By Andy Worthington, August 7, 2013
Today, the "Close Guantánamo" campaign, Witness Against Torture and the Center for Constitutional Rights are launching the "GTMO Clock," to show how long it is since President Obama promised to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, and how many men have been freed. This article is published simultaneously here and on Andy Worthington's website.
It's six months since the prisoners at Guantánamo embarked on a prison-wide hunger strike to protest about their seemingly endless detention. Although President Obama promised to close the prison within a year when he took office in January 2009, he failed to do so, and in February this year, the majority of the 166 men still held began refusing food, in the hope of attracting the world's attention to their plight, and forcing President Obama to act.
In May, after the world's media had picked up on the hunger strike, and international bodies including the UN, the EU and the International Committee of the Red Cross had put pressure on President Obama, he responded with a major speech on national security, in which he promised to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo. Today, however, it's 75 days since that speech, and no prisoners have yet been released. The "GTMO Clock" will be keeping track of how many days it has been since President Obama made his promise, and how many men have been released.
The ongoing imprisonment of the 166 men in Guantánamo, for the most part without charge or trial, is particularly distressing for the 86 men who were cleared for release in January 2010, in the final report of the inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, featuring representatives from the main government departments and the intelligence agencies, which was established by President Obama when he took office and made his promise to close the prison.
These men are still held for two particular reasons. 56 of them are Yemenis, and, in January 2010, President Obama issued a ban on releasing any of them, after it was discovered that a failed bomb plot on Christmas Day 2009 had been hatched in Yemen. In his speech in May, President Obama dropped his ban on releasing Yemenis, but none have so far been freed.
In addition, in the National Defense Authorization Acts for 2012 and 2013, Congress banned the release of any prisoners unless the president and defense secretary certified to Congress that they would be unable to engage in any terrorist activities against the US -- a certification that is, of course, almost impossible to make.
The result of all these obstacles is that, in the last three years, just seven prisoners have been released from Guantánamo, and it is no wonder that, by February this year, the prisoners were in despair, having concluded that they were never going to be released. Last week, President Obama notified Congress of his intention to release two Algerian prisoners, but their release will be of little comfort to the 84 other cleared prisoners.
Nor is the situation any better for the 80 other prisoners, as, with just a few exceptions, they are held without charge or trial, and with no indication of when, if ever, they will be delivered anything resembling justice.
46 of them were recommended for ongoing detention without charge or trial by the task force, on the basis that they were too dangerous to release, but that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial -- which, of course, suggests that the supposed evidence is in fact profoundly unreliable. However, in March 2011 President Obama issued an executive order authorizing their detention, although he also promised that they would receive periodic reviews of their cases. These, however, had not materialized by the time the prisoners began their hunger strike, making their despair understandable.
Similarly, despair on the part of the majority of the rest of the prisoners, who were recommended for prosecution by the task force, is also understandable because the majority of them have not even been put forward for trials, and it is unlikely that they ever will be, as Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor of the military commissions, conceded in June.
We hope you have time to look at the "GTMO Clock," and to share it if you find it useful. It also includes details of how you can write to President Obama and the Department of Defense to demand the immediate release of prisoners.
Note: Huge thanks to Justin Norman (Shrieking Tree) for taking this idea, which Andy proposed back in June, and creating the site.