Gitmo – Eight years is eight years too many
On January 11, 2002, twenty prisoners of the U.S. war of terror arrived in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Despite the promises of President Barack Obama that hellhole, known as Gitmo, continues to operate. Almost 800 men from the ages of 13 to 98 have been held at Gitmo. Nearly two hundred remain there. Gitmo prisoners have been subject to death, abuse and torture, and denied fundamental human and legal rights all at the hands of the U.S. government and its agents. Gitmo has come to symbolize to the world the crimes of the Bush regime and the ongoing crimes of the Obama administration as it continues to operate not only Gitmo, but other hellhole prisons such as the one at Bagram, Afghanistan. Torture, abuse and the denial of rights continues under the Obama administration despite the promises and lies that are issued in press releases and delivered in speeches.
Obama promised to shutter Gitmo shortly after taking office. He ordered the closure of the prison by January 22, 2010. He now admits that the prison will still be in operation by that date. Even worse, his administration is opening and expanding prisons similar to Gitmo. These include the “new Gitmo” in Thomson, Illinois and the multi-million dollar expansion of the Bagram prison. Every day new prisoners of the U.S. war of terror are being incarcerated in these hellholes operated by the U.S. and its allies in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries.
The denial of justice in these hellholes continues as well. On January 6th, the Obama administration announced it will try a 6th Gitmo prisoner under the military commissions system. These tribunals are nothing more than kangaroo courts geared to provide a victory for the prosecution. Basic legal rights are denied to the defendants in these proceedings which have received wide-spread condemnation throughout the world. Other Gitmo prisoners will be tried in court, but the President and the Attorney General have already told the world that these defendants are guilty. Obama administration officials have also stated that even if by chance the prisoners are found not guilty they still may face indefinite incarceration. Obama’s Department of Justice has gone to court to deny prisoners due process rights such as habeas corpus. This is the “justice” prisoners of the U.S. war of terror face under the Obama administration. How is it any different from the “justice” they received under the Bush regime?
On January 11, 2010, in Washington, D.C a rally was held to mark the beginning of the ninth year of operation of detention without charge or trial at Guantánamo. Activists and lawyers of detained men held a rally, a march, and a public briefing to outline current issues related to President Obama’s Guantanamo. They demanded that Obama make good on his pledge to close the prison, and declare their opposition to any plan for holding prisoners without charge or trial in the U.S. Formerldetainees and their families addressed President Obama via a combination of video, audio, and written letters.
Lakhdar Boumediene called in to the briefing at the National Press Club from his home in France, and Omar Deghayes joined the briefing from his home in the United Kingdom. Mr. Boumediene was the lead plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case of 2008, Boumediene v. Bush, in which the Court affirmed that Guantànamo detainees have the right to file writs of habeas corpus in U.S. federal courts. He was released on May 15, 2009. Omar Deghayes had been picked up in Pakistan and sent to Bagram and Guantánamo. At Gitmo he was blinded in one eye in 2004. Mr. Deghayes was released from Guantanamo to the U.K. on December 19, 2007.
Speakers addressed various issues including the continued and worsening lack of transparency and increased secrecy under the Obama administration. They spoke about the resettlement for men who cannot return to their home countries and the continued threat of indefinite detention schemes for prisoners being “floated” by Obama officials. They condemned the halt of transfers to Yemen and related reactionary responses to the recent Christmas terrorism attempt.
Center for Constitutional Rights Executive Director Vincent Warren stated, “This is Obama’s Guantánamo now. He has failed in his pledge to close the island prison from a lack of leadership, bowing to the pressures of partisan grandstanding, and vigorous attempts to keep all cases out of the courts. The transparency we were promised has been discarded. This is an anniversary that should not have come.”
Frida Berrigan is an organizer with Witness Against Torture who is fasting in protest of Obama prisoner policies. She said, “I do not relish the idea of fasting. But President Obama’s promises of change have atrophied into empty rhetoric. And, now I watch in horror as my country rises up in fear and vengeance once again. I watch in horror as the debased torture policies of the Bush administration are defended, described once more as necessary. Our Fast and Vigil for Justice is a small attempt to answer the ultimate question Guantanamo poses: how do we conquer fear and remain human?” Speakers announced a 12-Day Fast for Justice in Washington D.C., ending on January 22 – the Obama administration’s self-declared, and now-voided, deadline for closing Guantánamo.
It should be clear now to even the most diehard Obama supporters that his administration is continuing the same outrageous and criminal policies toward the prisoners of the U.S. war of terror that were previously condemned when done under the Bush regime. Actions that were morally and legally wrong under Bush are not permissible under Obama. We must act now so that the criminal actions of the U.S. government are halted and do not extend for one day longer. Eight years is enough!