Posts Tagged Guantanamo
Estimates are that the United States has detained many thousands of men since 2011 at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Of course, that’s mostly a guess, because they can only be identified when families report them missing. Tina M. Foster and her colleagues with the International Justice Network (ijnetwork.org) have been fighting for years now, for a very basic right for these prisoners: habeas corpus.
So far, they’ve been unsuccessful at getting any relief, because the Obama administration holds to the Bush regime’s claim that because the prison is in a (U.S. created) war zone, the prisoners cannot be charged or allowed legal defense, presumably until the war is declared ended.
Monday September 16, Tina and colleagues were back in federal court representing three men who are non-Afghans, grabbed by U.S. forces elsewhere and brought to the prison at Bagram. One was 14 years old, and is still in custody at 19.
Scotusblog captured some of the argument yesterday:
With the U.S. seeking to end its active military involvement in the Afghan war by the end of next year, Swingle repeated the government’s recent claim that it “wants to get out of the detention business” at Bagram. Some of the lawyers for the detainees, however, argued that there is no assurance that the U.S. military would free any of those it is holding there even after the main U.S. military force had departed. The U.S. has built a new prison facility on the air base, and that may not be closed down, according to New York attorney Tina M. Foster, who represents three non-Afghan detainees.
Eric L. Lewis, a Washington, D.C., lawyer for a Pakistani national, named Amanatallah, joined Foster in pleading for habeas rights for the Bagram non-Afghan prisoners. His client, Lewis said, was actually captured by British forces in Iraq, and the U.S. military had no reason to ship him to Afghanistan other than to try to keep him out of reach of U.S. courts.
The third lawyer on the detainee side, John J. Connolly of Baltimore, brought into Tuesday’s discussion a plea for special favorable consideration of the plight of minors who get caught up in the war on terrorism. His client, Hamidullah, a Pakistani, was only fourteen years old when he was captured. Government lawyer Swingle, in countering Connolly’s argument, contended that the important fact is that Hamidullah is now nineteen years old, and that is what counts in judging the legality of his detention.
Eric Lewis wrote in The New Yorker, in a piece titled Kafka in Bagram that his client is
a Pakistani citizen, a rice merchant, from a village outside Faisalabad. In 2004, he went on a business trip to Iran (which imports rice from Pakistan) and crossed into Iraq to visit Shia shrines. We know that he disappeared and was not heard from for ten months, when his family learned that he had been detained by British forces in Iraq, handed over to American troops, and then flown to Afghanistan and jailed at Bagram. We know that he was registered originally under the wrong name, suggesting that this may be a case of mistaken identity. We know that, for nine years, he has been prohibited from speaking to a lawyer and permitted only a few telephone calls from his family. He has five children who have not seen him for nine years.
Why was Amanatullah brought to Afghanistan? Rendition of a prisoner from his place of capture to a third country is a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions, as is rendering someone to a war zone. Surely, there were plenty of places to detain him in Iraq. And there was a well-worn route for prisoners to be sent to Guantánamo Bay. Again, the government will not say.
U.S. attorney Swingle argued that releasing Hamidullah would “encourage others to lie about their age
John Connolly, an attorney for the detainees, told the panel that because of a lack of information from officials at Bagram, “we have no evidence that [Khan] was a child soldier.”
The only thing Connolly said he knew for sure was that Khan “was a child.”
International law says using a child under the age of 15 as a soldier is a war crime, the attorney said, so the United States can assert jurisdiction in Khan’s case.
The United States should release all detainees under 18 (including those arrested when they were children) in Guantanamo and Bagram; release those men who have never been charged, and allow the others legal representation.
Most essentially, the U.S. should get out of Afghanistan now, not vaguely in 2014, and not in 2024, when the current status of forces agreement matures.
Hamidullah was only two years old when the U.S. began this war and occupation.
At the rate the Obama administration is “closing” Guantanamo, most prisoners will die of old age before ever being released. Although two were released to Algeria last week — finally — 84 cleared prisoners and 60 others uncharged or facing military tribunals remain. 30 are on hunger strike, 27 of those being force-fed. Ongoing protests in Chicago, San Francisco, London, NYC and Washington, DC have involved dozens of activists, including some who have gone on solidarity fasts. See closegitmo.net.
