5 Ways President Obama Can End the Hunger Strike & Close Guantánamo

April 8, 2013

UPDATE: On 4/30 President Obama again vowed to close Guantanamo. While we welcome this call words must be followed up by action, such as the steps below.

gitmo shaker finalSign our new petition telling President Obama and Congress that you support closing Guantanamo.

Imagine you’re Shaker Aamer, locked up without charge for 11 years, thousands of miles from home, despite being cleared, for years, to leave. The UK government has repeatedly intervened on your behalf in an effort to reunite you with your wife and children in London. But you’re still held. You go on hunger strike in an attempt to draw attention to your plight. You have told your lawyers that you and your fellow inmates are being beaten, deprived of sleep and punished just for protesting. And all this is being done by the United States government, whose president promised four years and three months ago to shut Guantánamo for good. Just imagine.

Two months into the most recent hunger strike at Guantánamo and over three years after the deadline for closing the facility, President Obama has barely said a peep about his broken promise. But ignoring the problem at Guantánamo is simply unacceptable. The US government is obligated under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as other treaties and binding laws, to respect, protect and fulfill human rights. That’s a point made last week by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in this strong statement.

As High Commissioner Pillay points out, yes, those responsible for the September 11 attacks must be brought to justice, and the government has a duty and responsibility to ensure safety. But the US can’t exempt itself from its human rights obligations in doing either of these things. That’s why instead of Guantánamo, the criminal justice and law enforcement systems in the US – available from day one –  should be used. These systems are far from perfect and must themselves be reformed, but they are quipped to ensure justice for the 9/11 attacks and address any security risks posed by those held at Guantánamo.

President Obama must get serious about keeping his Guantánamo promise, including by:

1) Investigating the hunger strike and making sure no one is being abused. As detailed in this letter from Amnesty International to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, there must be a thorough review of the current situation which includes: evaluating cell-search policies, a serious effort to address sources of tension between the detainees and facility personnel, the status of access to independent medical care, responses to questions raised by detainees, their lawyers and human rights organizations, and information shared about developments.

2) Transferring out all those cleared to leave.  There are many people – like Shaker Aamer –  who have been cleared for years by the government, including the CIA, military and FBI, to leave the prison; and yet they remain in limbo. There’s no good reason. Under the restrictions and conditions on transfers Congress passed and President Obama signed earlier this year, detainees can be sent out of the prison, including through a certification process and waiver provision. Secretary of Defense Hagel should move forward with implementing that process.

3) Making a speech. What, more talk?! No – instead of empty rhetoric, President Obama should lay out his plan for closing the facility, and again make the case to Congress and the American people about why it’s important. His plan must include the right end result: that all detainees are either charged and fairly tried in criminal court, or released. And he should announce that he has appointed and empowered a high level position in the White House to lead the effort.

4) Taking a stand. President Obama should refuse to sign any legislation that would renew Congress’ restrictions on the use of appropriated funds to transfer detainees to the mainland US for criminal trial or release(Section 1027 of the FY 2013 NDAA), or that would renew the conditions on the transfer of detainees to other countries (Section 1028).

5) Dropping the paradigm of never-ending and vaguely defined “global war.” President Obama has embraced indefinite detention and the Guantánamo military commissions based on the fundamentally flawed  idea that the world is a battlefield to which international human rights law does not apply. Hence, closing Guantánamo could just mean relocating these human rights violations somewhere else. Real reform of US security policy requires ditching the “global war” framework and ensuring all people are either fairly tried or released.

You can help.

Join the April 11 Day of Action Against Guantánamo. Amnesty, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Witness Against Torture and many other nonpartisan human rights and civil liberties organizations are calling on President Obama to get serious about his Guantánamo promise. You can:

  • Join or organize an orange jumpsuit protest (we’ll help! E-mail [email protected]);
  • Call the White House comment line at 202.456.1111;
  • Tweet: @BarackObama @WhiteHouse Keep your promise to Close #Guantánamo.

But don’t stop there. Tell your friends, lobby your elected officials in Congress, take action all year and join the movement for human rights.

Sign our new petition telling President Obama and Congress that you support closing Guantanamo.