Video: “Nine Years of Guantánamo: What Now?” — Andy Worthington, Morris Davis, Tom Wilner and Ben Wittes at the New America Foundation, January 11, 2011Written by Andy Worthington Wednesday, 19 January 2011
Andy Worthington discussing President Obama's failure to close Guantanamo at the New America Foundation, Washington D.C., January 11, 2011.
Video of a panel discussion in Washington D.C. on January 11, to debate the future of Guantanamo.
On the afternoon of January 11, after I had spoken at a rally outside The White House and at a protest outside the Department of Justice, the New America Foundation in Washington D.C. hosted a panel discussion, “Nine Years of Guantánamo: What Now?” which I had organized as part of a week-long US tour to raise awareness of the plight of the remaining 173 prisoners at Guantánamo on the 9th anniversary of the prison’s opening.
A packed house — featuring at least 150 journalists, lawyers, academics, activists, and government and military representatives — heard myself, Morris Davis (the former chief prosecutor of the Military Commissions at Guantánamo), attorney Tom Wilner (who argued the Guantánamo cases in the Supreme Court) and Ben Wittes of the Brookings Institution discuss and debate President Obama’s failure to close Guantánamo, what this means, and what can — and should — be done about it, following an introduction, describing the issues, by Patrick Doherty, the panel’s moderator, who heads the New America Foundation’s Smart Strategy Initiative, and is a senior advisor to the Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative.
A video of the panel discussion, including Patrick’s introduction, all four talks and a Q&A session, lasting one hour and 40 minutes in total, is available below, via YouTube, and I’m delighted that it was recorded, as it was a very lively session, raising some important questons, and introducing a note of urgency into mainstream discussions of the topic, which is largely lacking, despite the ongoing shame of President Obama’s failure to close this dark chapter in America’s recent history.
After Patrick’s introduction, I opened up the session, explaining who is still held, and why it is unacceptable that 89 men cleared for release are still held, that 33 men recommended for trials are not being put on trial, and why the administration’s plans to hold 48 of the remaining prisoners indefinitely without charge or trial is a terrible idea. This was the most detailed explanation I delivered during my US visit last week, covering all the themes covered in my articles, Guantánamo Forever? and The Political Prisoners of Guantánamo, and I was very pleased to have such a diverse and attentive audience.
Morris Davis, a former Air Force colonel, who is now the director of the D.C.-based Crimes of War Project, resigned as the chief prosecutor of the Military Commissions at Guantánamo in October 2007, on the day that he was put in a chain of command under Pentagon General Counsel William J. Haynes II, one of the small team of lawyers (including David Addington, John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales), who were close to former Vice President Dick Cheney, and who gave supposed legal cover for the Bush administration’s torture program. In his presentation, he enlightened us all with his analysis of the immediate precedent for Bush’s Military Commissions — involving Nazi saboteurs in World War II — and his reflections on his time at Guantánamo, and on the failure of the Commissions, which are favored by Republicans over the more appropriate venue of federal courts, for terrorist trials.
Following Morris Davis, Ben Wittes, an advocate of new legislation authorizing the indefinite detention of prisoners not only in relation to current circumstances, but also in the future, accepted his role as devil’s advocate for the panel, and his participation prompted a useful and relevant focus on the reasons who those of us who disagree with him retain our belief that a new system is not required: essentially, because the Bush administration’s “new paradigm” of a “War on Terror,” involving holding men indefinitely as “enemy combatants,” was — and remains — a shocking and unnecessary aberration from the existing methods for holding priosners — either as criminals (terrorists), to be tried in federal court, or as prisoners of war (soldiers), to be held according to the Geneva Conventions, which authorizes their detention untl the end of hostilties, and which, if followed by President Bush (or adopted by President Obama) would now mean that lawyers would be arguing how long a war can last.
In response, Tom Wilner, palpably dismayed at the failures and backsliding of the last two years, tackled some of the points raised by Ben Wittes, whom he has known for many years, and delivered a passionate call for anyone concerned about the ongoing existence of Guantánamo to overcome the inertia and apathy that has largely allowed Republican hysteria to go unchecked and unchallenged, and that has allowed President Obama to lose whatever courage he might once have possessed when it comes to removing this dreadful legacy of the Bush and Cheney years. “I am furious and ashamed,” Wilner said at one point (as related by Dan Froomkin in an article for the Huffington Post), adding, “I think Guantánamo is a symbol of fear and weakness.”
A lively Q&A session followed, and I do hope that you will watch the video if you have the time, and forward it, share it, recommend it and cross-post it if you like it. Gatherings like this are all too rare, and I’d like also to thank the New America Foundation for hosting it, and to express my hope that similar events can be arranged in the future, as, without passionate and engaged debate on these issues, it seems unlikely that Guantánamo will be closing in the foreseeable future, and, as a result, 173 men will continue to languish in a situation that — whatever its supposed rationale — ought to be a source of national and international shame. As I stated in my talk, “Every day that a place like Guantánamo is open is an insult to values that decent American people hold.”
Andy Worthington is a Senior Researcher for Cageprisoners. He is also the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America's Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press) and the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the new documentary, "Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo.” Visit his website here.
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