Undoubtedly, it’s only the prisoner’s hunger strike, which began in February and is ongoing, which has gotten any movement of out of the illegal prison. Andy Worthington provides the personal background of two released prisoners in Who Are the Two Guantánamo Prisoners Released in Algeria. He previously covered
Nabil’s story on “Close Guantánamo,” in a profile published n May 2012 entitled, “Nabil Habjarab, the “Sweet Kid” in Guantánamo, Was Cleared in 2007 But Is Still Held,” and in July I publicized his account of the hunger strike, the first in which he had taken part. Now 32 years old, he was just 21 years old when he was first seized…
Nabil lived in France until he was nine years old, but then his father then took him back to Algeria, although he spent every summer in France with his uncle Ahmad. Disaster struck in 1994, when Nabil’s father died of cancer, and he was taken in by an abusive aunt.
Nabil’s lifeline was his uncle Ahmed, who sent him money, treating him as though he was one of his own children, and when he turned 21 Nabil returned to France and his uncle’s family, hoping to secure French residency.
However, fearful that he would be deported while waiting for his paperwork to be processed, Nabil made a fateful decision to travel to the UK, and from there to Afghanistan, where he stayed with an Algerian man in Kabul, and then fled to Jalalabad after the US-led invasion began. He then tried to reach the Pakistani border, but was wounded in a US bombing raid and ended up in a hospital in Jalalabad. From there he was sold to US forces, as were many of the men and boys who ended up, pointlessly, in Guantánamo. As one of the guards in Guantánamo explained, Nabil was no soldier and no terrorist; instead, he was “a brilliant artist, a keen footballer, and a sweet kid.”
The other prisoner sent to Algeria, 37 year old Mutia Sayyab was cleared for release twice — first under George W. Bush, in February 2008, and then under Barack Obama in January 2010. His attorney, Buz Eisenberg, said he is
“a poster boy for all that is wrong about Guantánamo Bay,” and an “unwitting and undeserving victim of a misguided response to terrorism.” He described him as “innocent of any conduct remotely related to terror, and in fact abhors and deplores such conduct,” adding, “He has nevertheless been beaten, forced to live in isolation, and stripped of his inalienable right to freedom.”
Another form of resistance to the prison is beginning to take shape from within the medical community. Michael Kirsch writes in Force-feeding prisoners at Guantanamo tortures medical profession that
There have been physicians present during enhanced interrogation events (read: torture) ostensibly to guide interrogators against causing permanent serious injury or worse. Perhaps, these physicians have rationalized their role to be protectors of detainees, but this is nonsensical. This role is so far removed from the medical profession’s healing mission that it deserves no debate. Indeed, this practice tortures the medical profession that is under oath to heal and comfort the sick, not to provide flimsy cover to ‘interrogators’.
Dr. Kirsch, ends
If our Commander-in-Chief wants to force food down someone’s throat, he is free to give the order. But, no doctor or nurse should carry it out.
The systematic torture developed under the Bush regime has only been possible with the collusion of attorneys writing legal justifications, officers devising and enforcing orders, and medical personnel giving ethical cover to the process.
Thank you, Dr. Kirsch!
Barack Obama pulled out the “we’re not Big Brother” line again Friday in the ongoing to effort to bamboozle people alarmed about the vast National Security Agency surveillance of whole populations exposed by Edward Snowden. The important thing to him is not that the surveillance is curtailed, but that you feel comfortable with it.
Tech Crunch outlined Obama’s program to make you comfortable:
1) a new independent NSA review board that will publish recommendations on protecting civil liberties 2) a new website detailing the surveillance activities 3) changes to the Patriot Act authorizing the spying, and 4) a new public advocate to argue cases in the secret court that grants the NSA spying requests.
Reviews, public advocates, and a website (!) all with the intention of making you accept the illegal busting down of virtual walls breaking any remaining protection promised by the Fourth Amendment. Obama straight up lied when saying that
all these steps are designed to ensure that the American people can trust that our efforts are in line with our interests and our values. And to others around the world, I want to make clear once again that America is not interested in spying on ordinary people.
Obama was especially pissed off that Snowden’s revelations continue to be published via Glenn Greenwald in The Guardian, and in other media. These include irrefutable evidence – from the horse’s mouth — of ongoing NSA programs which collect all metadata from very large sections of people, including Stellar Wind, Boundless Informant, and X-KEYSCORE.
