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June 12, 2013

White House Urged to Make Progress on Shuttering Guantanamo

Washington, D.C. – Just days after White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough joined Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) for a tour the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Human Rights First is urging him to take immediate action to shutter the facility. In a letter sent to McDonough today, Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino detailed specific steps the administration should take to bring the number of detainees held at Guantanamo down to zero, a goal reiterated by President Obama during his recent speech at the National Defense University.

“The president has a window of opportunity to build on the growing bipartisan support for closing Guantanamo,” wrote Massimino. “It should begin by immediately initiating transfers of as many of the 86 detainees as possible, including those from Yemen, who already have been cleared for transfer.  We urge the administration to act swiftly on these cases.  Senator Levin recently wrote to the president reminding him that he has substantial authority to make transfers by invoking a national security waiver in current law.  In light of the president’s authority, the number of countries that have asked that their nationals be returned, and the significant time the administration has had to finalize transfer agreements, failure to start transfers now would undermine the momentum established by the president’s speech.”

In addition to the transfers, Massimino urged the administration to ensure that the Periodic Review Boards promised two years ago begin immediately so that detainees are afforded due process and adequate representation in any decision about their continued detention. “Any detainee who is cleared by a competent tribunal should not face the extra hurdle of being certified before transfer,” Massimino noted.

Today’s letter also encouraged the administration to seek waiver authority from Congress to permit the transfer of detainees to the United States for prosecution. Massimino observed, “The military commissions continue to struggle, and the president has repeatedly stated that the federal courts are preferable.  Moreover, federal appellate courts have now overturned the convictions of two Guantanamo detainees, ruling that the charges of material support and conspiracy were not war crimes at time the offenses were committed.  Other detainees facing the same charges could likely be tried for those offenses in a U.S. federal court; indeed, that may be the only way to secure convictions.”

Massimino’s letter to the White House comes a week after a group of 16 retired admirals and generals met with senior members of President Obama’s national security team. The retired military leaders, many of whom stood behind the president in the Oval Office as he signed executive orders to close Guantanamo and end torture, expressed their desire for the adminsitration to use its existing authority to make progress toward closing Guantanamo. During last week’s meeting, the leaders pledged to advocate for the administration’s plan to do so and reassured the White House that they plan to stay engaged in the issue until the detention facility is eliminated.

“Members on both sides of the aisle have offered to engage constructively with the administration in support of the shared goal of closing Guantanamo.  Some have asked for the administration’s comprehensive plan for closing the facility.  We believe the administration has articulated various aspects of a plan; it should now bring that together into a comprehensive framework as soon as possible to demonstrate its resolve,” Massimino’s letter concluded.

In December 2012, Human Rights First released a blueprint How To Close Guantanamo, a comprehensive plan detailing steps to close Guantanamo. For more information about the blueprint or to speak with Massimino, please contact Brenda Bowser Soder at bowsersoderb@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3323.