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Guantanamo: new online petition targets Obama ahead of major security speech

Appeal to White House comes as hunger strike heightens concerns for remaining detainees

Ahead of a scheduled speech later today from US President Barack Obama on Guantánamo and security issues, Amnesty International has launched a new appeal to the White House to end the “dangerous stalemate” at Guantánamo, where a mass hunger strike is now over 100 days old.

Names added to our online petition will be sent to the White House ahead of Mr Obama’s speech, to be delivered at the National Defense University in Washington at around 6.30pm UK time. Nearly 10,000 people have supported the petition since it was launched yesterday evening.

The petition calls on President Obama to follow up on his recently renewed commitment to close Guantánamo, saying “this must be conducted as a matter of urgency”, while calling for an end to the force-feeding of hunger strikers at the detention centre.

The petition comes as fears grow for Shaker Aamer, the last remaining former UK resident at Guantánamo. Aamer, who has been held without charge or trial at Guantánamo for over 11 years, has expressed fears through his lawyer that he may not live to see his family in the UK again. Aamer is one of more than 100 detainees taking part in the hunger strike at Guantánamo in protest at their indefinite detention by the US military.

There are reports that Aamer, along with approximately 30 other hunger strikers, is being force-fed, which is contrary to medical ethics when undertaken against a mentally competent hunger striker. The 44-year-old Aamer has also alleged that he has been tortured at Guantánamo (and before that in Afghanistan), and he is said to have spent long periods in solitary confinement with deteriorating health.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:
“The dangerous stalemate at Guantánamo needs urgent political action, and now, at long last, President Obama must make good on his promise to close Guantánamo.

“If action isn’t forthcoming from the White House and Congress over Guantánamo soon, we fully expect to see detainee deaths.

“Over Shaker Aamer’s incredibly worrying situation, we need to see the UK making public calls on President Obama for his immediate return to his family here in Britain.

“Guantánamo has always been a total travesty of justice. It’s time for detainees to be brought before federal courts for civilian trials on the US mainland, or for them to be released.”

Background information:

  • 779 detainees have been held at the US detention centre at Guantánamo since 2002.
  • 166 men remain at Guantánamo.
  • Seven detainees have been convicted by military commissions, five as a result of pre-trial agreements under which they pleaded guilty. Four of them have been repatriated.
  • Six detainees are currently facing death sentences after unfair trials staged by military commissions.
  • Nine detainees have died in custody in Guantánamo.
  • About 600 detainees have been transferred from Guantánamo to other countries since 2002.
  • 48 detainees will be held indefinitely rather than be released or tried, the US administration said in 2010.

Guantánamo was earmarked for closure by January 2010 by President Obama shortly after his election in 2009. In recent years the Obama administration has blamed its failure to close Guantánamo on opposition from the US Congress. Nevertheless, President Obama has signed the National Defense Authorization Act, legislation which places obstacles in the way of Guantánamo’s closure. 

  • For more background on Guantánamo and the hunger strike, read our latest briefing on the camp: Briefing: ‘I have no reason to believe that I will ever leave this prison alive’ (3 May 2013)

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