In what has unfortunately become an annual event, Witness Against Torture and other activists, including members of World Can't Wait, will be taking actions in various parts of the nation to mark the ninth anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo Bay prison. The demonstrations will be a combination of protest and nonviolent direct action that will bring out the significance of January 11th, which is the date that the first detainees arrived at Guantanamo in 2002.
Jeremy Varon with Witness Against Torture spoke to me about the planned actions today and expressed great frustration with the Obama Administration, which has for the most part given up on closing Guantanamo. Varon said Witness Against Torture was "pretty thrilled two years ago when Obama signed the executive order saying Guantanamo would be closed within a year." The organization "contemplated disbanding the organization," retiring their close Guantanamo banner. They planned "100 Days to Close Guantanamo" campaigns, which started on the 11th of January and stuck around in D.C. to support the president and his goal of closing Guantanamo."
Varon described how on policy issue after policy issue the Obama Administration has largely implemented Bush Administration policies listing off the continued practice of indefinite detention without charge or trial, denial of habeas rights to prisoners in Bagram, and immunity to Bush Administration officials who created legal justification for violating the rule of law.
Judge Urbina ordered the release of Uighur Muslims from Guantanamo in the late days of the Bush Administration. The Bush Administration appealed the decision. This, to Varon, would have been a good opportunity for the Obama Administration to step in and annul the appeal and allow Uighurs to resettle in D.C. or somewhere else in the U.S. But, that didn't happen so creating support for resettlement of detainees was nearly impossible.
When the Obama Administration was met with Islamophobia and hysteria from the Republicans, the Administration did not really explain why the detainees needed to be resettled. Even at a speech at the National Archives in 2009, President Obama was incapable of truly communicating the moral imperative of closing Guantanamo. All Obama could do is speak in "incredibly vague terms" about America needing to provide for "American security" without "violating" American values. Nothing really was said about lawlessness, torture, or gross abuse of values at the prison.
Varon contends these were the Administration's biggest problems and why Guantanamo is not closing on time. Also, when asked if Obama issued an executive order to tamp down protest against Guantanamo, Varon speculated that the Administration might have made a political calculation. The announcement to close Guantanamo did a good amount to repair America's image. He admitted there could have been a "calculation" that they could take a "hit" from portion of "electorate that really cares about Guantanamo."
Also, Varon recognizes there are "structural imperatives about American power and American war making that might require a harsh detention regime to wage a global war on terror" so the "problems are more systemic."
Witness Against Torture got its start in 2005 when 25 friends and activists got on a plane and flew to Cuba. The small group, according to Varon, walked from Cuba to the navy base at Guantanamo to engage in "an act of protest of the detention camp, an act of moral witness and an attempt to visit the prisoners out of Christian mercy and then that episode got some international attention in England and media in the United States."
Since then, the group has been quite active. The group's continued actions signify a commitment to the repudiation of key Bush Administration policies and a dedication to protesting policies that Obama has continued. Varon understands that right wing fear and paranoia has not made it easy. But, he also understand that government has a basic duty to adhere to and stand up for the rule of law.
Demonstrations to mark the 9th anniversary are for the people, a reminder of what America is still doing as a country. The group will be fasting and holding daily vigils "throughout Washington, haunting the sites of power with the specter of Guantanamo's cruel injustice." The fasting will end on January 22, the day President Obama had pledged to close Guantanamo.
In conclusion, Varon appropriately said while I was speaking to him, "Bush didn't require Congress to open Guantanamo. Obama shouldn't require Congress to close Guantanamo." That simple fact should be enough for people to understand they do not need permission from Obama to continue to campaign for the closure of Guantanamo Bay.