Plainly put by The Guardian:
Nothing Obama announced Friday is likely to materially alter the NSA’s ongoing mass collection of phone data and surveillance of internet communications in the short term.
The Wall Street Journal, which mostly supports Obama’s spying, spoke plainly to Obama’s chief goal; to
gain public trust in the NSA programs and engage in a national debate about surveillance. But he also has said he was comfortable with the current programs. So he could say he spurred a debate and tried to address privacy concerns even if no changes result.
The New York Times editorialized, mildly, against the spying, apparently not satisfied with Obama’s sales effort:
The programs themselves are the problem, not whether they are modestly transparent. As long as the N.S.A. believes it has the right to collect records of every phone call — and the administration released a white paper Friday that explained, unconvincingly, why it is perfectly legal — then none of the promises to stay within the law will mean a thing.
Obama’s rhetoric rang like the May 23, 2013 address when he said he “wants” to close Guantanamo and would remove an obstacle to prisoners’ release — which he created — by putting a moratorium on releasing prisoners to Yemen.
Exactly ZERO prisoners have been released since his comments.
Last Friday, President Obama, apparently responding to pressure, made an unexpected statement about the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. He expressed understanding that Black people feel “a lot of pain around what happened here.” He promised no systemic remedies, saying that such decisions are left up to the states, and putting the responsibility of “each of us to do some soul-searching.”
Cornel West, on Democracy Now! Monday, went right after Obama’s statement:
“President Obama has very little moral authority at this point, because we know anybody who tries to rationalize the killing of innocent peoples, a criminal—George Zimmerman is a criminal—but President Obama is a global George Zimmerman, because he tries to rationalize the killing of innocent children, 221 so far, in the name of self-defense, so that there’s actually parallels here.”
It’s well worth watching, or reading the whole exchange. Immediately Dr. West caught all kinds of criticism, for criticizing the President — a situation I personally identify with. I heartily support and agree with Dr. West’s comments. I would like to hear what you think.
Food for Thought & Action:
Expanded U.S. Targeted Killing, Drone War & Secret Operations.
See the leaked Pakistani document detailing many more civilian deaths in US drone strikes in Pakistan, released Monday by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
“Drawn from field reports by local officials in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the document lists over 70 drone strikes between 2006 and late 2009, alongside a small number of other incidents such as alleged Nato attacks and strikes by unspecified forces.
“Of 746 people listed as killed in the drone strikes, at least 147 of the dead are clearly stated by the leaked report to be civilian victims. Some 94 of these are said to be children.”
A Promise Two Months Ago to Release Prisoners & Close Guantanamo.
No prisoners released since the President said he would relax restrictions on cleared Yemeni prisoners. Federal court decisions in favor of the prisoners’ rights against the government practice of force-feeding and genital searches have brought no relief. Joe Nocera, noticeably anguished, wrote Tuesday morning in The New York Times:
“There is one person who could get them out tomorrow — if he chose. That same person could stop the military from force-feeding the detainees. I am referring, of course, to President Obama. Yet despite decrying the Guantánamo prison, the president has refused to do anything but stand by and watch the military inflict needless pain and suffering, much of it on men who simply shouldn’t be there. Indeed, in many of the legal briefs filed on behalf of Guantánamo prisoners, the defendant is Barack Obama.”
An Expanding System of Mass Incarceration in the U.S.
In the Democracy Now! interview, Dr. West said,
“we’re talking about legacy of the white supremacy. We’re talking about a criminal justice system that is criminal when it comes to mistreating poor people across the board, black and brown especially…I just never forget Brother Carl Dix and others…we protested [stop-and-frisk by NYPD] and went to jail and then went to court and was—had a guilty verdict, right? That week, the president came to New York and said, “Edward Koch was one of the great mayors in the last 50 years,” and then said, “Michael Bloomberg was a terrific mayor.” Now, this is the same person saying we’ve got to care for black boys, and black boys are being intimidated, harassed, humiliated, 1,800 a day. It’s just not a matter of pretty words, Mr. President. You’ve got to follow through in action. You see, you can’t use the words to hide and conceal your mendacity, hypocrisy and the support of criminality—or enactment of criminality when it comes to drones, you see.”
