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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August 2014, Pages 55-56

Human Rights

Activists Push Obama to Close Guantanamo Bay Facility

Many organizations, including CODEPINK, gathered in front of the White House May 23 to demand the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison. (STAFF PHOTO M. MOIN)

Demonstrators in front of the White House on May 23 urged President Barack Obama to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba. Speakers from a broad coalition of human rights and faith organizations, including CODEPINK, Amnesty International and the National Coalition Against Torture, sponsored the action, which also took place in six other countries and more than 40 U.S. cities, including San Francisco and Chicago.

Protest participants chanted the phrase, “One day more is one day too many,” and demanded the transfer of Guantanamo’s 149 remaining prisoners.

Activists expressed frustration that President Obama has not acted on his pledge to close Guantanamo. “We thought it was important that we all get together one year later and see what has happened since the president made yet another declaration that he wanted to close Guantanamo, “explained Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK.

Rev. Ron Stief, executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, shared this sentiment. “The president is right about the moral necessity of closing Guantanamo and ending the indefinite detention without trial of prisoners,” Stief said. “But the responsibility for closing Guantanamo does not only lie with Congress, as the president often says; the president currently has the authority he needs to transfer the majority of detainees out of Guantanamo.”

Andrea Prasow, senior national security council and advocate at Human Rights Watch, also spoke. “The U.S. should not hold people indefinitely without charge or trial,” she stressed. As a lawyer, Prasow focused on the legal costs of Guantanamo. “Here is what the law has to say about detention in Guantanamo: It is illegal. Prolonged indefinite detention, without charge or trial, violates international law.”

Prasow has represented Guantanamo detainees, including Salim Hamdan, a Yemeni man whose case made it to the Supreme Court in 2006. After serving his five-year sentence, Hamdan was returned to his home country in November 2008. Prasow visited Hamdan in Yemen earlier this year: “The sight of a man free who used to be in chains is breathtaking,” she said.

While there has been a recent uptick in the number of prisoners released, Benjamin lamented that progress is not being made fast enough. At the current rate, she noted, it will take decades to release the men who remain imprisoned, including the 77 who have been cleared for release since the George W. Bush administration.

Mitra Moin and Gabriella Patti