Guantanamo inmates’ pleas to Obama ahead of major speech

May 23, 2013

Image of a man standing outside of a prison gate with the sun setting behind him

Hunger-striking Guantanamo Bay detainees have made direct pleas to President Obama ahead of today’s speech in which he is expected to outline his plans for the US prison.

Among them is Shaker Aamer, a British resident, who calls on the President to begin by freeing the 86 detainees who have been cleared for release by the US Government – of whom Mr Aamer is one.

Under his existing powers, Obama could order an authorisation to be signed immediately that would allow prisoners cleared for release to be transferred out of the prison at once. Another detainee, Nabil Hadjarab – who has been cleared for release since 2007 – takes issue with the President’s previous claims that Congress prevents him from taking action: “You say that Congress gives you no power? Are you not the President? In the end, the last word is yours,” he says.

Today’s speech comes amid the ongoing hunger-strike at Guantanamo by detainees protesting their continuing detention without charge. President Obama claims that the annually-renewed National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA) is the reason he has been unable to close the prison – as he promised to do. Yet the NDAA allows Obama to waive the restrictions on transferring men out of the prison if it is in the US’ National Security interests to do so.

Obama has said before that transferring men out of the prison camp is in the interests of national security, saying that “[Guantanamo] is inefficient, it hurts us in terms of our international standing, it lessens co-operation with our allies on counter-terrorism efforts, it is a recruitment tool for extremists, it needs to be closed.”British resident Shaker Aamer, who the UK Government has repeatedly said that they want returned to his family in London, said to the President:

“You need to hand over the 86 people who have been cleared…in the end this place has no solution except close it down.”

Aamer is among the approximately 140 detainees in the prison on hunger strike.Yemeni Samir Mokbel, whose comments were published in the New York Times in April, said on a phone call with his lawyer:“For more than two months we have heard no suggestions or initiatives put forward by the American government to solve the issues of the prisoners nor have they given any instructions to solve the problem of the strike. We have only heard a statement from the ministry of defence that the number of strikers has increased and that there is a possibility of deaths in the future.”

Clive Stafford Smith, director of human rights charity Reprieve and lawyer for the men, said: “How can Obama refuse a waiver for Shaker? He can hardly say the UK is a terrorist state, and as we have long made clear Shaker agrees to any arrangements the US or UK wants to impose, as all he wants is to be back with his children. Obama can only refuse us if he is insincere.”


Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Clemency Wells in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 553 8161 /

2. The pleas from Shaker Aamer, Nabil Hadjarab and Samir Mokbel come from unclassified notes of meetings and phone calls with their lawyers.

3. For further information on the NDAA and how President Obama can authorise the transfer of prisoners out of Guantanamo Bay, see Reprieve’s website.

4. Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

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