Prosecution and Persecution of Whistle-Blowers
“Will you press for the justice of Trayvon Martin in the same way you press for the prosecution of Brother Bradley Manning and Brother Edward Snowden?” So you begin to see the hypocrisy.”
Glenn Greenwald writes,
“The Obama White House yesterday told Russia that it must not persecute “individuals and groups seeking to expose corruption” – as Bradley Manning faces life in prison for alerting the world to the war abuses and other profound acts of wrongdoing he discovered and as the unprecedented Obama war on whistleblowers rolls on. That lecture to Russia came in the context of White House threats to cancel a long-planned meeting over the Russian government’s refusal to hand over NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden to the US to face espionage charges.”
Vast Government Surveillance on Whole Populations
Remember when Obama said that he doesn’t want people to feel like “Big Brother” is watching us? “in the abstract, you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a potential, you know — you know, program run amok. But when you actually look at the details, then I think we’ve struck the right balance.” And we find out, as this scandal unfolds, that all date is being vacuumed up and held, forever, in a global “Stand Your Ground” justiication, because “it keeps us safe.”
All of the above, and more, are why we drafted indictments against the US government for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Read and share with others.
On Monday, July 8, Bradley Manning’s defense began with what was surely one of the most intense and unusual openings in U.S. military or civilian court history. Almost without introduction, the 39 minute version of Collateral Murder was played on five screens, while the military judge seemed to read along from the chilling transcript. The more frequently viewed 17 minute version has the Apache helicopter attack on a group of Iraqis, including a cameraman and reporter working for Reuters. But the prosecution, for unfathomable reasons, insisted that the longer version, which includes another horrific attack from the Apache on an apparently unarmed Iraqi.
There were tears in the full court room at all the appropriate points. 25 of Bradley’s supporters were allowed in the public seats at any one time, switching with 52 others who filled the overflow trailer. We succeeded in having the largest turnout to date to support Bradley at trial, including many who were coming for the first time, 24 of us from New York. The security detail counted and re-counted, short of badges, nervously herding the overflow.
The Collateral Murder footage was what made us support Bradley before we had any idea he existed. On April 5, 2010, when Wikileaks first published the video which they named Collateral Murder, we knew it was a myth-breaker for those who still thought the U.S. was in Iraq to “save” lives and help people. The Standard Operating Procedure of U.S. war-fighting in contested urban areas of occupation came through strongly enough visually. Add in the callous, outrageous chatter of the gunners – which was what Bradley testified this past February caught his attention and horrified him — and you have crimes of war writ large.
This footage figures importantly in the U.S. case against Bradley, as they argue he intentionally released it and other material to Wikileaks, knowing it would get into the hands of “the enemy.” But the defense presented testimony that the footage had already been in the public domain, was no longer classified, and that Bradley was not collaborating with Wikileaks, but rather leaked the material to them when other news organizations didn’t respond to his entreaties to publish the real story of the Iraq & Afghanistan occupations.
Col. Morris Davis was brought by the defense to speak to another contention of the prosecution, that leaking the Guantanamo Detainee Assessment Briefs caused harm because “the enemy” could read them. Davis, a military lawyer and law professor now at Howard, was put in charge of the whole military prosecution structure at Guantanamo in 2005, but quit in protest in 2007 because he said it would be impossible to promote just prosecutions. He was the author of the Close Guantanamo petition on Change.org in May, which more than 200,000 people signed. Ed Pilkington wrote in The Guardian:
Davis said he had also checked against information provided in newspaper articles, a docu-drama called The Road to Guantánamo and a book, The Guantánamo Files, that was published three years before the WikiLeaks disclosures. He said he had concluded that “if you watch the movie, read the book and the articles, you would know more about them than if you read the detainee assessment briefs”.
Davis testified that the DAB’s were almost useless to the prosecution, because they were so hastily and casually constructed. We learned Tuesday that the five DAB’s picked out by the prosecution — although of course this was all kept secret in the courtroom — included Shaker Aamer. Aamer is outrageously, still at Guantanamo after eleven years, although he was cleared for release by Bush in 2007, and again in 2010. Three others were members of the Tipton 3, featured in the film The Road to Guantanamo, who got out years ago, and in our friend Andy Worthington’s book. None of the erroneous and incomplete information gathered by US intelligence years ago could have any relevance now compared to actual journalism.
