No we can’t: Obama’s Guantanamo

May 21, 2009

Cori Crider

Cori Crider represents 30 Guantánamo prisoners as an attorney with legal charity Reprieve. The opinions expressed are her own. –

You would be hard-pressed to find a kid more thrilled on Barack Obama’s first day in office than Mohammed el Gharani. On January 21, had you been standing at the right corner of Guantanamo Bay, you could have heard him whoop for joy when the U.S. President made history—so we thought—by closing the prison where el Gharani grew up.

It is four months since that decision. The president gave a speech, “clarifying” his plans for Guantanamo on Thursday. But I fear we will all look back on May 21, 2009, as the day real history was made—The Day President Obama Un-Closed Guantanamo.

In many ways the die seems already cast. The President revived the military commissions last week, a move that risks stretching the prison’s life out for months. Just two prisoners have left Guantanamo since January. One, Binyam Mohamed, had humiliated the U.S. and the UK over his torture; the other, Lakhdar Boumediene, had been ordered released by a federal judge.

It is unclear what the administration is waiting for in Mohammed el Gharani’s case. He was found innocent in court, just like Boumediene, and he has a country to go to. He could climb on a plane to Chad tomorrow, were the administration simply to wake up and do what it has been ordered to do.

In this, el Gharani is luckier than many—namely, Guantanamo’s sixty refugees, who require the U.S. or a goodwilled third country to save them from torture at home. For these men, the administration’s dithering spells disaster. For while the government frittered away the global goodwill that would have helped them house refugees in January, the right regrouped.

Now, talking heads and demagogues have found a new target in Gitmo for scaremongering— a group of innocent Muslim refugees from China called the Uighurs. After rumors swirled that a couple of Uighurs might be released into the U.S., members of the right published libellous statements saying they were tied to al Qaeda. (Even the Bush administration conceded the Uighurs were not the enemy.)

Republicans in Congress have vowed to fight “putting terrorists in American towns” to the bitter end. On the heels of this panic, even the Democrats yanked from a bill funding to close Guantanamo. Yet nearly every country in Europe has made clear: if the US takes no refugees, Europe will take no refugees.

Up to now, the Obama administration has kept silent before this storm of falsehoods, though it well knows it could doom the closure of Guantanamo. We know of no other options the US has pursued for the refugees, aside from Europe and the US. Rumors of Middle Eastern havens have not, apparently, been pursued. Those options closed by inaction, what is left? Filling cells in Bagram, perhaps, or worse still, returning men to Tunisia, China, or Uzbekistan. These no longer seem beyond possibility.

The xenophobia we have seen on the U.S. airwaves and on the Hill this week reflect the worst of America. El Gharani knows a lot about such racism; as a black boy in Medina, local schools shut him out; and as a teen in Guantanamo, he bore the brunt of abuse because he was both dark-skinned and Muslim.

We at Reprieve have watched Mohammed el Gharani grow up in prison. It is high time he left. And while it is not too late for President Obama to let him go, and take a strong stand on these issues, he has lost precious time. Today we heard moral equivocation from the lips of the very man who lambasted Guantanamo repeatedly on the campaign trail.

*This post was updated after the speech President Obama made on Thursday.


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All truth eventually comes to the light of day Cori. It appears that the man I voted for as President is showing his true colors. So much for the integrity of Constitutional scholars. This nation truly suffers a crisis of character.

Posted by Anubis | Report as abusive

As long as there is a group to fear. Those who seek to control you can do so by way of that fear. Remember the homeland security color coded “states of awareness”?

It’s “divide and conquer”. Sure there are “evil” people in the world. But to be sure, we work for most of them and elect them to represent our interests. As long as people are afraid of each other they will not communicate and attempt to understand each other. In this kind of situation, big business, and politicians. Can use that fear to influence the young and brave among us to fight for our interests, which as of late have been far less than honorable.

Guantanamo Bay is a glaring example of our past lack of honor. Obama is right to close it down. Sure its useful. And yes it does open up a can of worms in regards to handling the prison population. But continuing to use Guantanamo Bay is kind of like eating off of a fork you pulled out of a dirty toilet. Sure it’s still a fork. And sure you could eat off of it if you wanted to. But it wouldn’t be a good idea.

Guantanamo Bay has become a symbol of American shame. And leaving it open tells the world America doesn’t really have problem with torture after all. If our leaders had acted with honor to begin with. Guantanamo would not be an issue today. So in truth republicans have no right to complain about it being closed down. Since as a party they collectively supported the activities within.

Posted by Benny Acosta | Report as abusive

It seems to me that the fairest solution to this is to put all these prisoners back exactly where they were when they were detained. If, as they presumably all claim, they were there for entirely innocent reasons, what can they possibly have to fear? They chose to go there in the first place (wherever “there” is).

