” that seems to have no end — and terrorists should be charged and tried in federal courts. Every day that Guantánamo remains open is a source of shame for all decent Americans.
Because of pressure — from a variety of sources, including campaigners — President Obama has renewed his efforts to close Guantánamo in the last three years, releasing many dozens of prisoners, after a long period in which he did very little, after Congress raised obstacles, and he was unwilling to spend political capital bypassing lawmakers, even though he had the means to do so.
Just 76 men are left at Guantánamo, and 34 of those men have been approved for release — 13 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established when he first took office in 2009 (the last 13 of the 156 men the task force recommended for release), and 21 others by Periodic Review Boards, another high-level process, involving representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that began its deliberations in 2013.
32 men in total have been approved for release by the PRBs, and eleven of dos even have been freed. 16 others have had their ongoing imprisonment held, although their cases will continue to be reviewed every year. 16 others are awaiting reviews, or the results of reviews that have already taken place, and it is to be expected that a handful of them at least will also be approved for release, raising the prospect that, at the end of his presidency, President Obama may be holding no more than 40 men — ten facing trials, and around 30 whose ongoing imprisonment has been recommended by PRBs.
We believe that it is worthwhile trying to maintain the pressure on President Obama, even though we recognize that he may not be able to close Guantánamo before he leaves office, because of legislation passed by Congress preventing any Guantánamo prisoner from being brought to the U.S. mainland for any reason. Even if he were to pass an executive order, and could find his own funding, he would still need support from the state or states that would have to house the prisoners, and it is not clear that this support would be forthcoming, such is the extent of black propaganda about Guantánamo that is pumped out by the prison’s dangerous and unprincipled supporters.
While we still hope that President Obama can succeed, we are also prepared to carry on our campaigning into the next presidency, and we hope you will stay with us if that is the case. For now, however, let us do what we can to remind President Obama that we are still supportive of his aims.
If you want to do more than just send us a photo, you can write to your Senators and Representatives to ask them to drop their opposition to prisoners being brought to the US mainland. Find your Senators here and your Representatives here.
If you do contact them, you may want to let them know how ruinously expensive it is to keep Guantánamo open — at least $445 million a year, or $5.8 million a year per prisoner currently held — as well as how damaging it is for America’s reputation abroad and for its belief in itself as a country that respects the rule of law.