For Immediate Release
Justice Delayed, Justice Denied: Witness Against Torture Responds to Obama’s Statement That Guantanamo Will Not Close by January 2010
WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama conceded yesterday
that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba will not close
within the one year mandated by the Executive Order he signed on
January 22, 2009. This is a disappointment but not a surprise.
For months, the administration has been sending signals that it
over-reached in its timetable. The given reasons for the delay are
likewise familiar: that the Bush administration left a legal mess,
requiring painstaking work to determine the ideal means for handling
the remaining detainees; that it has been hard to find countries to
admit detainees who cannot be resettled in their countries of origin
due to fears of ill-treatment; and that unanticipated domestic
resistance to Guantanamo’s closure, much of it fueled by
fear-mongering and partisan politics, has slowed the process. These
impediments, while real wrenches in the grinding wheels of policy,
cannot excuse the moral and constitutional disaster that Guantanamo's
continuing operation represents.
Since coming to office, the Obama administration has presented
Guantanamo as an administrative problem, a cause of embarrassment, and
a foreign policy liability. It has never faced Guantanamo for what it
truly is: a grave injustice which the United States is duty bound, by
the best of its traditions and basic standards of fairness and
decency, to immediately set right.
"Justice Delayed is Justice Denied" — the great maxim of the Civil
Rights Movement that made Barack Obama's political ascent possible —
has been forgotten. Martin Luther King Jr.'s talk of "The Fierce
Urgency of Now," repeatedly invoked by President Obama to push ahead
with domestic reforms, has been replaced, for the Guantanamo detainees
and anyone who cares about the rule of law, with "the fickle hope of
eventually" and “the self-serving pledge of maybe."
All the while, the Obama administration proclaims its intent to put
U.S. policies and practices in accordance with our laws and values.
Yet the United States continues to detain dozens of men at Guantanamo
who have been cleared for release. In the case of the remaining
Uighurs, the administration has advanced the Orwellian conclusion that
they are no longer prisoners — they just have nowhere to go, and must
therefore remain on the dusty gulag.
Echoing the policies of Bush, Obama proposes the indefinite detention,
without charge or trial, of detainees against whom no case has been
built or from whom "evidence" was obtained through torture. The Obama
Justice Department repeatedly invokes the "state secrets" defense to
beat back legal efforts of those kidnapped and tortured to receive
acknowledgment of their injury and compensation for it. And it has
steadfastly refused to investigate and, if warranted, prosecute those
who designed and ordered torture policies, choosing instead a limited
inquiry into the most egregious cases of "unauthorized" detainee
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Finally, it has allowed obsessive attention with the truly dangerous
men in U.S. detention — such as Khalid Sheik Mohammed and other Al
Qaeda leaders — to obscure the fact the great majority of detainees
held at Guantanamo have been falsely imprisoned.
How is it tolerable within the framework of American laws and values
to hold for even one day longer men who, innocent of any crime, have
been stolen from their families, tortured, and dehumanized?
How is it tolerable to knowingly imprison innocent men while failing
to indict officials who — a preponderance of public evidence suggests
— are guilty of heinous political crimes and violations of human
rights? How can the rule of law be restored when U.S. laws are not
And how can the wreckage of the past be cleared when the key monument
of that wreckage, the detention facility at Guantanamo, remains
The Obama administration will continue to face enormous hostility —
much of it paranoid, opportunistic, and vicious — to even its
inadequate efforts to undo the worst of the Bush era policies. Those
efforts must be supported, for the real good they will bring and to
beat back domestic forces ready to plunge the United States into a new
nightmare of lawlessness and wanton cruelty in the name of "national
But the administration must also be held to its words and promises.
Its failures cannot be masked with rationalizations and false
deference to the constraints of partisan bickering and legal
complexities. The inability to fulfill the mandate of the Executive
Order to close Guantanamo within a year is just such a failure, making
still more urgent the demand for true justice.
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Witness Against Torture is a grassroots organization committed to closing Guantanamo, Bagram and ending torture. The group will hold a fast and vigil in Washington, DC from January 11, 2010—the date marking eight years since Guantanamo’s beginning as a “war on terror” prison through January 22, 2010, the date by which the Obama administration committed to closing the facility. To learn more about the fast and vigil to Shut Down Guantanamo, End Torture and Build Justice visit http://www.witnesstorture.org