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April 30, 2013

Call to Close Guantanamo Gains Momentum

As a result of recent events, the chorus to close Guantanamo has grown.   According to the Department of Defense, 100 out of 166 Guantanamo detainees are currently on hunger strike.  Lawyers for the men have put the number at over 130.  According to a Defense Department spokesman, more than a fifth of the hunger strikers are being force fed, a practice which the American Medical Association opposes.

General Kelly, commander of Southern Command, testified before the House Armed Services Committee that the hunger strikers are “devastated” that the prison has not closed, and that the majority who have been cleared for transfer by the intelligence and security committees remain hopelessly stuck there.

Today, President Obama responded to the growing alarm over the hunger strikes, pledging to explore all administrative and Congressional options to close the facility. "I continue to believe that we've got to close Guantanamo...It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed," the President said.

President Obama’s renewed commitment to close Guantanamo follows calls by Members of Congress to act.

On April 26, Senator Dianne Feinstein wrote to Tom Donilon, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, stating that the “level of desperation” among detainees was at its highest level.  Feinstein asked “that the Administration renew its efforts to transfer out the 86 detainees at the Guantanamo Bay who were cleared for transfer by the Executive Branch’s interagency Guantanamo Review Task Force over three years ago.”

Feinstein also asked that Obama appoint someone within the White House to head the effort, and to revisit his decision to halt all transfers to Yemen.  It should be noted that Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, and knows very well the security threats faced by the United States,  supported the ban on transfer originally, and now urges that the ban be lifted.

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On April 25, Representative Adam Smith spoke to C-SPAN about Guantanamo. He says, "We need to close Guantanamo. It is a completely unsustainable situation right now...we lose our credibility on human rights issues, and what do we get out of it? One-hundred-sixty-six people held at Guantanamo that could just as easily could be sent back to their home countries … It’s descended into a political argument, but we have got to close Guantanamo Bay."

The hunger strike has prompted editorials from the Washington Post, New York Times, Chicago Tribune (two of them), The Guardian, Boston Globe, USA Today, Baltimore Sun, Boston Herald, Denver Post, and even an op-ed in the New York Times from a current Guantanamo detainee on hunger strike, titled “Gitmo is Killing Me.”

Human Rights First published a blueprint in December: How to Close Guantanamo. The blueprint details how the President can act now to start closing the facility.  This is a moment when the President can act.  The question is will he?