2013 a hunger strike began
at Guantanamo Bay as a result of what the prisoners viewed as the mistreatment
of the Koran. The strike was also fueled by many prisoners’ frustration with being
held either after being cleared for release 3 years prior or being designated
to be held indefinitely without any trial at all.
2013 the prison acknowledged
that 14 prisoners were on hunger strike and said that 6 were being force fed.
Some medical ethicists oppose
force feeding but a spokesman for the prison said that the practice was used in
order to protect the “life and health” of the prisoners.
In May 2013
Obama gave a speech
where he said that he would lift the moratorium on releasing prisoners to
G8 summit in June 2013 British Prime Minister David Cameron requested
that Obama free Shaker Aamer, a British resident who was one of the hunger
strikers. Aamer was cleared
for release under the Bush Administration in 2007 and under the Obama
Administration in 2010. Aamer says that he was doing charity work when he was
captured in Afghanistan.
June 2013 Aamer claimed
that the prison authorities were using freezing cold cells and metal tipped
feeding tubes to convince prisoners to stop their hunger strike. Aamer also
said that a nurse who was force-feeding a prisoner pushed the feeding tube into
the prisoner’s lung rather than his stomach. Aamer said of the tactics, “The
administration is getting ever more angry and doing everything they can to
break our hunger strike. Honestly, I wish I was dead."
On June 28
the hunger strike reached its peak
with 106 of the 166 prisoners on hunger strike.
twenty five prisoners quit hunger striking after guards allowed
the prisoners to live communally if they gave up their hunger strike. During
their hunger strike they had been living alone for months.
the Obama Administration transferred
2 prisoners to Algeria, they were the first to leave the prison since September
2012 when Omar Khadr was transferred to a prison in Canada.
Herald is reporting
that there are still 14 prisoners on hunger strike, all of whom are being force
Obama has said that he wants to close Guantanamo. Here is how he could do so if
he cares enough to fight for it.
Egypt, Tunisia, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and Yemen are all pressuring
the United States to release prisoners from their countries held at Guantanamo
Bay. 55 of the 83 prisoners cleared for release at the prison are from Yemen.
In fact 73 of the 83 prisoners cleared for release are from countries that are
either actively seeking their release or have taken
Guantanamo prisoners in the past (5 Tunisians, 4 Afghans, 1 Brit, 3 Algerians,
a Mauritanian, a Moroccan, a Saudi, a Sudanese, and an Emirati). Obama could
order these prisoners released immediately. As they have been cleared for
release for over 3 years now, he has an obligation to do so.
were the abandon the idea of indefinite detention and order the prisoners in
that category to be released as well, 44 of the 47 are from countries that have
taken Guantanamo prisoners before or are actively seeking their release.
homes for the remaining 10 cleared for release and 3 indefinite detainees could
be found using creative diplomacy. We have already done so with 19 of the Uighurs.
physical prison at Guantanamo would also require dealing with the remaining
category of prisoners, those recommended for trial. Some prisoners are only
accused of providing material support for terrorism and/or conspiracy. These
are crimes that the DC Court of Appeals has ruled cannot be tried in military
commissions for actions taken prior to 2006, when Congress gave those courts
the authority to do so. These individuals must be tried in civilian courts in
the United States. Individuals accused of more significant crimes can continue
to be tried in military commissions at Guantanamo.
provisions banning the transfer of prisoners to the US are amendments to yearly
appropriations bills. They must be reapproved every year. So if the President
actually commits to closing Guantanamo, He can veto the 2014 NDAA when Congress
passes it with the provision. Doing so would limit funds for our soldiers
fighting in Afghanistan, but the President could easily blame Congress for
“politicizing money for our troops abroad.” Once the trials both military and
civilian are completed, the president could move the prisoners to Thompson,
Illinois to serve their sentences.
Correction (December 4, 2013): After I wrote this editorial I
learned that the 3 remaining Algerians at Guantanamo who have been cleared for
to return to Algeria. That brings the number of prisoners who are cleared for
release but for whom new homes must be found to 13. By nationality they are as
follows: 4 Syrians, 3 Algerians, 3 Uighurs, a Libyan, a Tajik, and a
currently scheduled for indefinite detention are cleared for release due to
inadequate or unreliable evidence of guilt, as I recommended, the number would
be 16. The additional 3 are 2 Libyans and a Kenyan. To be clear the Kenyan is
the only man from his country to have been held at Guantanamo, so it is unclear
if the Kenyan government would be willing to take him back or not.
still leaves 70 prisoners who are cleared for release who wish to return to
their home country and whose country’s government has taken Guantanamo prisoners
in the past or is actively campaigning for their release.
