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January 20, 2015

President Renews Guantanamo Pledge in State of the Union Address

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today welcomed remarks made by President Obama during his State of the Union address that emphasized his continued commitment to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. The organization urges Congress and the administration to heed the president’s calls for action and double down on efforts to close the prison by the end of President Obama’s second term.

“As President Obama enters the last two years of his presidency, now is the time for him to follow through on the promises made in his executive order to close Guantanamo once and for all,” said Human Rights First’s Daphne Eviatar. “The president said tonight, ‘We've worked responsibly to cut the population of GTMO in half.  Now it's time to finish the job.  And I will not relent in my determination to shut it down.  It's not who we are.’ While this is good to hear, he needs to follow up this rhetoric with action in the coming weeks.”

Of the remaining Guantanamo detainees, 54 have been cleared by U.S. intelligence and security agencies and should be transferred without delay. The vast majority of the other remaining detainees will face Periodic Review Board hearings —an interagency process currently underway that will assess whether the detainees pose a significant security threat to the United States or should be cleared for transfer. Human Rights First calls on the administration to complete all of the Periodic Review Board hearings by the end of 2015.

 "It is encouraging to see President Obama pledge to follow through on his promise to close down the infamous detention site, and we urge him to continue the transfers out of the facility and not be deterred by political attempts by members of Congress to obstruct progress," noted Eviatar.

Last week Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Richard Burr (R-NC), and John McCain (R-AZ), proposed legislation that would include a blanket ban on transferring detainees who, at any point, were considered a "medium" or "high" risk threat by the Joint Task Force at Guantanamo, regardless of their current threat level. The bill would also ban transfers of detainees to Yemen and reinstate misguided transfer certification requirements that could prevent the transfer of detainees to any country in which there has been a prior confirmed case of "recidivism."

The organization welcomes President Obama’s announcement that he will ask Congress for an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to address the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Human Rights First urges Congress and the administration to work together to craft a narrowly-tailored AUMF that also includes provisions to sunset the over-broad 2001 AUMF.

Human Rights First also praises President Obama's State of the Union remarks detailing his opposition to torture and antisemitism, as well as his championing of LGBT rights around the globe.

For more information, see Human Rights First’s blueprint, “How to Close Guantanamo” and fact sheet, “Guantanamo Recidivism Concerns Are Overblown.” To speak with Eviatar, contact Corinne Duffy at DuffyC@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3319.