End 22 Years Of Injustice

President Obama, It's Time to Fulfill Your Promise to Close Guantánamo

Protestors outside the Supreme Court on January 11, 2012.

Campaigners calling for the closure of Guantánamo protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court on January 11, 2012 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

By Andy Worthington

Now that the dust has settled on last week's Presidential election, we at "Close Guantánamo" pledge that we will continue to demand that President Obama fulfills his promise to close the "war on terror" prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which he made on his second day in office in January 2009.

Although we acknowledge that the President has released 71 prisoners since that time, and we accept that Congress has been monstrously obstructive, this is not sufficient to excuse Barack Obama for his failure to fulfill his promise. 166 men still languish in Guantánamo, almost all abandoned by the justice system on which America prides itself.

Particularly galling is the fact that 86 of the men still held were cleared for release by President Obama's Guantánamo Review Task Force, a sober and responsible collection of officials from the major government departments and the intelligence agencies, who analyzed the cases of all the prisoners throughout 2009. The Task Force concluded that 56 of those men should be released, and 30 others -- all Yemenis -- should be held in "conditional detention" (a category of detention invented by the Task Force) until it was decided that the security situation in Yemen had improved.

After 66 prisoners were released by the Obama administration -- many given new homes in third countries, because it was unsafe for them to return home -- Congress intervened to impose onerous restrictions on the President's ability to release prisoners, with the result that just five prisoners have been freed in the last two years.

Further complicating matters, half of the 56 cleared prisoners -- as well as the 30 in "conditional detention" -- are Yemenis, and the President himself issued a moratorium on releasing any cleared Yemenis in January 2010, in response to a failed bomb plot by a Nigerian man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who had been recruited in Yemen, and a wave of hysteria that followed his capture, even though holding these men responsible, in any sense, for what happened to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in Yemen is the most outrageous form of "guilt by nationality," for which the President should be ashamed.

We believe it is time for all the cleared prisoners to be freed, as swiftly as possible, and that the President has all the tools he needs to do so, as a waiver in last year's National Defense Authorization Act allows him to bypass Congress in matters relating to the release of prisoners if he regards it as being in America's national security interests.

The first release should be of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who could be returned home today. An end to the moratorium on the Yemenis should follow swiftly so that they too can be freed, and, for the other cleared prisoners, if they cannot be repatriated, and third countries cannot be found that will take them in, they should be freed in the U.S.

The fact that other countries have given new homes to men who could not be safely repatriated, while every branch of the U.S. government -- the executive branch, Congress and the courts -- have all declared America to be off-limits, is another source of shame that needs remedying.

In just two months' time, on January 11, 2013, the 11th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, concerned citizens will gather in Washington D.C., as they do on January 11 every year, to call for the closure of Guantánamo.

Let this be the last year that the U.S. government needs reminding, by its people, that Guantánamo remains an abomination, and that its closure is necessary to bring to an end 11 years of horrendous injustice.

Let this be the last year that the U.S. government needs reminding, by its people, of the disgraceful reality that, over 11 years after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, which prompted the Bush administration to declare a brutal and il-advised "war on terror," the remaining prisoners at Guantánamo are subjected to indefinite detention.

This is a situation that remains unacceptable, and every day that men are held indefinitely, outside of the normal rules of detention (whether through the U.S. criminal code, or the Geneva Conventions), brings great shame on the United States of America.

Before 9/11, indefinite detention used to be associated only with regimes that prided themselves on their disdain for the rule of law; dictatorships, in other words. Nearly eleven years after the prison at Guantánamo opened, two successive U.S. administrations -- that of George W. Bush, and, since 2009, that of Barack Obama -- have demonstrated that America is no better than these dictatorships.

Let this be the last year that Guantánamo remains open.