The text in
the original editorial remains unchanged.
Guard: Spouses are often the ones
responsible when their partner is murdered.
Prisoner: Then when is my court date?
Guard: You’re not going to have one.
Prisoner: Then you’re releasing me?
Prisoner: You can’t hold me here without
planning to give me a trial!
Guard: Yes I can. You might be guilty and
therefore you’re too dangerous to release. It’s too bad we don’t have enough
evidence to bring you to trial.
recognize the injustice of this scenario. And it is the exact situation that 47
of the prisoners at Guantanamo find themselves in. But instead of being
suspected of murdering their wives, the prisoners are accused of connections to
14, 2001 Congress passed
the Authorization for the Use of Military Force which authorized the president
to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations,
organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or
aided the attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such
organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international
terror against the United States by such nations, organizations, or persons.”
Bush and President Obama interpreted this law as allowing the indefinite
detention of Al Qaeda and Taliban suspects without charge or trial. Courts have
this presidential power “until the end of hostilities.” As the War on Terror, or
as Obama likes to say “the war against Al Qaeda,” is endless, so is this power.
The core of
Guantanamo is the concept of indefinite detention. What do you do with the
people that you think might be guilty but don’t have the evidence to prove that
they are in a court of law? Both the President and Congress believe that these
people should be imprisoned until they die. In their view the greater harm
would come from releasing someone who does have ties to terrorism than in
keeping an innocent man in prison. And indeed there have been a few former
Guantanamo prisoners who were militants that returned
to the battlefield after they were released. The exact number is hard to determine,
but it is likely
small compared to the number of prisoners who haven’t.
I think the
greater harm comes from wrongly imprisoning an innocent person. It is also
possible that some of the prisoners in this group are guilty of working with Al
Qaeda or the Taliban, but played minor roles.
No civilized country can adopt a policy whereby it keeps prisoners locked up
for the rest of their lives without a trial. That is a power that is fit only for
tyrants and despots.
does not want Guantanamo prisoners released in the United States, out of a fear
that they might be dangerous, even if they have been cleared for release.
Congress does not want Guantanamo prisoners held in prisons in the US for fear
that the prisoners may be able to coordinate plots from within the prison,
might be able to stage a prison break, or that the prison may be the sight of
an attack to free the prisoners. Congress doesn’t want prisoners tried in
civilian courts in the United States because in their minds Ahmed Ghailani
almost got away as a result of his trial.
committed is Congress to its vision?
does the President have for the prison?
Obama wanted to bring prisoners scheduled to face a military commission or to
be held in indefinite detention to a prison in Thompson, Illinois. He wanted to
try some prisoners in civilian courts and release others. He, like Congress, is
committed to indefinite detention, the idea that there are some prisoners who
are too dangerous to release but for whom there is not enough evidence to bring
to trial. He would like to close the physical prison at Guantanamo eventually.
committed is the President to his vision?
Most, if not all, of his other goals (immigration reform, progress on gay rights,
a climate change bill, a grand bargain on reducing the deficit) are more
important to him than getting what he wants on Guantanamo.
Why is the
prison still open?
vision requires that Guantanamo stay open and Congress is much more committed
to its vision for Guantanamo than the President is.
Obama meet his 1 year deadline to close the prison?
until 11 months into his 12 month deadline that Obama actually had determined
exactly how he wanted to deal with Guantanamo. This was primarily because his
Guantanamo task force that determined the administration’s plan on what to do
with each prisoner took longer to do so than he had expected. This was partly
because it took time to find all of the physical documents about each prisoner.
The plan Obama decided on in December 2009 wouldn’t have even allowed him to
close Guantanamo on time, the prisoners cleared for release would have been
continued to be held at Guantanamo. As 83 prisoners cleared for release remain
there to this day, it appears that Guantanamo would still be open today even if
Obama had gotten everything he wanted.
