WASHINGTON — While President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai fenced with reporters in a joint press conference, a group of orange-clad protesters challenged the U.S. president from outside the White House.
“President Obama, keep your promise!” demonstrators shouted Friday, in reference to Obama’s inaction on Guantanamo Prison in spite of his promise for its shutdown in his 2008 campaign.
“If there’s one person that has the power to make it happen, it’s the president,” said retired Col. Morris Davis, a speaker at the rally and the former chief military commission prosecutor at Guantanamo. “Even the Secretary of Defense, assuming Mr. Hagel [former Sen. Chuck Hagel] is confirmed, works for the president, and if the president says to make it happen, then it’s his job to make it happen.”
Organized by Amnesty International, the rally began in front of the Supreme Court, about two miles from the White House. Drawing about 100 activists, the event highlighted the 55 detainees who have been cleared for transfer by the Obama administration but are still imprisoned in Guantanamo. The 55, still held at Gitmo, were represented by the demonstrators’ hooded, orange jumpsuits. In all, 166 are incarcerated at the island prison. From the Supreme Court, protesters marched to the White House Ellipse Park, filling the overcast Washington air with ringing cries for justice.
Many of the protesters traveled out-of-town—some out of their country—to join the movement.
Amanda Daloisio, a member of Witness Against Torture, said she came from New York City to be part of the rally. Witness Against Torture, one of 17 organizations that co-sponsored the demonstration, is solely dedicated to the cause of justice for Guantanamo detainees.
“We’ve been part of the movement since 2005, and I am here again to call attention to the plight of prisoners at Guantanamo, the ones who are on hunger strike, the ones who have been cleared for release,” Daloisio said, “and to remember that there is always a man underneath the hood who had been taken from his family.”
But zealotry aside, the cause to close Guantanamo Prison will likely have to wait as the Obama administration and Congress address the pressing issue of the next fiscal cliff looming in early March, as well as the state of American troops in Afghanistan.
“We’re not getting a lot of information out of Guantanamo, there have been hearings and Amnesty International has sent in observers to these hearings,” said a spokeswoman for Amnesty International. “But there has been no progress right now in seeing these men released and returned to their families.”
In an October interview on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, Obama said he still intends to pursue the shuttering of Guantanamo. But he faces bipartisan opposition in Congress. The biggest problem in closing the Cuba-based prison is the prospect of moving and trying detainees on American soil, in American courts — an issue the White House has been unable to resolve.