By Andy Worthington, December 20, 2016
With just 30 days remaining for President Obama to close Guantánamo, we concede that it unlikely that the president’s long-unfulfilled promise to close it will be met before he leaves office, although we are delighted to note that administration officials have told Charlie Savage of the New York Times that 17 or 18 of the 22 men approved for release (out of the 59 still held) will be freed before he leaves office.
However, despite it being unlikely that Guantánamo itself will be closed before Obama leaves office, we continue to maintain that it is crucially important to continue publicizing the need for it to be closed until the very end of his presidency — and then to immediately call on Donald Trump to abandon his belligerent rhetoric about keeping it open, and to demand that he accepts that the prison has no purpose, and that its continued existence is counter-productive, an insult to the values on which the U.S. prides itself, and outrageously expensive.
To this end, we are, today, publishing photos sent by supporters holding posters reminding President Obama that he has just 30 days left, as part of the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative we launched in January. Throughout the year, we have published photos — nearly 600 to date — every 50 days, and, for the last stretch of the initiative, since the presidential election, every five days.
Please feel free to print off a 30 days to go poster, to take a photo with it, and to send it to us, and please also feel free to do the same with the 25 days to go poster, for Christmas Day, the 20 days to go poster, for Dec. 30, the 15 days to go poster, for Jan. 4, and the 10 days to go poster, for Jan. 9, just two days before the 15th anniversary of the prison’s opening, and the unacceptable start of its 16th year of operations.
In this uncertain period before Trump’s inauguration, as speculation is rife, the Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg heard an interesting talk by Guantánamo’s commander, Navy Rear Adm. Peter J. Clarke, when he "took questions from his troops during an ‘All Hands’ meeting on Nov. 14 at an open-air cinema off Sherman Avenue, the base’s main drag."
Responding to a question from an officer, who asked him "whether, in light of the president-elect’s campaign commentary, the forces would be conducting torture at Guantánamo Bay," Clarke said, in what seems to us to be a thinly-veiled criticism of Donald Trump’s rhetoric, "Campaign statements are what they are. Hopefully, the good ones are followed through on and the bad ones that were just made to generate attention and incite controversy and allow the media to sensationalize things so they can sell newspapers, hopefully those will go by the wayside."
Clarke added, "I have to have faith that President-elect Trump is a reasonable person that’s going to do the right things. But it’s more than just the president. The Constitution built this incredible form of government with three branches of our government, and all three branches have a say in how we carry out our responsibilities. Somewhere else buried in the Constitution is that right, that responsibility for us as leaders, for us in uniform to carry out legal orders. And torturing somebody would not be a legal order, OK? So if that’s what we’re talking about, that’s hopefully a nonstarter. But good question. Thanks."
Clarke, however, who has been the commander since November 2015, will be leaving sometime next year, to be replaced by Rear Adm. Edward Cashman, a career Naval officer, who will be the prison’s 17th commander. His assignment, as Carol Rosenberg described it, "was already in the Pentagon pipeline before the presidential election."
As for whether Trump will try to bring anyone new to Guantánamo, which President Obama refused to do, it seems unlikely, because no authorization currently exists for sending ISIS prisoners to Guantánamo, for example, and federal courts have a proven track record of dealing with terrorism cases, which Guantánamo does not.
Guantánamo’s warden, Army Col. Stephen Gabavics, a career Military Policeman, "who got to Guantánamo six months ago from an Army-sponsored stint at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology," would not be drawn into speculation. "We’re not gaming it. We’re not planning anything. We’re not putting resources against it, either," he said, adding, "We could close down before President Obama leaves office, and that’s what we’d do if that’s what is directed. If we’re directed otherwise after he leaves — even while he’s in office — to bring someone else in, we’ll do that: execute the orders that are given to us."
In an op-ed for the Miami Herald, "Rehabilitating Guantánamo’s torture victims," Boston University professor Sondra Crosby, who has been allowed to undertake medical examinations of various prisoners at Guantánamo, wrote, with her university director, George Annas, that, although it "is extremely unlikely that President Obama will be able to fulfill his promise of closing Guantánamo before leaving office," he "can still take action to mitigate this national stain. Torture causes profound harm to human beings, families, and communities. We cannot undo the torture that was committed on scores of men — but we can do the right thing now: We can provide the medical, psychological, and social supports these survivors need to heal."
Crosby and Annas add, "This positive step will not only protect our national security by reducing the likelihood that released prisoners will act against our interests, but also will begin to restore the reputation of our country as a human rights protector — a distinction that has been shattered by our use of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in the war on terror. Guantánamo especially continues to create hostility towards our troops and citizens and encourages violence in retaliation. It is not a coincidence that ISIS has executed westerners dressed in the infamous orange jumpsuits, an icon of Guantánamo."
They also look at specific cases — Jihad Dhiab, for example, who, two years ago,was sent with five other men to Uruguay, "a country where they had no roots, no access to their families, no familiarity with the language or culture, and no access to torture rehabilitation treatment." Dhiab has undertaken life-threatening hunger strikes, and, as the authors note, "It does not take a psychiatrist to see that he is suffering from mental illness and is desperate to be reunited with his family."
They also write about another former prisoner, Tarek El-Sawah (aka Tariq al-Sawah), an Egyptian "who was dumped in Bosnia in January," where he "is similarly struggling without access to any resources, medical care, or rehabilitation." Dr. Crosby "determined during a visit to Sarajevo in July" that "he currently suffers from binge-eating disorder and major depression, illnesses either caused or exacerbated by his experiences in U.S. custody," and the article explains that he "was on a dozen medications in Guantánamo, but has been unable to obtain any of them since his release," adding, "He and his daughter are both suffering and are vulnerable to exploitation by those who could use him against U.S. interests. He has described his post-transfer Bosnia circumstances as 'a worse kind of prison.'"
After noting that many of the men freed from Guantánamo, who were "cleared by U.S. officials as not posing a security threat," are "suffering from the long lasting psychological, physical, and social consequences of the torture inflicted on them while in U.S. custody," Crosby and Annas point out that U.S. laws, including Article 14 of the U.N. Convention Against Torture, "require us to provide victims of torture with an 'enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation, including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible.'" and add, "It is past time that we begin to live up to our legal and human rights obligations to the former prisoners of Guantánamo — for both their sakes and our own."
Here at Close Guantánamo, as we continue our campaigning, we hope that Donald Trump and those gathering around him do not ignore voices like those of Dr. Crosby and Dr. Annas, who understand the true cost of Guantánamo’s continued existence.