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H. Candace Gorman

H. Candace Gorman is a civil rights/human rights lawyer in Chicago who is representing two Guantánamo detainees.

January 11th, 2010 12:14 AM

Eight Years Later and We Are Still Counting

January 11th, 2010 begins the ninth year of America’s Gulag at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Despite the promise made by the brand new President last January 22nd that he would close Guantánamo within a year, the Obama Administration has actually released fewer men from Guantánamo during this past year than the Bush Administration did in any year previously. Instead of making efforts to keep the Presidents promise, the Obama administration has instead complained that it needed to perform its own review of each and every man still at Guantánamo to determine who should be “cleared” for release and then it further complained that there were "no files" for the men. Of course no one would criticize the Administration's need to figure out just who in fact was being held at Guantánamo, and to further determine what, if any, "evidence" there is or might be against the men being held. However, this should not have been a daunting task and as the one year anniversary approaches for Obama’s broken promise to close the place, the review of the nearly 200 remaining men, which, given all the available information compiled for their court cases if nothing else, should have taken only a few weeks to perform, but is still not completed to this day. Politics, of course explains part of the problem but the Obama Administration’s apparent need to kowtow to right wing zealots is the main factor. Admitting now that it will not even come close to meeting its own deadline, the Obama Administration is no longer even predicting a closing date.

When I say that the review of these men should not have been a daunting task you should remember that reports leaked from the CIA show that as early as August 2002 the CIA had concluded that most of the Guantánamo detainees "did not belong there." In fact, back in 2003 the former Joint Task Force Guantánamo commander, General Hood, and his deputy commander, General Lucenti, both stated that "a large number" of the Guantánamo detainees “shouldn't be there . . . and have no meaningful connection to al Qaeda or the Taliban.” According to General Hood, “sometimes we just didn’t get the right folks,” and the reason those “folks” are still in Guantánamo is because “nobody wants to be the one to sign the release papers…” Many of us had hoped that President Barack Obama was going to be the one with the courage to "sign those release papers." We were sorely wrong.

Instead of looking at the obvious — the fact that there were no files and no evidence suggesting that most of these men had ever done anything wrong signified that, in fact, these men had not done anything wrong and were picked up by mistake because of our ill advised bounty program which provided money, with no questions asked, for turning over “terrorists and murderers” — the Obama Administration unleashed the so-called Department of Justice and the Department of Defense to search for any possible after-the-fact "evidence" that might serve as a justification for keeping these men in custody. Over this past year, unscrupulous government and military officials have tried in vain to adduce evidence to justify keeping the remaining men locked up forever. For one of my clients, Mr. Al-Ghizzawi, this meant that a last minute accusation was concocted that he was a body guard for none other than Osama bin Laden. The Government was shameless, relying as the source of this accusation on a mentally ill detainee who made the claim back in 2005 (almost four years after Mr. Al-Ghizzawi was first locked up). This wild claim was pretty much ignored by both the military and the Government because of the unreliability of the source, but in 2009, under the auspices of the Obama Administration’s need to justify holding an innocent man, the claim took on a new life. The result was that instead of spending my time during most of the last year trying to find a new home for Al-Ghizzawi, I was forced instead to investigate the spurious accusations of a severely mentally ill detainee who accused Al-Ghizzawi and countless other inmates of terrorist activities in hopes of better treatment — spurious accusations that the Government itself did not accept in any context other than to try to hold an innocent man. After months of investigation I was finally able to prove that this report was garbage and the Government dropped the allegation.

While it looks like I am slamming the ineptitude of the Obama Administration, let me at least give credit where it is due and say that not everything has been bad for my clients since Obama took office. For some of the men, including Mr. Al-Ghizzawi, conditions have improved somewhat. We are at least no longer holding this innocent man in solitary confinement 22 to 24 hours a day. Mr. Al-Ghizzawi can now walk around a small area of the prison, talk with his fellow prisoners and, in theory, he could even read some newspapers and watch some television... except that he is near blind now as a result of his eight years as a prisoner of our military. Most days Al-Ghizzawi and other men at Camp 6 are taken to an outside field where they can sit under the shade of trees and look at the mountains in the distance. But this is a far shake from freedom. The fact that we are no longer torturing Mr. Al-Ghizzawi by keeping him in solitary confinement for years on end does not mean that any of us should feel the least bit better about Guantánamo. The fact remains that we are still imprisoning innocent men without charges, possibly for the rest of their lives.

As mentioned above, January 11th is the eight year anniversary of the opening of America’s Gulag. Like many Americans who saw the President's inauguration and read or saw his “day one” Executive Orders, my clients had hoped that they would soon be free after Mr. Obama was elected president (and Obama promised to close the place by January 22, 2010). When I saw Mr. Al-Ghizzawi in the spring of last year he told me that his life was easier knowing there was a date by which time he would be out of Guantánamo. I could see the difference in his demeanor as he spoke of his eventual freedom. Even then I was skeptical of Obama meeting his deadline because of the dawdling of Obama’s minions that I observed, but I certainly said nothing to discourage Mr. Al-Ghizzawi.  Over the summer when I visited Al-Ghizzawi again it was clear that Mr. Al-Ghizzawi, too, was starting to lose hope but we did not talk about it. At my last visit in December, however, it was just too clear. Few men had left the Gulag and the deadline was quickly approaching. Obama’s promise to close the place was just another empty promise... just like the Supreme Court decisions that I tried over the years to convince my clients offered hope for freedom, only to be promptly ignored by District Court judges and Court of Appeals judges.  

If we are ever going to cease to be a country rightly regarded as hypocrites who think nothing of ignoring either our own laws or international law when it suits our own interest, then we must start with the demand to the Obama Administration that the President’s year-old promise be kept and Guantánamo be closed now. And closing Guantánamo does not mean a shell game of moving the same men to a prison here in the United States to continue to languish without charges. On January 11 you can do some things to show the Obama administration that it is not acceptable to continue to run this Gulag. If you can get to Washington DC on January 11th, you can join activists in protesting another year of the Gulag. If you have more time join Witness Against Torture in DC for a vigil and fasting starting on January 11th (the Eight-year anniversary of opening Guantánamo) continuing to January 22nd (the broken promise date — the day by which the Obama Administration promised the American people and the world that it would have closed Guantánamo). If nothing else you can join Human Rights First in its pictorial petition drive.

What is not acceptable for anyone of goodwill is to continue to ignore the fact that the United States is in violation of the law (ours and the civilized world's) by holding hundreds of men for eight years without so much as charging them with any wrongdoing. Do your part to help us close the Guantánamo Gulag once and for all.

Interested in the Guantánamo litigation? See my blog at:

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