January 11, 2010, Washington, D.C. – To mark the beginning of the ninth year of detention without charge or trial at Guantánamo today, activists and lawyers of detained men held a rally, a march, and a public briefing to outline current issues related to President Obama’s Guantanamo, demand that the president make good on his pledge to close the prison, and declare their opposition to any plan for holding prisoners without charge or trial in the U.S. Formerly detained men and detainee families addressed President Obama via a combination of video, audio, and written letters.
Lakhdar Boumediene called in to the briefing at the National Press Club from his home in France, and Omar Deghayes joined the briefing from his home in the United Kingdom. Mr. Boumediene was the lead plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case of 2008, Boumediene v. Bush, in which the Court affirmed that Guantànamo detainees have the right to file writs of habeas corpus in U.S. federal courts. He was released on May 15, 2009. As a child, Omar Deghayes settled with his family in the U.K. as a refugee from Lybia. Picked up in Pakistan and sent to Bagram and Guantánamo, he was blinded in one eye at the base in 2004. Mr. Deghayes was released from Guantanamo to the U.K. on December 19, 2007.
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) briefing also featured a recorded statement from Mohammed Sulaymon Barre from his home in Somaliland and other detainee voices addressing the president. Said Mr. Barre, who was released on December 20, 2009, “Hurry up and close this prison that has become a blot of shame upon all of America. Do it fast. Do it quickly.”
Detainee lawyers and human rights activists spoke on “Obama’s Guantánamo,” addressing issues including the continued and worsening lack of transparency, resettlement for men who cannot return to their home countries, the threat of indefinite detention schemes in the U.S., the halt of transfers to Yemen and related responses to the recent terrorism attempt, and more.
Vincent Warren, CCR Executive Director, Pardiss Kebriaei, CCR attorney for detainees, Frida Berrigan of Witness Against Torture, and Stacy Sullivan, Counterterrorism Advisor at Human Rights Watch spoke about the current situation and the challenges and dangers ahead.
Said CCR Executive Director Vincent Warren, “This is Obama’s Guantánamo now. He has failed in his pledge to close the island prison from a lack of leadership, bowing to the pressures of partisan grandstanding, and vigorous attempts to keep all cases out of the courts. The transparency we were promised has been discarded. This is an anniversary that should not have come.”
“The Obama administration should commemorate Guantanamo's eighth anniversary by renewing its pledge to close the detention center swiftly and responsibly,” said Stacy Sullivan, counterterrorism advisor at Human Rights Watch. “Thus far, the Obama administration has been very careful about not sending detainees back to countries where they are likely to face torture, abuse, or further indefinite detention without charge. That said, we are very concerned that several detainees may be facing involuntary repatriation to countries such as Algeria and Tajikistan. We urge the administration not to follow through with these plans.”
Said Frida Berrigan, a Brooklyn, NY, organizer with Witness Against Torture, "I do not relish the idea of fasting. But President Obama’s promises of change have atrophied into empty rhetoric. And, now I watch in horror as my country rises up in fear and vengeance once again. I watch in horror as the debased torture policies of the Bush administration are defended, described once more as necessary. Our Fast and Vigil for Justice is a small attempt to answer the ultimate question Guantanamo poses: how do we conquer fear and remain human?"
Earlier, members of Witness Against Torture (WAT) held a rally in front of the White House to protest the lack of progress toward justice for detainees since Obama took office and demanded true change from the administration. Speakers announced a 12-Day Fast for Justice in Washington D.C., ending on January 22 – the Obama administration’s self-declared, and now-voided, deadline for closing Guantánamo.
Following the demonstration, activists staged a Guantánamo prisoner procession to the National Press Club where they joined the briefing.
To learn more and see a video of Mr. Barre's statement and other resources, visit http://ccrjustice.org/obamas-guantanamo.
CCR has led the legal battle over Guantanamo for the last eight years – sending the first ever habeas attorney to the base and sending the first attorney to meet with a former CIA “ghost detainee” there. CCR has been responsible for organizing and coordinating more than 500 pro bono lawyers across the country in order to represent the men at Guantanamo, ensuring that nearly all have had the option of legal representation. In addition, CCR has been working to resettle the approximately 50 men who remain at Guantánamo because they cannot return to their country of origin for fear of persecution and torture.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.