State of the union

Obama to Congress: Close Guantánamo prison

 
 
A spokesman said Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, ordered prison staff to stop disclosing the Guantanamo hunger-strike count on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013. In this file photo he was shown briefing reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday, March 20, 2013.
A spokesman said Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, ordered prison staff to stop disclosing the Guantanamo hunger-strike count on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013. In this file photo he was shown briefing reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday, March 20, 2013.
NAVY PETTY OFFICER CHAD J. McNEELEY

Verbatim | From the State of the Union

“So even as we actively and aggressively pursue terrorist networks, through more targeted efforts and by building the capacity of our foreign partners, America must move off a permanent war footing. That's why I've imposed prudent limits on the use of drones, for we will not be safer if people abroad believe we strike within their countries without regard for the consequence.

“That's why, working with this Congress, I will reform our surveillance programs because the vital work of our intelligence community depends on public confidence, here and abroad, that privacy of ordinary people is not being violated. And with the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantánamo Bay — because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action but by remaining true to our constitutional ideals and setting an example for the rest of the world.

“You see, in a world of complex threats, our security, our leadership depends on all elements of our power — including strong and principled diplomacy. American diplomacy has rallied more than 50 countries to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the wrong hands, and allowed us to reduce our own reliance on Cold War stockpiles.”

President Barack Obama, Jan. 28, 2014


crosenberg@MiamiHerald.com

President Barack Obama used the occasion of his State of the Union address to remind the world of his quest to close the prison camps at Guantánamo — in as much a vow as a plea to the members of Congress.

“With the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantánamo Bay,” Obama said Tuesday night.

Obama ordered his administration to empty the prison camps in the first year of his first term, by Jan 22, 2010. But Congress steadily thwarted that ambition by imposing escalating restrictions on transfers and blocking civilian trials of the captives.

The president drew applause as he mentioned closing the prison camps — which now hold 155 captives — in the foreign-policy and defense portion of his annual address to Congress that declared “America must move off a permanent war footing.”

“We counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action,” Obama said, “but by remaining true to our constitutional ideals and setting an example for the rest of the world.”

In March, Marine Gen. John F. Kelly blamed Obama’s omission of Guantánamo in his 2013 State of the Union address as one reason for igniting the nearly year-long hunger strike that eventually engulfed more than 100 captives at the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba.

Kelly has oversight of the detention center as commander of the Miami-based U.S. Southern Command. He has since tried to keep the prison hunger strike out of the news by characterizing it as a “hunger-strike lite” and then imposing a blackout on hunger strike figures.

His spokesmen argued that daily disclosure had alternately become an unspecified security problem or a nuisance for the 2,000 U.S. military troops and Defense Department civilian contractors at the sprawling prison camp compound where 77 of the 155 foreign captives are approved for transfer or release, with security guarantees.

Before Kelly’s gag order, 15 captives were refusing to eat at the prison, according to an official U.S. military tally. All 15 were given nasogastric feedings by Navy medics, if they refused to drink a can of Ensure.

Wednesday, a lawyer for some of the prisoners estimated that 25 were recently on hunger strike, based on recent letters and phone calls from the captives.

“It's currently 16 being tube-fed and nine more publicly hunger-striking,” said attorney Clive Stafford Smith whose London-based Reprieve legal organization represents Guantánamo detainees. “Several others are doing it secretively, as the detainees have been thinking that many people will be going home soon, so they did not want the authorities to know.”

Hunger strikers are locked alone in their cells for long stretches of the day rather than allowed group meals and prayer. Prison commanders call this “single-cell confinement” and the captives’ lawyers call it “solitary confinement.”

The Obama administration had at one point planned to bring some Guantánamo detainees to trial in federal courts, and others to detention in special lockups. But Congress forbids the transfer of any Guantánamo prisoner to U.S. soil for any purpose and has blocked the use of federal funds for a domestic lockup.

Just six of the 155 captives are being put on trial at the Navy base’s war court, inside a crude compound called Camp Justice. Five, led by alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, are accused of conspiring with the 19 hijackers who carried out the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. The sixth is Saudi Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, accused of masterminding the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole warship that killed 17 U.S. service members.

All six could face military execution, if convicted. They were held for years in secret CIA prisons, out of reach of the International Committee of the Red Cross before they got to Guantánamo in 2006.

Read more Guantánamo stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
Algerian Djamel Ameziane, a 42-year-old ethnic Berber, has been approved for release but wants to go to Canada, or another country, rather than the nation he fled in 1992. His lawyers have chosen Canada because he lived there for five years, and filed a failed application for political asylum. From Canada he went to Afghanistan, where he was captured in the U.S. invasion.

    IN THE COURTS

    Ex-Guantánamo detainee can’t get his money back

    Federal judge concludes a former Guantánamo detainee may no longer be a threat, but his money is.

  •  
The Kremlin.

    Russia bans congressman, 12 other Americans

    Russia has placed a U.S. lawmaker and 12 other people connected with the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq on its list of those banned from entering the country.

  •  
In this image from video, Eugene R. Fidell, the lawyer representing Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl said Wednesday, July 16, 2014, in an interview with The Associated Press that his client has been vilified by some people, but the public should not leap to conclusions before the Army finishes its investigation into how and why the soldier left his post in Afghanistan before being captured by the Taliban.

    Bergdahl hires lawyer for military investigation

    The lawyer representing Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl said Wednesday that his client has been vilified by some people, but the public should not leap to conclusions before the Army finishes its investigation into how and why the soldier left his post in Afghanistan before being captured by the Taliban.

Miami Herald

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