Sunday, 25 May 2014

Indefinite inaction: Obama’s pledge to close Guantánamo Bay

Amid a hunger strike by detainees at Guantánamo Bay that started last year, President Obama was forced to respond to critical media reports and international criticism by renewing his 2008 campaign pledge to close the notorious detention facility.

Human rights activists and dozens of organizations have pledged to launch a global day of protest in dozens of cities around the world to highlight the inaction of the Obama administration since the president delivered his last major speech on the issue on May 23, 2013. Despite the president’s apparent moral reservations over the on-going torture, force-feeding, and indefinite detention of prisoners in the facility, only 12 men have been released from custody in the last twelve months.

The facility in Guantánamo opened its doors in 2002 under the Bush administration, and was built on a 45-square-mile slice of Cuba that was leased to the United States over a century ago. The facility had an estimated 779 detainees at its peak, and most have been released without charges, while 154 remain in custody, nearly all of whom have never been charged with a crime or given due process.

In 2010, the administration assembled a task force charged with reviewing the cases of Guantánamo detainees. Although the Periodic Review Board assembled by the US government has cleared 77 inmates for release, they all remain in custody. 56 of the men are from Yemen, and the administration is unwilling to release them on the basis of their nationality over fears that the security situation in Yemen remains too unstable.

Some 40 detainees have bravely continued their hunger strike to protest their illegal detention, despite the punishment and excoriating pain of force-feeding, which is condemned by international medical associations and advocacy groups. Independent assessments from NGOs and legal experts tend to be unanimous in their belief the evidence used to implicate Guantánamo detainees is extraordinarily thin, and that the vast majority of those in custody are not extremists.

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Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at