The Justice Department has an ongoing grand jury investigation into Wikileaks and Julian Assange, and an active interest in the case against Manning, as a route to potential prosecution of Wikileaks. There was testimony today by defense witness Harvard professor Yochai Benkler who contends that Wikileaks is a legitimate news organization, thereby entitled to First Amendment protection, and not “the enemy” Manning is charged with aiding.
Kevin Gosztola noted,
What happens here will create precedent for pursuing future whistleblowers or leakers. Depending on how WikiLeaks ends up being cast in the ruling, it may become a factor in how the US government continues its investigation and potential indictment of WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, WikiLeaks staffers or volunteers connected to WikiLeaks.
The defense rested on July 10, after ten witnesses testified. The court martial resumes at 3:00 pm Monday July 15, with more motion arguments, and an expected rebuttal from the prosecution. There may be more from the defense before the Judge announces decisions on the 22 charges. Then the trial moves to the sentencing phase, which will likely involve weeks more of arguments.
Stay tuned for another call-out for maximum support at the trial.
These reporters have been at the trial every day:
Coverage from Associated Press and The New York Times has been occasional.
Saturday, we gathered at Ft. Meade for the largest support action for Bradley Manning during the three+ years of his imprisonment before trial. I saw MANY subscribers to the World Can’t Wait e-newsletter list, donors to the recent New York Times “Close Guantanamo” ad, activists from years of opposition to U.S. wars, and younger people who have come forward mainly because they are inspired by the integrity and honesty of Bradley Manning.
Bradley, at the center of the most important political trial of this century, is an extraordinary person, motivated (as we now know), by the wish to get people living in this country to see what the government is doing. The high stakes here described by Revolution Newspaper are:
“This system is out to inflict extreme punishment on Bradley Manning—to jail him for a long time, perhaps life, and to use this cruel punishment of a brave person as an example to anyone else who would dare expose the crimes of empire. The courage and resilience with which Manning has withstood years of solitary confinement and almost a year of torture are a testament to his strength.”
Emma Kaplan, in Free Bradley Manning: The World is Not the Enemy quotes Bradley in explaining how much he learned:
“I also recall that in early 2009 the then newly elected president, Barack Obama, stated he would close Joint Task Force Guantanamo, and that the facility compromised our standing over all, and diminished our, quote unquote, “moral authority.” After familiarizing myself with the DABs, I agreed….
“The more I became educated on the topic, it seemed that we found ourselves holding an increasing number of individuals indefinitely that we believed or knew to be innocent, low-level foot soldiers that did not have useful intelligence and would’ve been released if they were held in theatre.”
Attorney Michael Ratner, this morning on Democracy Now!, explained the breadth of the Espionage statute, where the government does not have to prove either intent to aid the enemy, or actual aiding of the enemy, to convict Bradley of six espionage charges (which carry the death penalty, although the government says it is “only” seeking life in prison for Bradley). Chillingly, the government, in its opening statement yesterday, referred frequently to Julian Assange and Wikileaks, likely targets of prosecution. Assange wrote Monday on the “Kafkaesque” nature of the trial:
“It is fair to call what is happening to Bradley Manning a “show trial.” Those invested in what is called the “US military justice system” feel obliged to defend what is going on, but the rest of us are free to describe this travesty for what it is. No serious commentator has any confidence in a benign outcome. The pretrial hearings have comprehensively eliminated any meaningful uncertainty, inflicting pre-emptive bans on every defense argument that had any chance of success.
“Bradley Manning may not give evidence as to his stated intent (exposing war crimes and their context), nor may he present any witness or document that shows that no harm resulted from his actions. Imagine you were put on trial for murder. In Bradley Manning’s court, you would be banned from showing that it was a matter of self-defence, because any argument or evidence as to intent is banned. You would not be able to show that the ’victim’ is, in fact, still alive, because that would be evidence as to the lack of harm.”
The New York Times, finally reporting on the trial, related part of the opening arguments from Bradley’s attorney, David Coombs, explaining how Bradley was motivated to leak evidence of U.S. war crimes:
“Mr. Coombs said Private Manning started sending files to WikiLeaks later, in January 2010, after a roadside bombing in Iraq on Dec. 24, 2009. Everyone in his unit celebrated, Mr. Coombs said, after learning that no American troops had been seriously hurt, and their happiness did not abate — except for Private Manning’s — when they learned that members of an innocent Iraqi family had been injured and killed. From that moment, Mr. Coombs contended, things started to change and he soon “started selecting information he believed the public should see, should hear” and sending them to WikiLeaks.”
