In the wake of the recent attempted attack on Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight 253, several elected officials have renewed their politicized claims that closing the prison at Guantánamo would be dangerous and premature. CCR urges the President to reject the use of this incident as fodder to further delay the closure of the prison and justice for the men detained there.
It is crucial to remember that the vast majority of the men at Guantánamo should never have been detained in the first place and that over 550 have been released and are peacefully rebuilding their lives. Most of the nearly 800 men who were brought to Guantánamo were not captured by the American military on any battlefield, but seized in broad sweeps during the chaos of the Afghan war and sold to the U.S. in exchange for substantial bounties. We know from the military’s own records that most of the detainees at Guantánamo have no link to terrorism. CIA and military sources have repeatedly told reporters that most detainees “don’t have anything to do with” terrorism, “didn't belong there,” and “weren't fighting.” (For some of their personal stories, visit the Guantánamo Justice Center’s website. GJC is a CCR partner organization founded by men formerly detained at Guantánamo.)
CCR has always maintained that the men at Guantánamo should either be charged with a crime or released. Today, more than half of the men who remain at Guantánamo have been cleared for release after scrutiny by the Obama Administration’s year-old Guantánamo Review Task Force, including many men from Yemen. It is therefore particularly troubling that several senators have pressed President Obama to stop transfers of all Yemenis, citing a report that alleges two Saudi men formerly detained at Guantánamo joined the Al Qaeda branch in Yemen which claims responsibility for plotting the failed airplane bombing.
As some politicians have opportunistically seized this latest crisis to justify further delaying the closure of Guantánamo, it is worth recalling that the two former detainees allegedly linked to Al Qaeda in Yemen were released from Guantánamo by the Bush administration, not set free by court order or after the sort of cautious, formal assessment process that the Task Force is undertaking now, but based on purely political calculations.
Halting the repatriation of Yemeni men cleared by the Task Force after months of careful review is unconscionable. It will also effectively prevent any meaningful progress towards closing Guantanamo — a goal strongly advocated by both presidential candidates, and one that, as President Obama has repeatedly argued, will make our nation safer. Former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee in June 2008 that “there are serving U.S. flag-rank officers who maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U. S. combat deaths in Iraq — as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat — are, respectively the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.” Opportunistic calls to keep Guantanamo open into its ninth year will do nothing to make America safer.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.