On the Tenth Anniversary of Guantanamo, The Center for Constitutional Rights Demands that President Obama Close Guantanamo
Today, on the tenth anniversary of the arrival of the first detained men at the U.S. prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) issued the following statement:
Today marks the tenth anniversary of indefinite detention without charge or fair trials at the prison at Guantánamo, and it is an anniversary that should not have come. The men indefinitely detained at Guantánamo have been abandoned by all three branches of government, but the primary responsibility for the prison remaining open lies with President Obama. On his second day in office, President Obama signed an Executive Order mandating the closure of Guantánamo within a year. Since then, his administration has in fact perpetuated and sanctioned the system at Guantánamo by continuing indefinite detentions without charge or trial, resuming illegitimate military commissions, and most recently, signing into law the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which substantially hinders the closure of Guantánamo by restricting the transfer of the remaining 171 detained men, over half of whom have been approved for transfer by every branch of government with a stake in the matter. Despite its promise of a new era of accountability and respect for the rule of law, the Obama administration has also repeatedly acted to block virtually any accountability for those who have planned, authorized, and committed torture at Guantánamo and beyond. On this day marking ten years of injustice at Guantánamo, we call on people of conscience everywhere to demand that the prison finally be closed and to intensify opposition to all unjust U.S. detentions and prosecutions conducted in the name of national security. We must also build opposition to the government’s covert and overt wars in a re-branded “War on Terror” which is being used to justify both military detentions and military strikes to the detriment of the safety and dignity of peoples in the United States and abroad.
In the morning, CCR hosted a briefing at the National Press Club entitled “Obama’s Prison: Guantánamo Turns 10.” The briefing featured CCR’s Executive Director Vincent Warren; CCR’s Legal Director Baher Azmy; Stephen Oleskey, co-counsel in the landmark Boumediene v. Bush Supreme Court case, who argued that the men’s right to challenge the legality of their detentions has since been effectively eviscerated; Rear Admiral John Hutson, a former military officer who supported President Obama’s 2009 Executive Order promising to close Guantánamo within one year and stood behing him as he signed it; and Colonel Morris Davis, a former chief prosecutor for the Guantánamo military commissions who ultimately resigned because of the injustices he witnessed. (Short statements by participants in the press briefing can be seen on CCR’s website here.)
The press briefing was followed by a large rally in front of the White House demanding the closure of Guantánamo led by a broad coalition of human rights organizations and activists including the Center for Constitutional Rights, Witness Against Torture, Amnesty International-USA, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. At this rally, Martha Rayner, an attorney who represents men detained at Guantánamo, read a statement signed by over a hundred habeas counsel denouncing the unjust detention of their clients and President Obama’s failure to close the prison. Ramzi Kassem, an attorney who represents men detained at Guantánamo and Bagram and a professor who directs the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility (CLEAR) project at CUNY School of law, spoke of the injustices within terrorism detentions and prosecutions that occur domestically in the U.S. and abroad. Talat Hamdani, mother of Salman Hamdani, an emergency medical technician who died in the September 11, 2001 attacks while helping people at the Twin Towers in New York City, also called for the closure of Guantánamo.
According to habeas counsel who had spoken with their clients, the men at Guantánamo were heartened by the planned protests marking the anniversary in cities across the U.S. and planned their own peaceful protests to coincide with the rally in DC and to demand the end to their continued indefinite detention without charge or a fair trial. They planned to protest by staging sit-ins and participating in a three-day hunger strike.
Following the rally, the demonstrators marched down Pennsylvania Avenue, led by 171 people dressed in orange jumpsuits and black hoods representing the number of men still detained at Guantánamo. They continued all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, holding brief rallies at four locations to demonstrate the chain of responsibility that connects the White House, the Department of Justice, the U.S. Capitol, and the Supreme Court. Speakers at these locations included Naeem Baig of the Islamic Circle of North America, Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster of Rabbis for Human Rights, Bishop Michael Seneco of North America Old Catholic Church, Shahid Buttar of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Andy Worthington, a journalist and filmmaker covering Guantanamo, Terry Rockefeller of September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, and Tamer Mehanna, whose brother Tarek Mehanna was held under prolonged pre-trial solitary confinement in the U.S. and was convicted last month under charges that included broad material support allegations based on protected First Amendment activity. Stephen Oleskey, co-counsel in the landmark Supreme Court case Boumediene v. Bush), Daniel Lakemacher, a marine who became a conscientious objector after serving at Guantánamo, along with Vincent Warren and Leili Kashani from CCR, spoke on the steps of the Supreme Court.
The Center for Constitutional Rights has led the legal battle over Guantanamo for the last 10 years – representing clients in two Supreme Court cases and organizing and coordinating hundreds of pro bono lawyers across the country to represent the men at Guantanamo, ensuring that nearly all have the option of legal representation. Among other Guantánamo cases, the Center represents the families of men who died at Guantánamo, and men who have been released and are seeking justice in international courts. In addition, CCR has been working through diplomatic channels to resettle men who remain at Guantánamo because they cannot return to their country of origin for fear of persecution and torture.