Many people have ordered Collateral Murder from us.
YOU MUST have this DVD and show it to others. Get it now.
President Obama will give a major speech Thursday at the National Defense University in Washington, reportedly about drones and Guantanamo. The Washington Post reports that
“Obama was prepared to deliver the speech earlier this month, but it was put off amid mounting concerns over a prisoner hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay and more recently the Justice Department leaks investigation — both of which the revised speech may address.”
The Post also reports that an anonymous White House official says the President
“…will discuss the policy and legal framework under which we take action against terrorist threats, including the use of drones. And he will review our detention policy and efforts to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.”
World Can’t Wait has been pondering hard on what more we can do to create a political situation where Obama has to back down, release at least some of the men at Guantanamo, and be forced into closing the prison. The use of indefinite detention and targeted killing is an affront to generally recognized precepts of international law. Usually, the administration answers, as Eric Holder did last year, makes a claim that “we can do whatever we want,” essentially, when “national security” is at stake.
Obama promised to close Guantanamo more than four years ago. We have been led to expect, over the last four years, that it’s really not that important to him to do so.
But along comes the prisoners’ hunger strike — a dynamic factor neither Obama’s people, nor the millions of us outraged at Guantanamo’s continued existence expected. Their action could bring a possible change in the administration’s plans to maintain indefinite detention, at least for some of the men in Guantanamo.
A major missing ingredient in this moment, though, has been the collective voices of artists, intellectuals, politicians, religious and cultural figures who are respected and beloved for being voices of conscience, speaking as one to demand that the torture of Guantanamo be ended. It’s time and past time, as more than 100 days of the prisoners’ hunger strike have passed, that we provide a way for them to speak out together, and for that message to be seen.
Dennis Loo of Cal Poly Pomona drafted a message which will run this week as a full page ad in The New York Times this week which could serve as such a vehicle. Demanding “Close Guantanamo,” it has been signed by 1100, including John Cusack, Alice Walker, Wallace Shawn, Junot Diaz, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, Eve Ensler, Kara Walker, Dave Eggers, Glenn Greenwald, Paul Haggis, Bianca Jagger, Ariel Dorfman, Erica Jong, Michael Moore, Ron Kovic, Tom Morello, Mark Ruffalo, Coco Fusco, Peter Selz, James Schamus, Carl Dix, Oliver Stone, Cindy Sheehan, and Cornel West, joined by attorneys for the Guantanamo prisoners, law professors, clergy and academics.
The message powerfully challenges us to look at Guantanamo as “part of larger, alarming developments” including the NDAA, targeted killing by executive order, and the prosecution of whistle-blowers, “most flagrantly in the torture, slander and draconian legal charges against Bradley Manning.”
It says, “It is up to people to stand up for principle and morality when their institutions and public officials refuse to do so. The fates of those who are maimed or killed by our government’s policies are inextricably intertwined with our own: we must listen and respond to their cry for justice. We demand the release of the cleared Guantanamo prisoners now, and an end to indefinite detention without charge for the others, before they lose their lives.”
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.
My friend Stephen Phelps, Senior Minister at The Riverside Church, signed The New York Times ad on closing Guantanamo we plan to publish next week, and sent a note saying he would “begin to send the hope around to some others.” This hit me strongly. For the last four+ years, since Obama promised to close it, nothing hopeful has come out of Guantanamo.
It’s only the courageous, and desperate, actions of the prisoners which provide hope now, and which are enlivening the rest of the world with the idea that now Obama must, as Lynn Feinerman put it in Tikkun Daily, “Close Guantánamo. Repatriate and rehabilitate those destroyed by it.”
25 former Guantanamo prisoners just wrote Obama demanding he close the prison. They say that force-feeding (for which even more “medical” personnel have been brought in recently) “demonstrates the absence of any morals and principles the US administration may claim to have regarding these men,” and cite:
- The abuse of the prisoners’ religious rights, such as the desecration of the Qur’an
- The use of chemical sprays and rubber bullets to “quell unrest”
- Regular and humiliating strip searches
- Extremely long periods in total isolation
- Interference in privileged client/attorney relationships
- Lack of meaningful communication with relatives
- Arbitrary imprisonment without charge or trial
Ahmed Rachidi, a former prisoner released to Morocco, said recently:
The Obama Administration claims they are on a hunger strike because they want better treatment or better food. But that is not true. They are on a hunger strike because they want justice. They want freedom. They want to go home to their families. And this time they will not quit.
