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Gitmo, Eleven Years and Counting

Today is the 11th anniversary of the day the first prisoner arrived at the United States’ military prison at Guantanamo Bay. As reported by, among others, Mary Shaw at Intrepid, two days after taking office in 2009, President Obama.

… issued an executive order calling for the Guantanamo prison to be closed within a year, and for detainees to be given fair trials in U.S. federal courts. But, since then, he has repeatedly signed Congress’s defense bills that keep Gitmo going, even while blaming Congress for his failure to keep his promise.

At Human Rights First, President and CEO Elisa Massimino seems to strive to give Obama some wiggle room as to why he hasn’t acted, while clearly demanding that he, in fact, act.

‘Four years ago, President Obama campaigned on the promise of closing this emblem of injustice, and he has never backed away from that pledge. He should act now to demonstrate that he is serious about delivering on it. …

‘Congress has made it more difficult for the administration to deliver on this national security imperative. …

‘Closing Guantanamo has always been a matter of political will and leadership. Despite the hurdles, there is a clear path to closing Guantanamo during President Obama’s second term. He should recommit to doing so, and take all necessary steps to deliver on his promise.’

Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch expressed its displeasure with the “it’s the fault of Congress” arguments.

… Obama’s refusal to veto a defense spending bill restricting detainee transfers from Guantanamo undercuts his pledge to close the prison … . On January 2, 2013, Obama signed the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), even though his advisers had said they would recommend a veto if it contained detainee transfer restrictions.

‘The administration blames Congress for making it harder to close Guantanamo, yet for a second year President Obama has signed damaging congressional restrictions into law,’ said Andrea Prasow, senior counterterrorism counsel and advocate at Human Rights Watch. ‘The burden is on Obama to show he is serious about closing the prison.’ …

In fact, the NDAA authorizes funding for most Defense Department operations, but it is not essential for the US armed forces to function … . It does not actually fund the Defense Department, but authorizes the allocation of appropriated funds. If Obama had vetoed the 2013 authorization act, last year’s NDAA authorization would still have been in effect. Four of five presidents preceding Obama vetoed a defense authorization act. …

For those held at Gitmo, the NDAA Congressional and Executive decisions basically means that the status quo is maintained. From Human Rights Watch:

The law extends for another year restrictions on the transfer of detainees out of Guantanamo to their home countries or to third countries for resettlement. The restrictions are not based on the detainees’ conduct but on terrorist acts allegedly committed by former detainees in the transfer countries. Since the restrictions were imposed for 2012, the administration has not transferred a single detainee out of Guantanamo to a country under certification, even if the person already had been cleared for release. The only detainees to leave Guantanamo last year did so under pre-existing exceptions to the restrictions on transfers.

From Russia Today, Gitmo-go-round: No solution in sight on 11th Guantanamo anniversary, Amnesty International’s Rob Freer is quoted:

‘The USA’s claim that it is a champion of human rights cannot survive the Guantánamo detentions, the military commission trials, or the absence of accountability and remedy for past abuses by US personnel, including the crimes under international law of torture and enforced disappearance.’

More from RT:

It is one thing to capture and hold (potentially) genuine terrorists no-holds-barred, but it is another to be keep innocent people in jail. Shockingly, out of the 166 prisoners who are reported by outside sources to remain in Guantanamo, more than half have been cleared and are actually due for release. But they won’t be allowed to leave. …

Maybe it’s a matter of numbers. If only 166 or so prisoners are held at Gitmo, maybe that “small” total just isn’t enough to get people’s attention. Eleven years seems fairly substantial to me, but again, perhaps it isn’t big enough to meet the “OMG” level.

And while it was in 2009 that Obama promised Guantanamo Bay would be closed within a year, and while he reiterated that promise later that year, when accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, maybe the time that’s passed since then simply doesn’t seem that significant to some. Or many. I don’t know.

From RT:

What has happened since has been repeated obstruction by Congress, and a consistent display of weak political will from the President. …

As a result, only two people have been released from the facility since 2010. The only other way for people to leave has been to die of illness or to commit suicide. …

A $150 million-a-year facility (which, as pointed out by the Obama administration, works out at $800,000 per inmate) that has produced only seven convictions, and holds more than 40 ‘indefinite detainees’ – people who have been told they will face no charges due to lack of evidence, but will not be released, as the US has reason to believe they are dangerous, together with nearly 90 people who should not be there at all.

So, 166 remaining imprisoned, and eleven years and counting. Of course, that requires people remembering, and/or caring, to count.

(Indefinite Detention poster via OWS)

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3 Responses to Gitmo, Eleven Years and Counting

  1. Cujo359 January 11, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

    “Congress has made it more difficult for the administration to deliver on this national security imperative”

    Obama has always had the option of closing Gitmo. It’s entirely in his area of responsibility. It’s also a clear violation of Constitutional principles and at least one act of Congress (the War Crimes Act of 1996). Gitmo is illegal, and closing it on that basis alone ought to be sufficient justification.

    So, it might be a bit more difficult, but it’s only impossible if you think that Congress would impeach a President for enforcing the Constitution, and would then have the chutzpah to find him guilty.

  2. fangio January 11, 2013 at 3:24 pm #

    Obama just used Congress as an excuse not to do what he really did not want to do in the first place. No man who has abused the Constitution as he has is going to want to close Gitmo.

  3. Joyce Arnold January 11, 2013 at 8:43 pm #

    Obama makes his own decisions, as you both indicate. Congress makes it “more difficult,” only if Obama really wants to close Gitmo.

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