2007 candidate Barack Obama promised
to close the Guantanamo prison if elected president. Obama’s general election
opponent John McCain was also in favor of closing
In the first
hours of his presidency, Obama suspended
the military commissions system set up by the Bush Administration to try
prisoners at Guantanamo in order to review the process and see if there were
any changes he wanted to make.
22, 2009, during his first week as president, Barack Obama signed
an executive order to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba within a year.
The order also created a task force composed of high level members of the Obama
Administration to determine whether each prisoner should be transferred,
released, prosecuted, or held in indefinite detention. The executive order
clearly allowed for the possibility that some prisoners may be chosen to be
held in indefinite detention without ever being tried.
One of the
problems the task force faced was the difficulty of finding
the physical documents about each prisoner.
Administration planned to release two of the Uighur
prisoners in northern Virginia, where there is a Uighur community. Senate
minority leader Mitch McConnell opposed the plan, saying, “By releasing trained
terrorists into civilian communities in the United States, the administration
will, by definition, endanger the American people.” In May 2009 Obama abandoned
the plan. That decision made it much more unlikely that third countries would
agree to take Guantanamo prisoners due to the US’s own unwillingness to do so. It
also showed Congress that he was not willing to fight for the measures
necessary to close the prison.
Later in May
2009 the Senate voted
90 to 6 to remove funding to close Guantanamo from a military spending bill.
House Democrats had already removed
the funding from their version of the bill. When the bill passed
in June, it prevented the president from transferring any prisoner to the US except
after the Senate vote to remove the funding from the bill, Obama gave a major
national security speech. In it he announced
that he would bring back military commissions, with some modifications. He also
announced that he would continue to hold some Guantanamo prisoners in
indefinite detention without trial.
2009 Obama admitted
that he would miss his one year deadline for closing Guantanamo.
2009 the Obama Administration announced
its plan to buy a prison in Thompson, Illinois that would hold some of the
Guantanamo prisoners. The prisoners
the Administration planned to imprison there would be held in indefinite
detention or would be tried by military commissions.
of the plan, “The Administration has failed to explain how transferring
terrorists to Gitmo North will make Americans safer than keeping terrorists off
our shores in the secure facility in Cuba.”
December 2009 a Nigerian man attempted
to blow up a plane heading to Detroit using a bomb hidden in his underwear. The
US government believes that the plot was directed by Al Qaeda in the Arabian
Peninsula out of Yemen.
In January 2010 Obama imposed a moratorium on
transferring Guantanamo prisoners to Yemen for fear that if the released men
were members of Al Qaeda or had terrorist sympathies they could easily join the
active branch of Al Qaeda in Yemen.
January 2010 the Obama Administration task force on Guantanamo released its results.
Of the 164 prisoners currently
at Guantanamo, 83 were cleared for release, 47 were designated to be held in
indefinite detention without trial, and 34 were referred for prosecution.
person tried by a military
commission under the Obama Administration was the Al Qaeda child soldier
Omar Khadr. Khadr accepted a
plea deal in October 2010 to serve one more year at Guantanamo and 7 years in a
prison in Canada.
2010 a civilian jury found Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed Ghailani guilty
of conspiracy to destroy federal buildings and property. Ghailani admitted
buying the TNT and truck used in the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in
Tanzania. However, the jury acquitted
Ghailani of all of the other 284 counts. The prosecution was prohibited by the
judge from using a witness
the government learned about the witness as a result of coercive interrogation.
The witness said he sold Ghailani the TNT. In January 2011 he was sentenced
to life in prison. As a result of the verdict, Republicans criticized
Obama’s decision to try some Guantanamo detainees in civilian courts before the
sentence was even announced.
2010 Congress passed
the National Defense Authorization Act for 2011, a bill that funds the
military, with a provision banning the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to the
US for any purpose, including trial. Obama signed the law
in January 2011. Similar measures passed in the 2012 and 2013 NDAA as well. Obama
did not veto any of these bills.
2012 former Guantanamo prisoner Salim Hamdan’s conviction by a military
commission was overturned
by the DC Court of Appeals. The court ruled so because material support for
terrorism, the crime he was convicted of, was not a crime that could be tried
by a military commission at the time he committed the actions that served as
the basis for his conviction.
meant that the prisoners that prosecutors planned to try for material support
for terrorism and conspiracy could no longer be convicted in a military
commission. The prisoners could not be tried in civilian courts because of the
prohibition against transferring the prisoners to the United States in the
NDAA. So instead they will be held in indefinite detention without ever
receiving a trial.