I hope we don’t fail to see how horrific a hunger strike is. Rachidi goes on:
This will be the last hunger strike. To stop eating is the only way prisoners can exert any control when they are powerless. But this time Shaker and the other prisoners don’t have the same strength, the same energy they used to have. Mentally and physically they are very weak. I am worried that something can go wrong, that someone will lose his life… Guantanamo is a concern to every human being who believes in democracy, who believes in human rights, who believes in the rule of law. We don’t have a lot of time. We need to come together to force President Obama to restore the rule of law and put an end to this disgrace.
In the thirty-six hours since we debuted the ad text, and began asking people to sign on, circulate it, and donate for its publication, I’ve been very heartened by the comments and donations, from $5 to $1,000. The lawyers who represent prisoners are a group with every reason to have given up in defeat, since they are barely allowed to get to Guantanamo, and now their clients are visibly weakened, some unable to converse. They are signing on, and helping raise funds.
Activists, artists, academics, lawyers, elected officials: this is an urgent call to you. Unite your voices together to support justice for the prisoners in the “newspaper of record” on the 100th day of the hunger strike.
Publishing this ad will resonate in a way other actions don’t, and could help create a situation where the Obama administration is forced to respond. Let’s get into the streets around the world on May 17-19 as part of taking hold of the moment where how a society is measured comes down to closing Guantanamo, and gives hope that the war crimes this country has perpetrated can be addressed.
Saturday was the first time it felt like spring in NYC, and crowds of people filled Union Square Park watching jugglers and musicians, and just hanging out. It was so heartbreakingly pleasant, one felt bad bearing the news to tourists that out of many things wrong in this class-divided world, we were about to challenge them to take notice of one very important thing.
Ten of us put on orange jumpsuits to mark the 51st day of the potentially deadly hunger strike by men imprisoned by the U.S. at Guantanamo. Witness Against Torture activists have been fasting for a week in solidarity; this was a public way and place to end the fast, and have visual impact. Often I am doing public relations at events like this. Today I wanted to experience the time under the hood, and be able to listen for peoples’ comments.
90% of those seeing us walked on by. Hundreds took flyers. Many took photos, though oddly, most didn’t really stop to find out much. Several said “thank you” to those of us in jumpsuits. Comments ran from “they should burn that place down with everyone in it,” to “they should free all those guys, and then burn it down!” A few people ranted that “they” were all terrorists. One said, “the prisoners are lucky; they could of all just been shot.” Some people were just confused, saying Obama had closed down the prison. Memorably, one hipster told another, “I think they’re monks, protesting Easter.”
One of the people flyering commented that all the Black people who stopped for a flyer “got it,” recognized what the problem is, and expressed compassion. A people who has suffered oppression is maybe most able to empathize, notwithstanding that the current President and Attorney General are responsible for no prisoners leaving Guantanamo in the last 18 months alive.
At this point, so far into the fast, we hear men are suffering terribly, possibly being deprived of water they see as safe to drink, some force-fed and some hospitalized. Clive Stafford-Smith, attorney for Shaker Amer, tweeted “90mins on phone with Shaker Aamer today; 130 detainees on hunger strike; situation in
#Gitmo as dire as General ‘Miller Time’” referencing Geoffrey Miller, who ran Guantanamo in 2004, and then went to Abu Ghraib, running torture at both.
How do we close Guantanamo and save the lives of the prisoners? Without the men taking this action, the White House would not have been finally forced to acknowledge the hunger strike, and major media would not be now covering Guantanamo. Their action is decisive, and desperate, as their attorneys report. There is no way out of Guantanamo now, absent a mass demand that it be finally closed and the prisoners charged and tried, or released, as most of them have been already cleared for.
But our action is decisive also. Find out what you can do where you are.
Support World Can’t Wait’s work to make Guantanamo visible in the U.S. Materials (flyers, signs); websites, travel cost $$. Our work is 100% supported by direct donations from individuals. Donate now.