Letter urges close Guantanamo prison

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United Methodist General Board of Church & Society is among 20 human rights, religious, and civil liberties organizations that have endorsed a letter urging President Obama to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

The letter, sent Oct. 7, points to the more than four-month delay the Obama administration has allowed in failing to meet two of its key commitments on closing Guantanamo and ending indefinite detention.

The letter … points to the more than four-month delay the Obama administration has allowed in failing to meet two of its key commitments.

The letter was coordinated by the American Civil Liberties Union and cites the administration’s two key commitments as:

  1. appoint an envoy in the Dept. of Defense to lead the effort to close Guantanamo, and
  2. direct Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to use his existing statutory authority, including any applicable certifications or national security waivers specified by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 to transfer cleared detainees from Guantanamo to foreign countries that will respect their human rights.

National Defense University

The letter points out that more than four months have passed since the president delivered his May 23 speech at the National Defense University, in which he recommitted to the goal of closing the Guantanamo prison.

‘That is contrary to who we are, it is contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop.’

Shortly before that speech, on April 30, during a White House press conference, the president stated: “The idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried, that is contrary to who we are, it is contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop.”

The president also reiterated his commitment to closing the Guantanamo prison last month, in his speech at the United Nations.

“We greatly appreciate these important statements of a renewed commitment,” the letter states. “However, despite your personal commitment and engagement, the population at Guantanamo over the past four months has been reduced by only two detainees, moving only from 166 to 164. Of the detainees who remain, 84 were cleared for transfer by national security officials more than four years ago.”

Other endorsers

Other endorsers of the letter include American Friends Service Committee, Amnesty International USA, Center for Constitutional Rights, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Human Rights Watch, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Presbyterian Church (USA), Physicians for Human Rights and Win Without War.

“Your order to fully use your existing authority to transfer cleared detainees ‘to the greatest extent possible’ appears to have been largely thwarted by some administration officials applying exceedingly narrow interpretations of that authority,” the letter points out. “Their interpretations defy a plain reading of the statute and cut against the stated intent of both its authors and the Senate committee of jurisdiction.”

A number of countries are clearly interested in receiving transferred detainees, and have the ability to reintegrate detainees back into society, according to the letter. It advises that unless a detainee objects to a transfer based on a fear of denial of human rights, including a fear of treatment that would violate the Convention Against Torture, the United States should transfer detainees to these countries.

The letter asserts that the list of governments seeking the return of their citizens is long, and includes important allies of the United States.

The letter with its endorsers is available at Close Guantano Detention Center.

Letter to the Editor