Jessica Desvarieux, TRNN Producer: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
September 23 marks four months since President Obama recommitted to closing Gitmo.
Now joining us to give us an update on what the president has done since then is Michael Ratner. He is the president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York and a regular contributor to The Real News.
Thanks for being with us, Michael.
Michael Ratner, President Emeritus, Center for Constitutional Rights: Good to be with you, Jessica, and good to be with Real News.
Desvarieux: So, Michael, what has the president actually done since he made his promise about four months ago to close Gitmo?
Ratner: You know how they used to say Nero fiddled while Rome burned? Well, Obama has been fiddling while Guantanamo remains open. A hundred and sixty-four people remain there. They’re indefinitely detained. They’ve been there for 12 years, most of them. In fact, the Center for Constitutional Rights, where I work, was the earliest organization that started litigating those cases. We filed the cases in February 2002. Some of those people remain in Guantanamo.
I’m talking about it. As you pointed out, it’s the four-month anniversary of the speech he gave saying he would close Guantanamo. He only gave that speech after the hunger strike started some two months before, and he was fearful, I think, that people were going to start to die on the hunger strike and fearful that there was an opposition growing in the United States and around the world to Guantanamo, and he tried to calm it down. So he gave this speech four months ago—again, was forced because of the hunger strike.
But once again, it’s typical Obama. He calmed the waters with a speech in which he made a lot of promises, as he has done before with Guantanamo. Look it, he promised he was going to close Guantanamo before he was elected five years ago. Within a few days of taking office he signed an executive order saying he would close it. It still remains open. He, unfortunately, keeps giving speeches but doesn’t actually do anything.
So let’s look at the two things that he promised in that speech. The first is that he would reappoint or appoint someone in the administration to the Department of Defense to help close Guantanamo and get it closed. You have to remember, in the second term he got rid of the people who were going to close Guantanamo. Only after the hunger strike did he make a promise that he would appoint a Defense Department person to close it. He has failed to do that, not done it. Inexcusable. There’s someone at State Department but no one at the Department of Defense. He can’t even get that off the ground.
The second thing he promised—the second thing he promised was that he would start to transfer people to the countries they were from or other countries where they could be safely held. And let’s look at that. There are some 86 people who the United States government itself has said are cleared for release. That means they’re not guilty of anything. Never been tried. But even my own government, our own government says they’ve been cleared. They can go back to countries.
Now, it’s true that Congress has put restrictions on those transfers. The president has to go through certain hoops, does these certifications. But in fact he can transfer 86 people that have been cleared for release tomorrow. He can do it. He can certify it, give Congress the 30-day notice, and then get them transferred.
What has he done in four months? He’s transferred two people in four months to Algeria. There were 88 that could be transferred who had been cleared. Now there’s 86. So that’s promise number two. Promise number two he has not fulfilled at all. So it’s another case in which Obama has made promises, but it’s what I call pious insincerity.
Nothing has happened, really, to close Guantanamo. And I fear without action by all of us who are watching this newscast and otherwise that Guantanamo will continue.
Let’s go back through the numbers. A hundred and sixty-six remain there. Eighty-six have been cleared for release. The remainder, the ones that aren’t cleared, should be processed and either cleared and transferred, or they should actually be tried. But, of course, there’s a trial going on that’s been going on for a number of years already. That doesn’t seem to be happening.
Our position at the Center for Constitutional Rights is you either transfer those people immediately or you try them immediately and try them in federal courts where they can get, arguably, a fairer trial than they can ever get at Guantanamo.
What I want to recommend to all the viewers is, obviously, go to the Center for Constitutional Rights website, sign the petitions, get active, go to another website called Witness Against Torture. Witness Against Torture recommends three actions. People are fasting in solidarity with the Guantanamo hunger strike, which is still going on. People are still being force-fed at Guantanamo. People around the country are starting to fast in solidarity. Write to one of the prisoners at Guantanamo. They can help you do that. And make some phone calls to the president, the Congress, and others. But let’s get this thing closed.
You know, I always think—and I’ll end it on this note—if Pinochet were running an offshore prison indefinitely detaining political prisoners, we would be outraged. The world would be outraged. The United States, which claimed once to stand for human rights, is running an offshore inhuman prison camp. Let’s see ourselves get outraged. Let’s get that camp closed once and for all.
Desvarieux: We’ll certainly be keeping track of this story until the camp is closed.
Michael, thank you so much for your analysis.
Ratner: Thank you for having me.
Desvarieux: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.