Demonstrators at White House Demand Obama Keep His Promise to Close Guantanamo

By Philip Shepherd | January 12, 2012 | 10:12pm EST

Detainees play soccer in the recreation area of Camp Six at Joint Task Force Guantanamo, Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, March 1, 2011. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Elisha Dawkins/Released)

( – Protestors gathered in front of the White House on Wednesday and called on President Barack  Obama, Congress, and the Supreme Court to close Guantanamo Bay and end what they say amounts to “a catastrophe for the international reputation of the United States.”

Ten years after the first terrorism suspects were moved to Guantanamo (Gitmo) and three years after President Obama promised to close what he called “a sad chapter in American History,” the Gitmo detention camp remains open.

On Jan. 22, 2009, two days after his inauguration, President Obama issued executive orders mandating the closing of the Guantanamo prison within one year and the review of detention policy options.  In March of 2011, the Obama administration formally created an indefinite detention system at Guantanamo.

The demonstrations at the White House, led by Amnesty International USA, were organized to mark the 10-year anniversary and urge President Obama to keep his promise to shut down the detention facility.

The Guantanamo Bay Naval Base is located in the southeast corner of Cuba and has been there under treaty since 1903. The Gitmo detention camp was opened in 2002.

“Ten years on, we should be witnessing the closure of Guantanamo and the end of unlawful detention policies,” said Tom Parker, Amnesty International USA’s policy director for terrorism and human rights, in a press release.

President Barack Obama. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

“There is plenty of blame to go around,” he said.  “Congress has worked diligently to block the president’s attempts to close Guantanamo, but the president has also failed to make the case to the American people that it must be closed.  By failing to fight for the principles he articulated on the campaign trail, President Obama has encouraged his opponents to redouble their efforts to keep Guantanamo open.”

During his speech at the demostration, Tom Parker explained that Guantanamo represents “very powerful anti-human rights messages to the world.”  In his list he cited the humane treatment of detainees being treated as a policy choice rather than a legal requirement.  Another example, he said, is that, “the right to a trial depends on where you come from.”

Parker went on to say that justice can be manipulated to ensure a government victory.  “Like the Bush administration, team Obama keeps its hand firmly on its side of the scales of justice.”

Vince Warren of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a liberal group, said, “Two consecutive presidential administrations have abdicated their responsibilities.”  He went on to say that when the three branches of government – executive, legislative, and judicial – have failed, it is up to the fourth branch, the people, to spur action.

Attorney General Eric Holder. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

One demonstrator told that she hopes the demonstrations send a message that people “aren’t going to sit idly by while the administration goes around what it said it would do.”  She went on to say that she hopes the demonstrations “will illustrate how many people are passionate about this.”

Another demonstrator said she wanted to see the detainees charged or released and the facility closed.  “We will fight to close it,” she said.

Some of the demonstrators wore orange jump suits mirroring the attire of detainees.  A few even wore black sacks over their heads.  Many of them carried signs that read:

“Investigate and Prosecute U.S. Torture”

“Who Would Jesus Torture?”

“Obama Close GTMO”

An Amnesty International USA press release read, “There can be little doubt that rejuvenation of Guantanamo is a catastrophe for the international reputation of the United States and for the promotion of human rights worldwide.  Instead of putting an end to this symbol of the United States’ human rights failures, the U.S. government just revitalized it under new management.”

A detainee learns typing skills during a life skills class in Camp Six at Joint Task Force Guantanamo in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Oct. 20, 2010. The purpose of the class was to enhance literacy in reading and writing in subjects of health and finance. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Elisha Dawkins/Released)

Other liberal and left-wing organizations provided speakers for the event, including the Crimes of War Education Project, Center for Constitutional Rights, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and Witness Against Torture.

Although as president-elect Obama said he would close Gitmo by the end of 2009, his attorney general Eric Holder told reporters in May 2011: “Although we have not closed Guantanamo within the time period that we initially indicated … it is still the intention of the president, and it is still my intention, to close the facility that exists in Guantanamo. We will continue our efforts in that regard.”

“We think that by closing that facility the national security of the United States will be enhanced,” said Holder.

An April 2011 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed that 67 percent of Americans approve of “keeping open the prison at Guantanamo Bay for terror suspects.”

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