This is big news. At long last, the Obama administration has reportedly notified both Congress and the UK government that Guantanamo detainee Shaker Aamer will be transferred home to the UK after 13 years. Shaker’s case has for years compelled the Amnesty movement, along with many others, to call loudly for him to be transferred back to the UK. So today’s news is, to say the least, heartening. But as we celebrate, let us not forget – there is much more to be done, and not much time left to do it.
The detention facility at Guantanamo Bay continues to house many who, like Shaker, have been approved for transfer. About half of the current detainees, in fact, are waiting for their own transfer. Although the U.S. national security agencies have conducted stringent reviews and cleared these people for transfer out of the prison, they are still there. They languish behind bars even though many have been cleared for years. Some, like Shaker, were cleared both by the Bush administration and now by the Obama administration. Yet still they wait to be free. Just as Shaker will soon be transferred out, so too should they not sleep one more night behind Guantanamo’s walls.
There has been a trickle of transfers lately, which is very good news. But time is running out. Congress is in the process of imposing radical new restrictions on the Obama administration’s ability to transfer detainees out of the prison. The Obama administration itself has very little time left before the end of the presidency. President Obama signed an executive order to close Guantanamo in January of 2009, yet the detainees are still there. The inaction so far is inexcusable, but it is not too late. There is still time to do the right thing and to put an end to the human rights violations at Guantanamo.
The administration should focus its resources on continuing transfers such as Shaker’s. As soon as possible, it must transfer cleared detainees out of the prison. Additionally, it should abandon the failed military commissions system, which is incapable of bringing justice or respecting human rights, and instead pursue prosecutions through civilian trials under international fair trial standards. Anyone whom it does not intend to prosecute must be released. There is no other way around it – every day individuals remain indefinitely detained is another day that the United States commits human rights violations and loses its credibility to press for protection of human rights around the world.
Lastly, the administration must ensure accountability and access to redress for those like Shaker who have alleged torture or other ill-treatment. Full closure of Guantanamo should mean not just moving individuals, but fully respecting their human rights by providing access to the redress to which they are legally entitled. The Justice Department should re-open investigations into CIA torture and pursue prosecutions of those responsible.
Shaker Aamer will be soon leave Guantanamo. This is cause for celebration, and the Amnesty movement helped make this happen. Importantly, this is also evidence that more progress is possible and could be within our reach. Our work is not yet finished.