Posted by Matthew | Report as abusive

I feel it is inhumane to hold people indefinitely without charges and without the due process of a trail. They have star chamber FISA courts for that. Even if they are suspected of being terrorists, an allegation proves nothing. You have to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; this is a legal high hurdle to clear which is why so many guilty people go free. They cannot prove anything. There are impovrished communities all across the US in rural areas that would house these men, and benefit from the federal dollars provided for their care. It would benefit those communities and the families there as crazy as that may sound..SUPERMAX is underground and unassailable. Put them there, and try them, and either find them guilty and execute them, or find them not guilty and send them back to their homelands. Or Siberia. There are many places in the world that are desolate and inhospitable. I feel this is a diversionary non issue, meant to cover up or gloss over something else.

Force them into a bad marriage for a couple of years. They will pray for the gas chamber.

Posted by phoenix1 | Report as abusive


The reality of the United States and the idealized fantasy of the United States are two vastly different things. Most of the politicians go into high office with good intentions, and with a sincere desire to change, to reform, to improve, and to actually be a populist; to be for the people. Then they see the reality. They are confronted with the corporate and military reality and they are left with doing what they can do. The foreign policy of the US has been entrenched for 50 years. No one is going to change it. He is making progress on the domestic policy front, but again, he is going to be fought tooth and nail by big health and big pharma, even medicaid.

Entitlments are bankrupting the US. We need entitlement reform, then education, then health. We need to task community colleges with training for real jobs, green jobs, new health care; both in practice and in IT. Nursing and PA and CNM and CNP are going to be huge in the coming decades with and aging population and dwindling dollars for care. Clinic care is going to be huge. Boutique care is going to rise. Community Colleges should train people for these lucrative and practical jobs. Leave Plato and Cicero on the library shelf, where they belong. Young poeple deserve a chance. It is clear he is trying to do what the oligarchists will allow him to do to improves their chances for a future standard of living. The US has lost its footing in the world. We are not the gold standard anymore. I am not sure we have a gold standard anymore.

You are smart Anubis, you know this…

Posted by phoenix1 | Report as abusive

The Constitution of the United States of America has always been applied in practice by myopics, so why is Guantanamo such a big deal? Is it the fact that the US is directly arresting people without due course of the law instead of relying on puppet dictators to do the dirty job?

Posted by SG | Report as abusive

I wish everything wrong with the Bush Administration could be corrected ‘over night’. Practical realities speak otherwise.

President Obama has been thrown into an inferno of issues – getting our economy working again, ending our costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, ending our ‘secret’ policies of detainee torture and rendition, trying to fix our escalating costs of health care, repairing our damaged Constitution and the rights we’ve all lost over the past eight years of fascist rule, restoring sanity to the process of selecting and retaining qualified judiciary, finding ways to reduce our burgeoning federal deficit, finding a practical solution for our pending ‘legacy costs’ of Social Security, Medicare and veterans’ benefits…

… already in the past 100 days, our President has done more work than George W. Bush did in eight years.

It may seem trivial, but the President has just begun to dig through the ‘unfinished business’ of George W. Bush.

As with the economic problems we face, George W. Bush will go down in history as the “Great Procrastinator”.

So very many of our issues today result from GWB’s intent to delay action until a ‘crisis’ erupted. I believe that inaction included his early warnings of the horrible events of 9/11.

There’s more rubble on our President’s desk than that of the World Trade Center.

Somewhere beneath that rubble, there’s a solution for the closure of Guantanamo, too, especially as our President has yet to take his first ‘vacation’ to the Bush-equivalent of the Crawford ranch.

As exemplified by the recent scree from Richard Cheney, the past eight years have been eight years of fear – paranoia, xenophobia… unseen at those high proportions since Joseph McCarthy had us all running to build bomb shelters and fear our ‘commie’ next-door neighbors.

Reasonable solutions still exist, including permitting these ‘McCarthy-era neo-commies’ to live next door to us, too. Given the opportunity, they, too, can blend and not exhibit hostility if they are given a chance – the very same approach we see on the television with that soldier entering the empty carousel area and the empty NYC street – for accepting our troops back from the wars.

President Obama has already worked at the local level to organize rather than foster hatred, discontent and violence.

President Obama has a different approach to these issues and will prove over his first term that he’s definitely not the man who would attempt to ‘put a lid on the boiling pot’ to keep the steam from escaping.

Posted by Bernie | Report as abusive

Why do we presume the worst?

Why is it that we all seem to feel these detainees will be at our throats the minute they leave incarceration?

In the 1960’s, I stood casually talking to a murderer about baseball, school and girls.

In the safe environment of the store my mother operated at the state mental hospital where those discussions took place, the man was calm, curious, smiling, friendly and certainly posed no threat to me. He helped us by taking out the trash, sweeping the floors, stocking the soda cooler and other tasks associated with maintaining the store.

Outside however, on several previous attempts to acclimate him to society, he became violent and had killed several people.

Why? He was taunted, physically abused – beaten, kicked, perhaps even sexually abused and raped by his ’employers’.

His violence was triggered by forces he could not avoid within that ‘outside captivity’.

Yet there were only three people on the face of this earth who believed that man had a chance – me, my mother and his social worker.

