For Immediate Release
Witness Against Torture Calls on Obama and Congress to Redouble Efforts to Transfer Detained Men and Close Guantánamo; Condemns Partisan Calls to Keep GTMO Open
NEW YORK, NY - Activists from Witness Against Torture support the release of five men from Guantánamo to monitored residence in Qatar in exchange for the American POW Bowe Bergdahl. While freeing an American captive, the exchange advances the important goals of closing Guantánamo and helping Afghanistan achieve peace after the planned withdrawal of most US forces. The US must now expedite the release of the 78 detained men already cleared for transfer, plan for the transfer of others, and find a just resolution to the fate of all the men held at Guantánamo.
Witness Against Torture also decries the politically motivated lies and distortions surrounding the prisoner exchange, which wrongly portray all the men at Guantánamo as security risks to the United States and may make closing the prison even more difficult. The political attacks also obscure a vital aspect of the prisoner exchange: facilitating negotiations with the Taliban over the future of Afghanistan, which both the United States and Afghan governments seek.
“As Bush administration official John Bellinger has written,” says Witness Against Torture’s Matt Daloisio, “there is no legal justification for holding the so-called ‘Taliban 5’ after the end of major military operations in Afghanistan in a prison that should have never have existed. Their release to Qatar is part of the conclusion of a phase of armed conflict, consistent with the ways nations have drawn down wars.”
“We can’t forget the many men trapped in Guantánamo who are not considered ‘important’ enough to be part of a political deal,” adds activist Palina Prasasouk. “Those already cleared for transfer demand our immediate attention. Freeing them is what the nation should be talking about.”
“The great danger in the hysteria surrounding the prisoner swap — cynically stoked by the political right to further demonize President Obama — is that Guantánamo stays open indefinitely,” says Jeremy Varon of Witness Against Torture. “Any effort to increase congressional restrictions on the transfer of detainees must be resisted. Guantánamo remains a place of imprisonment without charge or trial, hunger strikes, and continued torture through brutal forced feeding. Obama’s own record on Guantánamo has been poor, although in the last year we have finally seen some real commitment to closing the prison. That members of Congress and the media are now calling for Guantánamo to remain open forever is completely unacceptable. We can’t return to the worst days of the Bush administration, when fear-mongering and callous disregard for the rule of law, the facts, and human rights drove US policy. Guantánamo must close. Period. Full stop.”
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Witness Against Torture is a grassroots movement that came into being in December 2005 when 24 activists walked to Guantanamo to visit the prisoners and condemn torture policies. Since then, it has engaged in public education, community outreach, and non-violent direct action. For the first 100 days of the Obama administration, the group held a daily vigil at the White House, encouraging the new President to uphold his commitments to shut down Guantanamo.