2013 the state department reassigned
Daniel Fried, the special envoy for closing Guantanamo, and said that they
would not replace him.
At the start
of 2013 opponents of the prison were incredibly disheartened. The prisoners
were as well. In February they began a hunger strike at Guantanamo.
President Obama is seeking
Congressional approval for military action against the Syrian government after
alleging that Syrian forces used chemical weapons. He will make his case to the
American people in a televised speech on Tuesday.
Senator McCain is advocating for a more expansive US bombing campaign with the
goal to assist the Syrian rebels in removing
the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad from power.
Pro-democracy protests began
in Syria in March 2011 and were brutally repressed by the Assad regime. In September
rebel groups began fighting to over through the Syrian government.
The Syrian government has
engaged in the worst possible abuses known to man. According to Human Rights
Watch the Syrian government has repeatedly indiscriminately
fired on rebel-controlled neighborhoods and has established a system of torture
centers throughout Syria. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says that the death toll from
Syria’s civil war is now over 100,000.
But taking military action
against Syrian forces would be a grave mistake.
is reporting that anonymous officials say that the US intelligence community
does not have proof that the use of chemical weapons was ordered by Assad. AP
also says that the US is not entirely certain where the Syrian government’s
chemical weapons are stored, which means, “a possible series of U.S. cruise
missile strikes aimed at crippling Assad's military infrastructure could hit
newly hidden supplies of chemical weapons, accidentally triggering a deadly
But much more importantly,
any military action against the Syrian government would aid the Syrian rebels.
Human Rights Watch has
reported that Syrian
rebels have on various occasions committed kidnappings, torture, and
One rebel group, the Omar
al-Farouq Brigade, engaged in indiscriminant
shelling of Lebanese villages. A commander of that same brigade took a bite
out of the heart of a pro-government fighter after saying,
“I swear to God, soldiers of Bashar, you dogs – we will eat your heart and
livers! Takbir! God is Great! Oh my heroes of Baba Amr, you slaughter the
Alawites and take their hearts out to eat them!” The Alawites are a religious
sect of Islam that Assad belongs to.
One of the more successful
rebel groups is al-Nusra, which has pledged its allegiance to the
al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. One of the commanders of al-Nusra said that in
response to the alleged chemical attack by the Syrian government his
organization will target
Alawite villages. “For every chemical rocket that has fallen on our people in Damascus,
one of their villages will, by the will of God, pay for it. On top of that we
will prepare a thousand rockets that will be fired on their towns in revenge
for the Damascus Ghouta massacre.”
By using US military
action in an attempt to prevent the Syrian government from using chemical
weapons, the US government would be helping the Syrian rebels, some of whom
torture, have genocidal ambitions, and-or are members of al-Qaeda.
Post Script: The Russian
government also deserves to be criticized for its role in the Syrian conflict.
It is selling weapons
to the Syrian government.
was born in Yemen. He became a driver for Osama bin Laden. He was captured in Afghanistan in 2001 and arrived at Guantanamo in May 2002. His military
commission was the first for a Guantanamo prisoner that did
not end in a plea deal. During his trial before a military commission Hamdan
faced charges of conspiracy and material support for terrorism. In August 2008
the commission acquitted Hamdan of the conspiracy charge but found him guilty
of material support for terrorism. He was sentenced to time served plus five and a half
Now, Jess Bravin, the Supreme Court reporter for the Wall Street Journal, said that the sentence demonstrated that,
“the military jury, as had been suggested by defenders of the military at the
beginning, was quite independent and not simply there to rubber-stamp any kind
The DC Court
of Appeals overturned Hamdan’s conviction in October 2012. In its opinion, the court said that the Military
Commissions Act of 2006 granted military commissions the ability to rule on
charges of material support for terrorism. The appeals court ruled that because
Hamdan committed the actions that were the basis for his conviction before the law
was passed, his military commission did not have the ability to try him for the
prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantanamo told Reuters that Hamdan’s appeals court ruling dissuaded
prosecutors from pursuing cases against other prisoners they had considered
charging with providing material support to al-Qaeda.