Have we not also agitated these ‘detainees’ by our own torture?

Like Daniel, you have been in the “Lion’s den” and survived.

Courage, Cori.

Posted by Bernie | Report as abusive

Im a bit annoyed by the almost continuous claims that ‘its what he inherited’ why cant people just admit they were duped? that, ultimately..he had no intentions on half of his promises? that it was to dupe people into voting him? its not exclusively him either, its ‘politics’ in general. surely these ‘its bushs mess thats why’ mouth-pieces can see as clear as anyone else this?

Posted by Robert | Report as abusive

Change takes time especially if Obama wants his Administration’s effectiveness to last through and after the honeymoon period is over. I still believe he will fulfill his campaign promises and close down Guantanamo Bay.

Posted by ChloeBauer | Report as abusive

Now BHO backpedaled on one of his key election promises. Bad for him, good for the country. As little as these illegal enemy combatants belong at Guantanamo, they belong in America even less. If there’s a real need to move these terrorists from the security of that prison, I see only one way to do it without putting America at risk. Load them all into a cargo hold of a barge, weld the hatches shut, tow it to some deep place in the middle of the ocean, and sink it there. No, I’m not joking. Some former inmates who managed to persuade the military administration that they were arrested by mistake now rejoined al-Qaeda.

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

Anonymous, you sound paranoid. The threat fascism posed to the world in the 1930s was far more ominous than the terrorist threat of today. What risks to our nation require downing people without trial or hearing? How about the risk of oil shortages or foreign investors pulling out their capital? What of increased illegal immigration or advocates of Gay rights?

Perhaps if we were to follow your logic through upon all perceived risks, the United States would become the great threat to world peace and civilization. That is if we haven’t already

Posted by Anubis | Report as abusive

Pinochet must have gone to his deathbed and subsequent appointment in Hades thinking he was A-OK because they never went after Kissinger for his murderous pranks on behalf of ITT. Reagan died thinking nothing as usual, leaving Ollie North unpunished. Successive Bushes including Bush-Lite Clinton may go to their graves imagining what they did was A-OK – if only due to lack of stalwart prosecution – and the sooner the better, if that lack prevails.

Obama has no excuse for not shutting down the U.S. torture & murder machine, at home and overseas. Any delay on this is a terminal blemish on his carefully-coifed image. He ostensibly possesses legal qualifications, or at least an education and delusions of integrity to boot, so he cannot pretend that the war crimes of Bush/Cheney et al. which he fails to prosecute will not be visited some day upon him, for his very failure to prosecute.

That is the law.

Guantanamo Bay ranks alongside Abu Ghraib as the joint epitome of what is wrong with American interventionist politics at this time.

Both these and all similar facilities must be closed, their inmates released and compensated. The people – every last one – who made all these and more KZs and insane death machines around the world possible can expect to be punished and expropriated – as all war criminals, under the law, surely must.

The only question now, is when.

Each day longer it takes to close and vacate Guantanamo Bay equals yet another giant bloody nail in the coffin of America’s reputation, another triumph of the brute subversion of democracy in and by pseudo-America and yet another solid reason for deposing the pseudo-American two-party charade which strangulates debate, enslaves the people at home and abroad, and vampirizes any culture, anywhere, into which contemporary war-corporatist pseudo-America’s fangs have been sunk.

Pseudo-America must face multiple life sentences if America is even to pretend to live. Until it does, it’s up to everyone else to set the rules.

Well, everyone else except Thatcherites Blair & Major and other wholly-owned subsidiaries of pseudo-America. May they rot, etc

Posted by The Bell | Report as abusive

Youth expects change to happen – now! Cori – I know you want it all to change and cannot see, maybe the youthful exuberence once again, why it isn’t.

We could open the doors and send everyone home – but as you said, many would be tortured… basically change requires calming fears and making plans, much of which does not happen instantly.

President Obama is the leader of the nation, but he is not the law maker, that branch has to be convinced – and unfortunately the military will need to have those laws and plans before they will act on good confidence.

At least trials will happen now – assuming Congress and/or a group a lawyers does not stall the process once again.

Posted by Chris | Report as abusive

Chris, the executive branch has no authority to convene any tribunals. Article Two of the U.S constitution expressly assigns that responsibility to Congress. Any War Tribunal established by any U.S. President is against the law. Even the Military Code of Justice is the responsibility of Congress. I know of no Congressional legislation giving the military the authority to try these detainees. It is my understanding Obama wants to reconvene the same tribunals Bush established with a few superficial changes. If I am wrong will someone please enlighten me?

Posted by Anubis | Report as abusive

Oh well welcome to the real world people. I almost spewed my coffee over my screen reading about the inevitable prosecution of these war criminals, what color is the sky in your fantasy world? Do you really expect that, or that Gitmo will really be closed, or those detainees will get real due process?
It’s great how you can dupe the youth with promises of change, I guess you need to be a bit older and wiser to realize it’s all talk. Oh well I’ve said youth wasted on the young and it’s truer all the time.

Posted by Frank Castle | Report as abusive