Transcript: Attorney Thomas Wilner on Guantanamo’s 10th anniversary

Transcript of remarks by Thomas Wilner, attorney at Shearman & Sterling who represented Guantanamo detainees in Rasul v. Bush, at the New America Foundation’s panel on “Guantanamo Forever?” held on January 10, 2012: 

Thomas Wilner, attorney at Shearman & Sterling who represented Guantanamo detainees in Rasul v. Bush. SOURCE:

“Well, as usual, I didn’t know what I was going to say until I heard the other very bright people here say something.

“I am struck that this is the third year in a row that Andy [Worthington] and I have done this and this second year with Mo [Davis], and that nothing has changed, which is probably the biggest lesson.

“I do want to say before I – and I want to talk more about what I think people can do to change this. But I really do first acknowledge two things. We get very depressed about our democracy today about the lack of political courage. And I just want to say it really since day one Jim Moran – I think it would have been politically easy to be the other side – but he stood up on this issue from day one. Kristine Huskey is here. We work together. He was the guy sponsoring the closing of Guantanamo when it was terribly unpopular, and voting against a National Defense Authorization Act in Northern Virginia is a hell of an act of political courage. So you know we still have heroes.

“Mo Davis resigned, as he said, as the chief prosecutor because of the use of torture. So there are still people in our country who stand up for what’s right, and we need to get more.

“You know, I’d just say a few things about Guantanamo. It’s extraordinary to me [that] security experts through the country have unanimously said – that’s from the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Advisor, the head of the military, the head of the FBI – everyone said that these policies and Guantanamo don’t help our security; they hurt our security. Those facts are ignored.

“The reason they hurt our security, and Jim Moran mentioned it very well about our greatest asset is who we are.

“Ronald Reagan, a Republican hero, put it very well. In nominating the real George Bush, I’d say, the first Bush president, the second term, he said, ‘Our greatest strength is not our wealth or our power but our ideals, our ideals of individual freedom, justice and the rule of law.’ Guantanamo clearly violates those principles of America. They’re not who we are. It hurts us everyday it remains open.

“What can we do about it? I’ve gotten very depressed, because I’ve been involved in this now for 9.5 years and things don’t seem to get better.

“But I want to share something. A few weeks ago I went to the Robert F. Kennedy Awards in New York. And one of the awards was given to Al Gore. And I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, why is Al Gore getting this?’ But he stood up and made a speech which encouraged me and, I think, gave some guidance on what we could do. He said – and he was talking mostly about the environment but other things in our democracy today – and he said, ‘You know, people come to me and they’re very depressed about what’s happening to our country.’ He said, ‘I’m reminded of what Martin Luther King said in the early ’60s when his supporters came to him and said, “It’s not going to get better and we’re getting depressed. We’re giving up.” And he said, “That’s not so. Things will get better, because a lie cannot endure in the principles of the United States is too great to allow it to.”‘

“And that was inspiring to me because I think it said things. The only way a lie can exist is in the absence of truth. And I’m struck everyday that people don’t know the facts.

“Jim talked about this echo chamber in certain areas of the country where people certainly don’t know of the 171 people at Guantanamo, 89 of them have been cleared. That’s incredible. People don’t know it. If you say that, people are shocked by it.

“I encourage you to say it to everyone you know. To everyone you know. To every party you go to. Say, ‘Do you know that all the security experts of this country, including Republicans, have said this hurts our country because it gives a recruiting tool for terrorism? Do you know that more than half of the people down there have been cleared for release?’

“Get the facts out. That’s the most important thing I think you can do.

“In that regard, as Andy said, we’re setting up a website, which is going out now, which is Go on it. Participate in it. Put things on it. Read it. Get it around to your friends. Send it to your friends. On that, there will be an opening to a White House petition – a petition to the White House to close Guantanamo.

“I agree this is a very difficult thing for the president of the United States to do with the Congress the way it is. But I think it’s an amazing thing in the last election both John McCain and Barack Obama were for closing Guantanamo. What happened afterwards? But you know other things were more important? Maybe they seem important to people.

“But I’d just encourage you now to use the time to really get these facts out and work on it. I think that’s what we can all do. Thanks.”



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