Guantánamo Bay Lawyers Call Bluff on Obama's Promise to Close Prison
TEHRAN (Tasnim) – Lawyers representing Guantánamo Bay detainees who have been held at the camp in Cuba for up to 14 years without charge or trial have accused US President Obama of stalling on his promise to close the military prison.
As the US president enters his final year in office, pressure is mounting on him to stand by his pledge to shut down the detention center by the time he leaves the White House.
Numerous defense lawyers working directly with Guantánamo detainees have told The Guardian that they hold Obama and his senior officials personally responsible for the lack of action.
Obama made his vow to close Guantánamo within a year on his second day in the White House in 2009. In recent months, he has stepped up the rhetoric, promising to redouble efforts to close the prison while also heavily criticising the Republican-controlled Congress for blocking moves to transfer prisoners out of the prison to the US mainland.
But attorneys at the sharp end of representing the detainees are protesting that though the pace is being picked up in reviewing cases, it remains too sluggish to meet the January 2017 deadline. They see Obama’s criticism of Congress as a smokescreen to obscure the fact that a primary source of the current inertia lies not on Capitol Hill but within his own administration.
“There are signs of progress, but at the current pace the administration will not get through all the detainees and give them a proper chance of transfer by the time Obama steps down,” said Pardiss Kebriaei, a senior attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR).
Of the 107 detainees still held at the prison, 86 of them could be freed or transferred to other countries, following appropriate review, with minimal risk of interference by Congress other than a requirement to give the legislature 30 days’ notice of any transfer. In other words, the vast majority of detainees could be cleared out of Guantánamo by the Obama administration acting under its own powers, irrespective of congressional foot-dragging.
Of those 94, 48 have already been cleared for release. In November, the Senate pushed through the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which imposes tighter restrictions on Guantánamo transfers particularly to the US mainland. But the pending toughening of the rules merely angers lawyers acting for the detainees even more – why, they ask, did the Obama administration not act more quickly to effect transfers before the squeeze was imposed.
“Most of the 48 detainees were cleared in 2009 yet are still stuck there – and the question is why. It’s maddening that the administration constantly talks about the ‘irreducible’ number of Guantánamo detainees when it takes such slow steps to reduce the numbers itself,” Kebriaei said.
CCR is the only body of lawyers which represents all three main categories of Guantánamo detainees – those cleared for release, those awaiting review by the intelligence services, and the “high-value” detainees charged by military commissions.