On Eve of Obama National Security Speech, Writers, Performers, Academics Call for Closure of Guantanamo, End of Indefinite Detention & War Crimes

For Immediate Release
May 22, 2013       
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Inspired by the hunger strike of most remaining Guantanamo prisoners, hundreds of people in the arts, law, public life and academia have made an urgent call to Obama to close the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, where 166 men are still held, and “the release of the cleared Guantanamo prisoners now, and an end to indefinite detention without charge for the others, before they lose their lives.”  

President Obama will speak Thursday, May 23 on national security, and is expected to make a case for expansion of the U.S. drone war and discuss his failure to close Guantanamo after his 2009 promise to do so within a year.  Thursday morning, the European Parliament will debate a resolution on the U.S. prison at Guantanamo and U.S. “breaches of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.”

Voices newly united in a message for which the organization World Can’t Wait has reserved a full page in The New York Times on May 23 are writers and playwrights Alice Walker, Junot Diaz, Erica Jong, Eve Ensler, Dave Eggers and Wallace Shawn; film makers Michael Moore, James Schamus, Oliver Stone, Barbara Hammer, Mark Ruffalo and Paul Haggis; artists and performers Kara Walker, Moby, Tom Otterness, Aasif Mandvi and Tom Morello who join critics of government policy Cornel West, Glenn Greenwald, Cindy Sheehan, Daniel Ellsberg, Carl Dix, Noam Chomsky, Bianca Jagger, and law professors and attorneys representing the prisoners. Denis Halliday, former UN Assistant Secretary General (1994-98) joins this distinguished group.

Calling for an end to “war crimes and violations of fundamental rights,” the statement says “Obama could have released most of the detainees years ago.”  Signers feel an urgency to act because some of the prisoners are reportedly near death in the hunger strike, which began 105 days ago. Their attorneys point out the prison has become a death camp, with no prisoners leaving alive in years, and that “they have lost hope of ever being released, although a majority were cleared to leave years ago.”

In what may presage President Obama’s argument for executive power in targeted killing and indefinite detention, the signers say, “Fundamental civil liberties have been eviscerated.  In the name of safety, fear, or revenge, American presidents cannot be allowed to arrogate to themselves the power of judge, jury and executioner.”

Decrying the Obama administration’s “refusal to prosecute officials for their use of torture,” the signers call on “people to stand up for principle and morality when their institutions and public officials refuse to do so. The fates of those who are maimed or killed by our government’s policies are inextricably intertwined with our own: we must listen and respond to their cry for justice.”

Available for interviews are Dennis Loo, author of the message, Debra Sweet, Director of World Can’t Wait and other signers.  Selected comments:

M. Cherif Bassiouni, Emeritus Professor of Law, DePaul University College of Law, via Wikipedia the “the Godfather of International Criminal Law,” states:

“Gitmo and the practices that have taken place in it have violated the Constitution of the United States, its laws prohibiting torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and are also in violation of international law.”

Novelist, poet and essayist Alice Walker writes,

“What is most distressing about the times we live in, in my view, is our ever accelerating tolerance for cruelty. Prisoners held indefinitely in orange suits, chained and on their knees. Like the hunger strikers of Guantanamo, I would certainly prefer death to this.”

Carlos Warner, habeas attorney for 11 Guantanamo prisoners, who has visited Guantanamo since the hunger strike began,

“I and my colleagues can win this fight because we're motivated and correct, and we don't need or want our clients to die in the process. However, the men are committed to this and their solidarity is growing. If the conflict stays in the current direction, it’s going to end in men dying.”

Civil rights lawyer and Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald wrote,

“Long before, and fully independent of, anything Congress did, President Obama made clear that he was going to preserve the indefinite detention system at Guantanamo even once he closed the camp. President Obama fully embraced indefinite detention — the defining injustice of Guantanamo — as his own policy.”

H. Candace Gorman, civil rights attorney with clients at the prison,

“Life right now at the base sounds a lot like the harsh life the detainees suffered through under Bush- before attorneys were allowed onto the base.  For example, the men are now in solitary confinement 24 hours a day. They can have nothing in their cells with them except a small isomat, a sheet and a pillow…I guess it must make the military feel tough and strong to treat the detainees in this fashion. I only wish it would make the American people ashamed about what is being done in their name.”

Dr. Dennis Loo, Professor of Sociology at Cal Poly Pomona, author of Globalization and the Demolition of Society, and the Close Guantanamo Now statement,

"This major statement calling for Guantanamo’s closure, an end to torture and to the attacks on fundamental civil liberties could not be timelier…The GTMO prisoners on hunger strike have passed 100 days in their strike and their lives hang in the balance. The battle to shut down Guantanamo is also part of a larger picture, which the statement also speaks directly to: you cannot separate GTMO from the overall so-called ‘war on terror’…The question is being posed now and in the coming weeks, months, and years: whose stance wins out in the larger society? Those who use torture and kill thousands with drones, or those who demand that all peoples be treated justly and fairly? Will fear win out, or will justice prevail?"

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World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.