By Andy Worthington, January 19, 2017
Unfortunately, President Obama is leaving office with a black stain on his name for having failed to close Guantánamo despite promising to do so on his second day in office eight long years ago, and despite our relentless campaigning here for the last five years, including over the last year with the Countdown to Close Guantánamo, an initiative that campaign co-founder Andy Worthington launched with music legend Roger Waters on Democracy Now! last January.
Throughout the year, campaigners across the U.S. and around the world stood with posters reminding President Obama how many days he had left to close Guantánamo — at first at 50-day intervals, and then, in the last 50 days, at 5-day intervals, and, for the last five days, on a daily basis. Over 700 photos were submitted, and we thank all of you who took part. See the photos here: Celebrity photos, Public photos 1, Public photos 2, Public photos 3, Public photos 4 and Public photos 5.
Now, however, we are faced with a new challenge — the troubling rise of Donald Trump to the position of President of the United States, with all the alarm that brings with it. On the campaign trial, Trump promised to keep Guantánamo open, and to "load it up with some bad dudes," and also threatened to send U.S. citizens there to face military commission trials. Trump also enthused about officially reintroducing torture as a weapon of the U.S. government, and although he has been rebuffed on this position — most noticeably by his choice for defense secretary, Gen. James "Mad Dog" Mattis — and we think it extremely unlikely that any U.S. citizen will be sent to Guantánamo, because of the constitutional protections enjoyed by U.S. citizens compared to foreign "terror suspects," we remain, of course, implacably opposed to any plan to keep Guantánamo open.
We think it unlikely that new prisoners will be sent to Guantánamo, because the basis for holding men there is the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed by Congress the week after the 9/11 attacks, which specifically relates to 9/11, al-Qaeda, the Taliban and associated forces, and we think a new authorization from Congress would be required to, for example, send anyone associated with ISIS to Guantánamo. We believe that any proposal to do so would face serious opposition from a range of critics, including some Republicans, who recognize that federal courts are perfectly well equipped to handle cases related to terrorism, as they have been doing since 9/11 — throughout the Bush administration, and throughout Obama’s administration too, while Guantánamo has always stood apart as an aberration.
Nevertheless, there is no room for complacency, and, as Donald Trump takes power, we renew our call for Guantánamo’s closure with a brand new poster, which reads, "Donald Trump No! Please Close Guantánamo!"
CloseGuantanamoDonaldTrump.pdf (Adobe PDF - 701Kb)
We urge you to print it off, to take a photo with it, to send it to us, and to share it with everyone you know. We hope to be swamped with photos, which we will be posting here, and on our Facebook and Twitter accounts.
In particular, we have three demands for Donald Trump:
1. Honor the decisions to release those men still held who have been approved for transfer out of the prison by high-level inter-agency U.S. government review processes, the Guantánamo Review Task Force and the Periodic Review Boards.
2. Maintain the Periodic Review Boards, which, since November 2013, have been reviewing the cases of men previously designated as "too dangerous to release" or recommended for prosecution, with, to date, 38 out of 64 men approved for release, near all of whom have been freed without incident.
3. Close Guantánamo once and for all. President Obama has failed to fulfill his promise, but he inched towards the prison’s closure, which remains necessary for the U.S. to be able to claim that it respects the rule of law, to be respected around the world, and to take the moral high ground when it comes to dealing with terrorism.
We also remind Donald Trump that the prison is also unforgivably expensive. As Human Rights First has noted, "The documented cost of running the Guantánamo prison facility in 2015 was $445 million. The actual amount is far more, since this amount does not include the cost of Camp 7, where 'high-value detainees' are held. That cost has been deemed classified. The $445 million sum also fails to include the cost of Justice Department, FBI, and CIA involvement in detention operations." That works out at $10m per prisoner at the most generous estimate, whereas "keeping a prisoner at a maximum-security federal prison costs just over $34,000 per year," and "at a federal Supermax prison, the highest-security and strictest federal prisons, the cost is $78,000 per year."