Witness Against Torture: Coalition Demands Obama Step Up Pace of Transfers and Review Boards, Take Charge of Insubordinate DOD, and Finally Close Prison
Washington, DC – This Monday, a coalition of human rights activists, torture survivors, Guantánamo attorneys, and members of diverse faith communities will hold a rally at the White House to mark the 14th anniversary of the first arrival of detainees at Guantánamo on January 11, 2002.
The coalition is calling on the Obama administration in its last, crucial year in office, to close Guantánamo and end indefinite detention. With recent transfers, 104 men remain at Guantánamo, dozens of them cleared for release, the majority from Yemen.
The rally will include a giant, inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer – the last UK resident held at Guantánamo, released in October. The figure was displayed outside the British Parliament where MPs and celebrities posed with it to press for Mr. Aamer’s release. Members of the coalition will share the words of Mr. Aamer and of Mohammed Al Hamiri, Ghaleb Al Bihani, Zaher Hamdoun, and Mustafa al-Hawsawi, all of whom remain at Guantánamo. The rally will be followed by a “detainee procession” of figures in orange jumpsuits and black hoods and signs marking the anniversary.
The organizations drafted a call to action:
Last Chance for Leadership: Close Guantánamo
President Obama has just one year left to fulfill his first-term promise by closing Guantánamo and ending indefinite detention. Doing so will demonstrate leadership and fidelity to the principles on which he campaigned and won office.
On January 11, 2016, the prison at Guantánamo will enter its 15th year of operation. More than 100 men remain there; the vast majority will never be charged with crimes. Dozens of prisoners are cleared for transfer. Some remain on hunger strike and are force-fed, and a handful are facing charges in unfair trials. There has been no accountability for the torture that many detainees have suffered.
Though Congress has placed obstacles to closing Guantánamo, President Obama can and should make significant progress towards reducing the population and shuttering the prison. He must order the Secretary of Defense to expedite transfers and accelerate the Periodic Review Board process, and tell the Justice Department not to reflexively oppose habeas petitions in federal court. He must also reject a policy of indefinite detention, and formally try or release all detainees.
In addition, President Obama should order all relevant agencies to read the full Senate torture report. Refusing to read the report, more than a year after receiving it, reflects the “bury your head in the sand” mentality that will prevent the country from adequately learning from its past and permanently ending torture. Further, the Obama administration should prompt the Department of Justice to open a new, comprehensive investigation into the clear acts of criminality described in the report.
Now is the time for Obama to accomplish a central goal of his administration by closing Guantánamo. There is today a renewed climate of fear and hate reminiscent of the post-September 11 mindset that led to torture and indefinite detention in the first place. Guantánamo is the bitter legacy of a politics of fear, which must be rejected.
This is the president’s last chance to keep his promise and close Guantánamo. If he does not do so, there is a real chance that the current detainees will die there, and that more detainees will join them.
We cannot let that happen. Close Guantánamo now.
12:00pm: Interfaith service in front of the White House sponsored by the National Religious Coalition Against Torture
12:30pm: Rally and program in front of the White House, followed by procession
Sponsors: Amnesty International USA, Bill of Rights Defense Committee and Defending Dissent Foundation, Center for Constitutional Rights, CODEPINK, Council on American-Islamic Relations, CloseGuantanamo.org, Interfaith Action for Human Rights, National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, No More Guantanamos, September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC), Witness Against Torture, and others.
