MALAK BEHROUZNAMI, REPORTER, TRNN: On January 11, 2011, organizations including the Center for Constitutional Rights, Amnesty International USA, and Witness Against Torture met in front of the White House to rally against the Obama administration’s reluctance to close down the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay.
FRIDA BERRIGAN, ORGANIZER, WITNESS AGAINST TORTURE: Today, tragically, 173 men remain at the prison that President Barack Obama promised to empty by last January.
BEHROUZNAMI: Following the rally, the groups marched to the Department of Justice to demand fair trials for the remaining prisoners.
CARMEN TROTTA, ORGANIZER, WITNESS AGAINST TORTURE: The law is nothing, law is nothing if it is severed from its tie with justice. Possibly the greatest infringement of that connection between law and justice has been the penal colony established at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, established by the Bush administration, and now concretized, unfortunately, by the Obama administration.
BEHROUZNAMI: January 22, 2011, marks the two-year anniversary of President Obama’s first executive order calling for the closure of the prison within a year.
BARACK OBAMA, US PRESIDENT: This is me following through on not just a commitment I made during the campaign, but I think an understanding that dates back to our founding fathers, that we are willing to observe core standards of conduct not just when it’s easy but also when it’s hard.
BEHROUZNAMI: But today’s participants see no change in the situation.
ANDY WORTHINGTON, AUTHOR, THE GUANTANAMO FILES: Well, this is exactly what Bush set in place nine years ago. It sends out a terrible message if we are going to accept indefinite detention without charge or trial as a kind of new government policy for 2011.
BEHROUZNAMI: In addition to fair trials for the prisoners, protesters like Andy Worthington demanded safe resettlement for those in Guantanamo.
WORTHINGTON: There are about 30 other prisoners who cannot be released because the countries they’re from, they face torture if they are returned there.
BEHROUZNAMI: Among the 89 prisoners that have been granted clearance but remain at the facility, 58 are from Yemen.
WORTHINGTON: The government itself has stated that it doesn’t want to carry on holding 89 of those men. Why are they still there? Well, they are there because 58 of them are Yemenis, and if you recall, on Christmas Day 2009, a Nigerian man tried to blow up a plane, and when it turned out that he had apparently been recruited in Yemen, there was a backlash against releasing any Yemeni prisoners.
BEHROUZNAMI: On January 5, 2010, days after the attempted attack of Northwest Airlines Flight 253, President Obama gave a speech regarding the status of Yemeni detainees in Guantanamo.
OBAMA: Given the unsettled situation, I’ve spoken to the attorney general, and we’ve agreed that we will not be transferring additional detainees back to Yemen at this time. But make no mistake: we will close Guantanamo prison.
BEHROUZNAMI: Center for Constitutional Rights staff attorney Pardiss Kebriaei speaks of the Yemeni men who still remain in confinement at Guantanamo.
PARDISS KEBRIAEI, ATTORNEY, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: But going back to the men who do want to leave, the 90 who’ve been approved, Guantanamo would be less than half of its current population if these men, who, again, had been determined by the government’s own people, its own task force, individuals who have a stake in the matter who are not a liberal group, who have determined unanimously to approve to leave Guantanamo if these people could actually leave, approximately 30 of these men are from countries that they can’t go back to because they fear they will be tortured, and they need safe countries for resettlement if their detention is ever to end.
BEHROUZNAMI: According to Amnesty International USA’s advocacy and policy director Tom Parker, the Obama administration is violating restitution rights, which under international rule are entitled to detainees.
TOM PARKER, SENIOR POLICY DIRECTOR, AMNESTY INT’L USA: Under the international covenant of civil and political rights, if you are wrongly held, you are entitled to restitution. The United States so far has actually only paid out restitution to one individual wrongfully detained in the course of the war on terror. That’s an American citizen by the name of Brandon Mayfield. You may remember Mayfield. He was picked up in the aftermath of the Madrid train bombings, one of the very rare occasions where a fingerprint was actually wrongly identified. He was held for two weeks, he was released, and he received $2 million and an apology from the US government. Nobody–there has not been an American citizen [inaudible] received similar treatment.
BEHROUZNAMI: People today are protesting against current judicial procedures in Guantanamo, which they consider makes it difficult to determine whether prisoners are guilty or innocent.
PARKER: So far, military commissions have convicted only five people. Four of those five pled guilty. And that’s part of a disturbing trend that has emerged in Guantanamo. Knowing the odds are so heavily stacked against them, and the sentences that face them are so outsized, defendants are now pleading guilty out of desperation.
BEHROUZNAMI: Citizens today offered alternate approaches to expedite the trials of those at Guantanamo.
PARKER: There is an obvious alternative: use federal courts. Something very unremarkable happened in downtown Manhattan towards the end of the year last year, and that was the trial of Ahmed Ghailani, one of the individuals charged with involvement in the attacks on two American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He was tried with a minimum of fuss at a downtown federal court in lower Manhattan. Nobody was hurt. There was no terrorist attacks. Lower Manhattan didn’t grind to a halt. Instead, you had a courtroom, evidence was presented, a jury deliberated, and a sentence was passed. That is the standard we should be getting back to.
BEHROUZNAMI: In the weeks to follow, organizers from today’s action, including Witness Against Torture, will be conducting similar events, such as a nationwide fast, to mark the ten-year anniversary of Guantanamo Bay prison and to pressure President Obama to shut down the facility.
End of Transcript
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