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Chicago anniversary rally seeks Gitmo closure

Wed, Jan 29, 2014

On Jan. 10, the eve of the 12th anniversary of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, a coalition of Chicago groups rallied outside the Everett M. Dirksen Courthouse calling for its closure.

Gitmo During an hour-long vigil advocates wore orange jumpsuits with black hoods and carried lighted signs provided by the Overpass Light Brigade that spelled out the message, “Close Gitmo.” The demonstrators also read aloud the names of all 155 men still imprisoned there, including more than half who were cleared for release by an interagency task force Obama appointed shortly after he took office in 2009. Member groups included World Can’t Wait Chicago, Witness Against Torture, White Rose Catholic Worker, Illinois Coalition Against Torture and Chicago Committee to Free the Cuban Five. Other groups endorsing the action were 8th Day Center for Justice, Voices for Creative Non-Violence, Neighbors for Peace, The Chicago Cuba Coalition, Veterans for Peace Chicago, Amnesty International USA and National Lawyers Guild-Chicago.

Officials said in prepared material that President Obama promised to close the detention center five years ago but “refused to spend political capital” when Congress raised obstacles. Nearly a year ago, prisoners started a hunger strike that involved as many as 106 of them; they were force-fed twice daily with a tube through their noses, according to U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) in an op ed last August for the Los Angeles Times.

Congress made changes last December 26 that give President Obama more ability to transfer detainees in the War on Terror to their country of origin or a third country if they are unwilling or afraid to go home, said Bob Palmer of the Chicago Coalition to Shut Down Guantanamo. The changes do not allow Obama to move the detainees to the U.S., however.

“That’s a barrier to closing the camp,” Palmer said. “Ideally, we’d like to see everyone who has been cleared for release be released and go back to their country of origin. Or detainees who have never been charged of any crime be released and able to come to the United States if they have no other place to go. For those detainees who are going to be put on trial, we’d like to see the camp closed, have those people brought to the US and tried in civilian courts.”

The reason for civilian courts, Palmer said, is that the military commission hearing their cases has not provided them civil rights protections: complete information about the evidence against them, “which makes it hard to mount a defense.”

He discounted the prisoners as terrorists, although he said some may have been low-level members of the Taliban, which was an American ally years ago. Most of them were jailed in the post-911 frenzy, because of bounties of $5,000 or $10,000 that went to people in Pakistan or Afghanistan to turn them in. “A lot of people were in the wrong place in the wrong time, and wound up getting sent to Guantanamo where they have been in legal limbo, with no evidence that ever supported terrorism.”

In a blog for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Ashley Gorski wrote that hearsay evidence – testimony from second- or third-hand sources – was being allowed in military commission prosecutions at Guantanamo on the grounds of “battlefield exigencies.” However, hearsay is treated as suspect in the federal courts, few of the prisoners were taken from battlefields, and conviction means a death sentence, Gorski noted.

In addition, the American public is excluded from courtroom testimony, which is a violation of the First Amendment, and a possible indicator of torture, Gorski wrote.

Chicago anniversary rally seeks Gitmo closure If major combat operations end in Afghanistan this year, there is also a question if the United States will retain the legal authority to hold captives indefinitely, wrote Daphne Eviatar in a blog for Reuters news service. Eviatar is senior counsel in the law and security program of Human Rights First.

In the LA Times op ed where they advocated closing Guantanamo, Feinstein and Durbin said its operation costs the federal government $2.7 million annually for each detainee. That’s 35 times the $78,000 to hold a convicted terrorist in the nation’s most secure federal prison in Colorado.

“This is a massive misuse of taxpayer money,” they wrote. It also does not serve security interests “and is not consistent with our country’s history as a champion of human rights.” Feinstein chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee and Durbin the Defense Appropriations Committee.

The two senators instead advocate expedited transfer of 86 detainees already cleared. As of August, these included 56 Yemenis and 30 from elsewhere. Yemenis could go back to Yemen or to Saudi Arabia, “where those governments could hold them so they do not attack the U.S. or our allies.”

Philip Rucker said in the December 26 Washington Post, however, that Yemeni transfers remain the most difficult because the nation is a hub for al-Qaeda. “There is no structure to reintegrate detainees into Yemen’s society and ensure they are not a security risk, although the Obama administration has been in discussions with Yemen about the creation of a rehabilitation center for returned prisoners.”

The first captives from the “War on Terror” came from Kandahar on Jan. 11, 2002 and were incarcerated in wire cages, according to Jane Franklin of the History News Network (HNN) at George Mason University. “The Defense Department labeled them ‘unlawful combatants,’ not ‘prisoners of war,’ in order to disregard rights guaranteed to POWs by the Geneva Conventions,” according to HNN. However UN High Commissioner Mary Robinson said the captives were entitled to the rights of POWs. Several days later, British Foreign Sec. Jack Straw protested a photo that showed captives kneeling on the ground shackled and handcuffed, their eyes, ears and mouths covered.

Suzanne Hanney
StreetWise Editor-In-Chief

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