Transcript: Journalist Andy Worthington on Guantanamo’s 10th anniversary


Transcript of remarks by Andy Worthington, independent journalist and author of “The Guantanamo Files,”at the New America Foundation’s panel on “Guantanamo Forever?” held on January 10, 2012: 

Andy Worthington, independent journalist and author of "The Guantanamo Files." SOURCE:

“I was going to talk briefly about the men who are still held, who were approved for transfer by the task force that was established by President Obama – these 89 men. Because I think those are the people that we should all be able to agree need to be released, and we need to find a way to reach a point where that could happen.

“So these are men who – the task force consisted of career officials and lawyers from all the government departments, from the intelligence agencies, who have said we have no interest in holding these men forever. So they’re still held.

“Now two-thirds of those men are from Yemen, and the reason that they’re held is primarily because of the hysteria that greeted the arrest of a man called Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up a plane bound for Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

“Actually these mandatory military detention provisions that were inserted into the National Defense Authorization Act have come from that same hysteria that arose.

“And if you can recall that period, this was a man who was read his Miranda rights, who was interrogated non-coercively by the FBI, and ended up a few months ago being successfully prosecuted and convicted. He spoke. He spoke openly without torture being used. But there were people in high position in the United States who wanted him to be sent to Guantanamo and want him to be waterboarded. The same cheerleaders for torture in Guantanamo who are still amongst us and still spreading this fire of un-American and unconstitutional message.

“And what happened as a result of the capture of this man and this hysteria was that those were people that demanded that prisoners were not be released to Yemen. And actually the president bowed to that criticism, and Congress has also later imposed restrictions on the right to release prisoners. So the Yemenis are stuck and we need to be able to say, ‘This is not acceptable not to release anyone to Yemen that the U.S. government doesn’t want to hold, because there’s some other unrelated incident involving a man who’s Nigerian but was recruited in Yemen. That doesn’t make sense.’ That is guilt by nationality, I think, and I think people would find that extremely unfair and should find that extremely unfair.

“We need to find a way to be able to put pressure on the government and on Congress to say, ‘You need to stop this kind of restriction.’

“The impositions that have been made by Congress on their release of prisoners, I think you know, ought to be shocking to Americans. The lawmakers have got together with great exceptions (referring to Rep. Jim Moran) – lawmakers have got together to exert these provisions that have said that the Defense Secretary must certify to Congress that if a prisoner is to be released to a country then he must be able to certify that that prisoner will not be able to engage in activities against the United States.

“Now I feel that that’s actually impossible to do, but I don’t think that’s even quite as bad as another twist that was added, which was lawmakers saying that the Defense Secretary must not release a prisoner – the government must not release a prisoner – if there’s a single alleged incident of recidivism – of somebody having returned to the battlefield or taking up actions against the United States – from a whole country. We’re back to the same issue of criminalizing the entire population of Yemen, guilt by nationality. The same thing is happening with entire countries.

“Now the analogy that I use for this is imagine – let’s take the state of color out of it. Let’s say that within the U.S. prison system somebody is released from prison to Colorado and commits a crime. And the lawmakers of this country get together and say, ‘In the future, no one must ever be released to the state of Colorado because of this one criminal.’ That’s the analogy. That’s the real analogy. And I think if that were to happen in the United States, people would understand that that was deeply unfair. But it’s one of these things that has happened with the way that hysteria has built up about Guantanamo.

“So I think those are the really big issues about how we start to work to secure the release of prisoners, and I think the Yemenis is the big case. To be able to say to elected representatives, ‘This is going to stay open forever – this prison – unless some action is taken.’ And there may be short-term political maneuverings that require people to not do anything about it in the short-term. The short-term becomes the long-term.

“And when history one day comes back to look on this period – when it’s presented in the history books that the United States government and Congress presided over a situation for years – years and years – in which people of the government didn’t want to hold remain held in the prison were not released, that’s not going to go down well. That is going to be a bad legacy.

“But I’m trying to work out how we can get to the point to say to people with the position of power and responsibility, ‘That legacy will be yours unless you act.’ When is it going to happen? Next year? The year after? 5 years? 10 years?

“The last two prisoners to leave Guantanamo left in coffins. They died there last year. The last living prisoner was released a year ago. More prisoners will die and will leave in coffins. And as it stands at the moment, no one is leaving through any other means.

“I’d like also to mention to people who may not know that the process of habeas corpus, which Congressman Moran mentioned, where the prisoners secured habeas corpus rights from the Supreme Court, is something that’s being undermined over the last year and a half by judges here and in Washington, D.C. in the circuit court, who have fought back against the decisions by the lower courts to release prisoners because of a lack of evidence. And for reasons that I can only describe as nakedly ideological reasons are saying that the government doesn’t really need to present anything in the way of evidence and that evidence shouldn’t really be challenged. That whoever the government says is somebody that should be held should continue to be held.

“And what’s happened in the last year and a half is that after successes for the prisoners and the releases for the prisoners, the last 11 habeas corpus petitions have been lost. Five other successful petitions have been either vacated or ruled against by the circuit court.

“It is not possible to get out of Guantanamo through legal means. After all those years of struggling, the judges of the D.C. circuit courts have eliminated habeas corpus as a remedy for prisoners in Guantanamo. And I think that that’s something that should concern people as well.

“I don’t want to carry on for too long because I want the opportunity for my colleagues to speak as well.

“I do just want to mention that in the hope of keeping the conversation alive throughout the election year about the need to close Guantanamo, Tom [Wilner] and I and other people have set up a website and a campaign called ‘Close Guantanamo’ –

“We’re encouraging people to sign up so we can show the president, show lawmakers, and show judges how much interest there is in bringing this terrible 10 years to an end.

“There is a White House petition that we’ve set up in the ‘We the people’ website to encourage the president to respond to the request to close the prison.

“We hope that you will be able to sign up and join us. We’ll be providing information throughout the year. We just want to make sure that – we all live in a time where the news cycles move very quickly. Just this week, people are talking about Guantanamo. By next week, people may well have forgotten. We want to have a campaign that we can keep this message going throughout the year, telling important stories, bringing stories to the public from mainly, we hope, from the lawyers themselves who visit the prisoners from Guantanamo, who can humanize these people, because pretty much everything has been done to keep these people de-humanized, as it was originally intended by the Bush administration.

“As was mentioned, these are people who don’t have family visits still. However much Guantanamo is a more humane facility than it was, these people – unlike any other prisoner on the U.S. mainland – does not have the right to have family visits.

“These are people who effectively are still the third exceptional category of human being that was dreamt up by the Bush administration. They were not held as soldiers with the protections of the Geneva Conventions. [They] were not held as criminal suspects. But the Bush administration called them ‘illegal enemy combatants.’ They’re still are a unique category of prisoners that doesn’t have proper rights. And we really must work hard to bring that to an end, because otherwise I’ll be here next year, I’ll be here in 5 years, I’ll be here in 10 years. And the shame of this will only build over time. It’s not going to go away.”



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