"Every year, for the last seven years, concerned activists and citizens have called on President Obama to fulfill his promise during his first year in office and demanded that Guantanamo be closed once and for all; every year, these calls have remained unheeded. This is President Obama's final year in office. That means this is also his final opportunity to follow through on his promise, shut down Guantanamo, and restore some semblance of dignity to our justice system. This opportunity must not be left ignored." ~ Dr. Zainab Chaudry, Interfaith Action for Human Rights
“It's not enough for President Obama to say he tried, but that Congress and other obstacles are preventing him from closing Guantanamo. Obama has the authority to make significant progress. He is the Commander in Chief, yet officials within the Department of Defense openly defy his policy objectives and derail closure efforts. He could order the Department of Justice not to fight the habeas petitions of cleared men like 74-lb Tariq Ba Odah, but he hasn't. There are more than 40 men, cleared for release, who could go home today, yet they continue to languish as the prison enters its 15th year. The president has real choices in front of him. Now is the time for him to take meaningful action. The clock is ticking." ~ Aliya Hussain, Center for Constitutional Rights
“In November 2015, a CODEPINK delegation traveled to Guantanamo Bay and met with members of the Cuban government and civil society who are calling for the base to be closed immediately and the land given back to the Cubans. The Cubans are horrified that the United States government has committed torture on their land and continues to indefinitely detain prisoners who have never been charged with any crime. The prison facility within the naval base is a stain on US foreign policy, and we urge President Obama to issue an executive order to close the prison -- and the base -- immediately." ~ Nancy Mancias, organizer, CODEPINK
“One day let alone 14 years is too long for the U.S. to imprison one hundred men at Guantanamo without charge or trial. For seven years the president has promised to close this prison – a blemish on our nation's commitment to the rule of law – yet the situation has not improved. We are responsible for safeguarding the constitutional values which are meant to protect all Americans, persons who reside in the U.S., and those in our custody from the abuses of indefinite detention and lack of due process. We must shut down Guantanamo.” ~ Nihad Awad, national executive director, Council on American-Islamic Relations
“It must be stated clearly and boldly that the premise upon which Guantanamo Bay prison exists is illegal. Moreover, the prison symbolizes the ways in which Muslims have been dehumanized, while at the same time, criminalizing the Muslim identity by virtue of housing a population of men adhering to Islam. While the number of prisoners has decreased from its height at 779 to 104, it is disturbing that the United States government continues to house men cleared for release while holding others hostage in protracted military commissions that seemingly have no resolution in sight. We call on President Obama to close the prison once and for all and end the destructive policies of the War on Terror that have so callously targeted Muslims." ~ Dr. Maha Hilal, executive director, National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms
“After fourteen years, our experience with an official policy of detaining suspected terrorists without trial has not brought us security, but only more fear, more terrorism and worst of all, a deep stain on our honor and debasement of our most basic values. It's long past time for us to end this inhumane and profoundly ineffective experiment with lawlessness.” ~ Bruce Miller, president, No More Guantánamos
“As an organization that serves torture survivors from all over the world, TASSC is appalled by the fact that Guantanamo –synonymous with a U.S. torture chamber – is still open after 14 years. During his last year in office, President Obama should honor his promise to finally close this facility and either release the detainees or transfer them to other locations where they have access to justice.” ~ Gizachew Emiru, Esq., executive director, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC)
“As Guantánamo enters its fifteenth year of operation, there is a real risk it is becoming a permanent offshore prison for an endless global war. The longer Guantánamo stays open, the more likely it is to become a fixture of U.S. counterterrorism—and a permanent system of American injustice. President Obama has just one year left in office to make good on his commitment to close Guantánamo. His human rights legacy, and that of the nation, are on the line. It won't be easy, but President Obama can and must come through.” ~ Naureen Shah, director of Amnesty International USA’s Security With Human Rights Program
“Guantanamo is a moral disaster zone where the U.S. tortured people and continues to hold people without charge or trial, some for more than a decade. It would be a grave sin and a national disgrace for President Obama to leave office without closing Guantanamo." ~ Rev. Ron Stief, executive director, National Religious Campaign Against Tortur
“Guantanamo is the bitter legacy of the vengeful over-reaction to 9-11. A politics of fear and Islamophobia still rage. The United States can never truly embrace human rights, the rule of law, and its own democratic values so long as Guantanamo remains open. Obama doesn’t get points for trying to close the prison. Either he gets it done this year, or adds to his disgrace on this issue. ~ Mason Otaibi, Witness Against Torture
"It's now or never. Seven years after he promised to close Guantanamo within a year, President Obama now has just one year left to make sure that a failure to close the prison, as promised, is not part of his legacy. There must be no more excuses. Guantanamo is a legal, moral and ethical abomination, and every day it remains open poisons the U.S.'s claims to be a nation that respects the rule of law." ~ Andy Worthington, CloseGuantanamo.org