April 30, 2013, New York – Today, President Obama spoke about Guantanamo at a press conference and said, among other things, "Now Congress determined that they would not let us close it and despite the fact that there are a number of the folks who are currently in Guantanamo who the courts have said could be returned to their country of origin or potentially a third country. . . . And so I'm going to -- as I've said before, we're -- examine every option that we have administratively to try to deal with this issue. But ultimately, we're also going to need some help from Congress."
After representing men at Guantanamo whose hopes for justice have been raised and dashed so many times over the last eleven years, we praise the president for re-affirming his commitment to closing the base but take issue with the impression he strives to give that it is largely up to Congress. Here is a prescription for what he himself can begin to do today if he is really serious about closing the prison.
- Congress is certainly responsible for imposing unprecedented restrictions on detainee transfers, but President Obama still has the power to transfer men right now. He should use the certification/waiver process created by Congress to transfer detainees, starting with the 86 men who have been cleared for release, including our client Djamel Ameziane.
- Congress may have tied one hand behind his back, but he has tied the other: he should lift his self-imposed moratorium on transfers to Yemen regardless of a detainee's status. It's collective punishment based on citizenship, and needs to be reevaluated now.
- President Obama should appoint a senior government official to shepherd the process of closure, and should give that person sufficient authority to resolve inter-agency disputes.
- The President must demonstrate immediate, tangible progress toward the closure of Guantanamo or the men who are on hunger strike will die, and he will be ultimately responsible for their deaths.