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Silent March on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in January 2012. (Photo: Elvert Barnes/flickr/cc)

Silent March on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in January 2012. (Photo: Elvert Barnes/flickr/cc)

Rights Groups to Obama: No More Foot Dragging On Closing Guantánamo

'It is time for President Obama, and Defense Secretary Carter, to take action to transfer the 57 men still held who have already been approved to leave Guantánamo, and to release or charge in federal court those who remain'

Sarah Lazare

Omar Khadr—captured by the U.S. as a child, forced to endure torture, and detained 13 years, most of them at Guantánamo Bay—was recently released on bail to widespread media attention.

But on Tuesday, leading human rights groups released an open letter reminding U.S. President Barack Obama—and the world—that 122 men still languish behind bars at the infamous facility, largely without charge or trial, and the slow trickle of releases is not enough.

Addressing Obama and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, groups including Amnesty International USA, Veterans for Peace, Reprieve, and Center for Constitutional Rights declared that the U.S. government "must act to close the prison as quickly as possible."

The missive took direct aim at one of the president's many pledges, this one made nearly two years ago, to revamp his efforts to shutter the facility.

In a May 23, 2013 speech, Obama acknowledged the brutality of extra-judicially detaining people and suppressing their peaceful protest. "Imagine a future—ten years from now, or twenty years from now—when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime on a piece of land that is not a part of our country," said the president. "Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. Is that who we are?"

"The President's promise was prompted in particular by a prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo, undertaken by men who—according to SOUTHCOM Commander General John Kelly—were 'devastated' that the administration had 'backed off' closing the prison," noted the statement.

"Since that speech, 44 men have been freed. However, 122 men remain at Guantánamo, even though almost all of them have never been charged, let alone tried, for any crime," stated the letter. "It is time for President Obama, and Defense Secretary Carter, to take action to transfer the 57 men still held who have already been approved to leave Guantánamo, and to release or charge in federal court those who remain."

Last week, the House of Representatives rejected a proposal to shutter the prison by the end of 2017.


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