While promoting the message to Close Guantanamo that we are raising funds to publish in The New York Times, we have been hearing, especially in the Twitterverse, that people think, because Obama promised to close Guantanamo, and says that Congress is not allowing him to do that, the main problem is with Congress.
It is quite true that the U.S. Congress, both when the Republicans led it under Bush, and since the Democrats took over leadership in 2006, has a shameful record in advancing all sorts of repression. Memorably, they’ve made speeches and passed resolutions — and tried to pass laws — saying Guantanamo, specificially, can’t be closed, nor can the prisoners ever by tried here or released in the U.S.
So appealing to the right-wing Congress is going to continue to be a very hopeless road, absent the kind of mass political movement from the people needed, on all issues of justice, from authorizing un-ending wars, targeted killing, violation of borders for other countries, while further militarizing this country’s borders and infrastructure.
Obama, however, as people rightly point out, has promised to close Guantanamo. For his own reasons, whatever they may be, he repeats what most of the world thinks, that the continued existence of the illegal prison in Guantanamo, set up to avoid U.S. law by the Bush regime, doesn’t serve the U.S. public image as the land of freedom and democracy.
Obama repeated, in remarks at a press conference last month, that it is Congress who refuses to let him release prisoners who have been cleared for release. 86 prisoners were cleared, some back to 2006, by the Bush administration, and then again by a task force of Obama’s own creation in 2009, after what he’s called a very “thorough review.”
There are 3 main reasons the ball is in Obama’s court on Guantanamo:
1. Obama put in place the ban on transferring the 56 Yemeni prisoners, out of the 86 who have been cleared for release. Says Andy Worthington in Eloquent But Unconvincing: President Obama’s Response to the Guantánamo Hunger Strike
it was the President “who issued a ban on the release of Yemenis from Guantánamo after a failed bomb plot on a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day 2009, undertaken by a Nigerian man who was recruited in Yemen.”
Not Congress, though they’ve done many other reactionary things. It was also Obama who in January 2013 closed the office in the Executive Branch run by Donald Fried, which was tasked with resettling the prisoners.
2. It’s the Obama administration which has made life for prisoners worse at Guantanamo after some improvements at the end of the Bush administration. Glenn Greenwald wrote in July 2012,
“Last week, the Obama administration imposed new arbitrary rules for Guantanamo detainees who have lost their first habeas corpus challenge. Those new rules eliminate the right of lawyers to visit their clients at the detention facility; the old rules establishing that right were in place since 2004, and were bolstered by the Supreme Court’s 2008 Boumediene ruling that detainees were entitled to a “meaningful” opportunity to contest the legality of their detention. The DOJ recently informed a lawyer for a Yemeni detainee, Yasein Khasem Mohammad Esmail, that he would be barred from visiting his client unless he agreed to a new regime of restrictive rules, including acknowledging that such visits are within the sole discretion of the camp’s military commander.”
Obama’s credentials as a protector of the prisoners are non-existent, making his claims to fear for their deaths hollow. Yet, he should be held to follow through on his promise. You can read more on that in the text of our message.
3. Obama can use the clause written into the National Defense Authorization Act allowing the executive to release prisoners.
Senator Levin wrote to Obama on May 9, reminding him, “I successfully fought for a national security waiver that provides a clear route for the transfer of detainees to third countries in appropriate cases, i.e., to make sure the certification requirements do not constitute an effective prohibition.”
President Obama seems quite ready to use executive authority when it comes to targeted kill lists. He doesn’t wait for Congress, or even acknowledge Congressional authority in matters of war and national boundaries for drone war or special operations. So why is he allowed to hide behind “Congress won’t let me” now?
I would urge people who take Barack Obama at his word that he wants to close Guantanamo, to investigate more deeply what Obama’s policies have amounted to by reading Greenwald’s piece from 2012: The Obama GTMO Myth.
“Every time the issue of ongoing injustices at Guantanamo is raised, one hears the same apologia from the President’s defenders: the President wanted and tried to end all of this, but Congress — including even liberals such as Russ Feingold and Bernie Sanders — overwhelming voted to deny him the funds to close Guantanamo. While those claims, standing alone, are true, they omit crucial facts and thus paint a wildly misleading picture about what Obama actually did and did not seek to do.”
Andy Worthington writes in the wake of Obama’s latest statements,
“The best that can be said of President Obama’s performance on Tuesday is that the words he uttered can be used to hammer home to him the ongoing injustice of the prison, if he tries, as he has before, to lose interest in it. Mostly, though, what is needed is action — action to persuade Congress to drop its restriction on the release of prisoners, and action and honesty by President Obama himself: on his Yemeni ban, on the need to appoint someone to deal with the closure of Guantanamo on a full-time basis, and, if necessary, on releasing prisoners through the waiver in the NDAA.
He also, as an urgent matter, needs to initiate review boards for 46 other prisoners who he consigned to indefinite detention without charge or trial in an executive order in March 2011, on the basis that they are regarded as too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence exists to put them on trial. That is, and was an unacceptable decision to take, but the only proviso that tempered it ever so slightly was the President’s promise to initiate periodic reviews of the men’s cases, which, over two years later, have not taken place.
Political speeches and posturing are one thing. Reality is another. Greenwald reminded us after Adnan Latif died in Guantanamo earlier this year, “more detainees have died at the camp (nine) than have been convicted of wrongdoing by its military commissions (six).”
Obama needs to release the cleared prisoners, whatever work that takes; charge or release those being held indefinitely without charges, and close the prison. You can donate to help publish the ad. And sign it, along with the above writers, and myself.