15 January 2019

Seventeen Years of Guantánamo: report by Group 342 member Barbara Quintiiano

Friday, January 11, 2019 marked the seventeenth anniversary of the arrival of the first detainees at Guantánamo Bay Prison. I attended two events in Washington, D.C., that day: a panel discussion and a rally.

"17th Anniversary of Guantanamo Prison: Panel Discussion at New America"

  • Laura Pitter, interim deputy director, Human Rights Watch U.S. Program
  • Thomas B. Wilner, attorney at Shearman & Sterling LLP and coauthor of the website Close Guantanamo
  • Andy Worthington, British historian and investigative journalist, author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (London: Pluto Press, 2007) and coauthor the websites Close Guantánamo and Gtmo Clock
Moderator: David Sterman, senior policy analyst, New America International Security program 

The discussion examined the history and current state of Guantánamo Bay Prison:

  • The first detainees (20 in number) arrived on January 11, 2002, and were placed in cages. Since then, over 700 prisoners have passed through the facility. On his first day in office in 2009, President Barack Obama signed an executive order to close Gitmo. Unable to achieve bipartisan support for the closure and unwilling to arouse the ire of Republicans, Obama kept Gitmo open, even though he possessed the authority to shut it down. In the latter part of his administration, many detainees were transferred to third-party countries. This left a population of 41 at the beginning of the Trump administration. One detainee has since been transferred. However, the office charged with relocating and tracking detainees is now closed. Of the 40 detainees who remain, 5 were cleared for transfer under Obama but remain imprisoned. Another 9 have credible charges against them and must stand trial under a military commission, a procedure that does not conform to international standards of justice, because it allows admission of evidence obtained under torture. Trump has occasionally alluded to plans to send other prisoners to Gitmo. The Center for Constitutional Rights plans to file new habeas corpus challenges. 
  • Andy Worthington remarked that Gitmo remains almost ignored by the U.S. media. Other than the 9 detainees charged with crimes, the others are being held illegally. Guantánamo Diary, a memoir written by former detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi while he was still interned, was published in 2015, and a movie version is being produced. Slahi was imprisoned without charge from 2002 until his release in 2016. In his book, he recounts being tortured many times. Worthington and Wilner hope that the film will awaken pressure to close the prison. 
  • Tom Wilner noted that it was Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) who pushed for creation of the military commissions, a substandard form of justice. He expressed very little hope that Gitmo would be closed under the current administration and felt that the best hope rested with the courts. Laura Pitter noted that bills to close Gitmo are introduced in Congress every year but go nowhere. She recommended that citizens contact their members of Congress and said that phone calls are more effective than form e-mails. 

(A video of the panel discussion)

Close Gitmo Rally, Lafayette Park, located directly opposite the White House

A group of activists (composed largely of members of Witness Against Torture) wearing orange jumpsuits, their faces covered by black hoods, solemnly processed to the front of the park and formed a semicircle. Various speakers addressed the attendees (numbering about 50 persons). Reverend Ron Stief, executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, offered an opening invocation. Medea Benjamin (CODEPINK), Kathy Kelly (Voices for Creative Nonviolence), Daphne Eviatar (Security with Human Rights Program, AIUSA), and Andy Worthington were some of those who spoke.

(A video of highlights of the rally)

Barbara Quintiliano

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