May 23, New York – In response to President Obama’s speech this afternoon, the Center for Constitutional Rights issued the following statement:
The president’s stated reengagement on Guantanamo is welcome, but long overdue. However, unless he takes immediate steps to resume transfers and ultimately close the prison, his administration will not escape the “harsh judgment” of history he anticipated in his speech. We welcome his decision to lift the ban on transfers to Yemen, which has trapped more than half of the men at the prison. However, we are disappointed by the president’s comment that cleared men will only be released “to the greatest extent possible.” While more than 100 men continue to starve themselves in a principled protest for their freedom, the president’s equivocation is troubling. After eleven years of detention without charge or trial, all of the men President Obama does not intend to give fair trials should be released and reunited with their families. Anything short of that threatens to worsen a potentially deadly crisis unfolding a Guantanamo.
Regarding the U.S.’s use of lethal force against suspects of terrorism, though President Obama suggested a return to normal at some point in the future, the essence of his speech was to reassert the legally-flawed and dangerous premise of the targeted killing program —namely, that the United States continues to be engaged in a global war with Al Qaeda and undefined “associated forces.” Whether or not the United States can use lethal force under the laws of war is not a matter of policy preference—it is a matter of law and facts. The policy standard he outlined for the targeting of individuals, requiring imminence and feasibility of capture, while narrower than prior asserted standards, also raised questions about how those standards would be interpreted. Prior Justice Department interpretations, for example, that imminence does not require clear evidence of a specific act in the immediate future, do not engender confidence. The president was certainly correct when he stated that we need to think about the world we are creating and leaving behind. But codifying this program, despite its “refinements,” sets a dangerous precedent for future administrations and other countries.