End 19 Years Of Injustice

Former Guantánamo Prisoner Mohamedou Ould Salahi Urges Joe Biden to Close the Prison in a Newsweek Op-Ed

Mohamedou Ould Salahi, in Mauritania after his release from Guantánamo in 2016.

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By Andy Worthington, January 13, 2021

So the 19th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay has been and gone, marked not, because of Covid-19, by the online vigil outside the White House that has been taking place since 2007, and that I’ve been part of since 2011 (although even without Covid it would have been cancelled because of the invasion of the Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump just days before), but by an online vigil, several online discussions, the latest phase of our ongoing photo campaign, my video interview with Kevin Gosztola of Shadowproof — and, most importantly, an op-ed in Newsweek by former prisoner, torture survivor and best-selling author Mohamedou Ould Salahi.

Mohamedou unexpectedly joined an Amnesty discussion (with the Lewes Amnesty Group) that I was part of in summer— with Zoom suddenly facilitating international meetings that would have been difficult to achieve, if not impossible in the world of real life meetings that preceded the arrival of Covid-19. He was an inspiring presence — gentle, amusing, extraordinarily positive and without rancour, as I knew from his writing, and from exchanges with him online.

On the anniversary, Mohamedou was greatly in demand, in the run-up to the release next month of "The Mauritanian," a major feature film based on his story, starring Jodie Foster and Benedict Cumberbatch. He spoke at a number of online events, including another Lewes Amnesty Group event, where I introduced him.

And, as noted above, Mohamedou also had an op-ed published in Newsweek, the only mainstream U.S. media outlet to take an interest in the anniversary, which we’re cross-posting below in the hope of reaching people who may have missed it — and because it is particularly well-written and powerful.

Please share if if you find it as compelling as we do!

Biden Must Succeed Where Obama Failed, and Finally Close Guantánamo
By Mohamedou Ould Salahi, Newsweek, January 11, 2021

Twelve years ago this month, I sat in my cell in the detention camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, staring at one of the most beautiful photographs I had ever seen: Barack Obama, inaugurated as President of the United States the day before, signing an Executive Order to close Guantánamo within a year. Then-Vice President Joe Biden praised the order, saying "We will uphold the rights of those we bring to justice, and we will close the detention facility at Guantánamo."

In Guantánamo, I can tell you, everyone took this news seriously. The Joint Task Force that runs the prison gave each detainee a copy of the president's order. High-ranking officers toured the camp and spoke with many detainees. An Air Force captain and a four-star Navy Admiral sat and talked with me, assuring me that the camp's dark days of inhumane treatment were coming to an end.

As a then-young African, I was stunned. A young black man, the son of an African immigrant, had been elected to the highest office of the most powerful country in the world. I was swept up in the pro-American fervor that seemed to be spreading everywhere. Inside GTMO, detainees who the day before had been cursing the country were now rooting for Team America. Around the world, whole countries were doing the same. "Gute Wahl," Good Election, the headline of a German tabloid read. I wasn't allowed to read the article itself back then, but later learned it went on to say, "Everyone has now fallen freshly in love with the new America, the other America, the good America, Obamerica, even."

That was twelve years ago.

Guantánamo remains open today.

When President Obama signed that order, I had been imprisoned without charge or trial for seven years, tortured, and taken to the very limits of human endurance. Even after all that, I was willing to give the U.S. government the benefit of the doubt. I believed it would do the right thing and close the symbol of torture and indefinite detention, once and for all. Yet when a federal judge granted my habeas corpus petition and ordered me set free in 2010, the Obama administration appealed that decision, and it would be another [six] years before an Administrative Review Board in Guantánamo took up my case and approved my release.

It was only later that same year, in the very last days of Obama's presidency, that I was finally reunited with my family — minus my mother and an older brother, who both died during my detention.

For the past four years I have struggled, and am still struggling, to overcome a travel ban the United States imposed as a condition of my release and regain my full freedom. But I have been able to marry, start a family, work on a new edition and a movie version of my book, and be a part of helping to build a better future for my country and the world.

It tells you everything you need to know about Guantánamo that I count myself among the lucky ones. According to a newly-released report by Amnesty International, forty men are still imprisoned there. Six of these men, like me, were cleared for release. The vast majority of these forty men have never been, and will not be, charged or tried for any crimes. Every day I am haunted by the thought of Abdel Latif Nasser, who is from my neighbor country of Morocco and who remains imprisoned although he was cleared for release, like me, in 2016, and all the other forgotten souls in Guantánamo.

Last week, I watched as an angry mob overran the U.S. Capitol, trying to overturn the results of a presidential election. I watched as one after another American commentator and legislator expressed horror and shock as they spoke about the rule of law. I shared their horror, but not so much their shock. The political evolution leading up to that moment has been long in the making, and I knew that even from my cell in Guantánamo.

In the months before Barack Obama was elected president, I had a guard who kept me posted on the progress of the Democratic party's nominee, a man he told me was supposedly a Muslim, who had even sworn his oath of office on the Quran when he was elected to the Senate. He would bring me fresh reports every day about the alleged dangers of this Black candidate. Behind these stories was an insinuation that the man had not been born in the United States and was not an American. A few months after I was released, the best-known proponent of that "birther" conspiracy theory succeeded Obama as president. To no one's surprise, President Trump vowed not just to keep Guantánamo open, but to expand it. What he ended up doing was arguably even worse: he ignored it completely, as if the lives of the men still held there, and the thousands of U.S. servicewomen and servicemen whose careers are being wasted guarding them, meant nothing at all.

In two weeks, the United States will have a new president, and another chance to repair the terrible error Guantánamo represents. Because he was the vice president in an administration that tried but failed to close Guantánamo, President Biden will carry a special burden of that error into office. If the Obama administration had closed Guantánamo, many others would have been able to spend the years of the Trump presidency rebuilding their lives. Years of additional suffering would have been avoided.

But it wasn't President Obama and Vice President Biden alone who failed to close Guantánamo twelve years ago. It was Congress, too, which fought efforts to close Guantánamo tooth and nail. It was the American people, who did not hold Obama's feet to the fire and stand up for the rule of law.

Today, many in the United States are talking about the importance of the abiding by the rule of law. When President Biden takes office, he and the American people can put these words into action by closing Guantánamo at last.