Amnesty International is making a final push to convince President Obama to circumvent Congress and close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility before the end of his presidency.
“On behalf of Amnesty International’s 1.2 million supporters in the United States, I write to make a final plea that you use all the powers of your office to close the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay,” Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA, wrote in a letter to Obama on Tuesday. “We are gravely concerned that if you fail to do so, President-elect Trump may attempt to bring dozens or even hundreds of people there, to be held in unlawful detention for decades and possibly subjected to torture and other forms of cruel treatment.”
Amnesty also touted an online and bus shelter ad campaign and a rally at the White House on Jan. 11 in what it called an “aggressive effort” to push Obama to make good on his promise to close the facility.
Obama promised in his first presidential campaign in 2008 to close the facility and signed an executive order with the goal of accomplishing that shortly after taking office.
But Congress has repeatedly put up roadblocks to the effort, including banning transfers of detainees to the United States.
Obama has intimated he won’t go around the ban, so he won’t be able to close the facility. But he has said he plans to transfer detainees to foreign countries until the last day of his presidency, reportedly notifying Congress that he plans to transfer up to 19 more.
That would leave just 40 detainees in the facility.
Trump has said he won’t close Guantánamo, adding that he plans to “load it up with some bad dudes.”
Trump has also said he wants to bring back waterboarding and a “hell of a lot of worse” to interrogate suspected terrorists, such as those held at Guantánamo.
On Tuesday, Trump also tweeted that Obama shouldn’t release anyone else from the facility.
“There should be no further releases from Gitmo,” he tweeted. “These are extremely dangerous people and should not be allowed back onto the battlefield.”
In its letter, Amnesty said its concerns about Guantánamo were heightened during the presidential campaign.
“Our concern is heightened by the sharp rise in anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric during the election,” Huang wrote. “Proposals for large-scale detention without charge, which once seemed inconceivable, are now on the table as options your successor may pursue."
Huang also said Obama will be judged harshly by history for his failure to close Guantánamo, throwing back at him his warnings that Congress will be judged for blocking his efforts to close the facility.
“You emphasized that Congress would be ‘judged harshly by history’ due to restrictions it placed on your ability to transfer detainees,” Huang wrote. “However, despite your concerted efforts, it is your presidency that will be judged harshly—by history, the international community and human rights supporters across the United States and the rest of the world—if you fail to take all possible measures to transfer those remaining out of Guantánamo.”
Amnesty also asked Obama to end the military commissions trying some Guantánamo detainees. Critics have long decried the commissions as dysfunctional.
Three detainees have been convicted by the commissions, while seven, including five 9/11 suspects, are awaiting trial.
“To be sure, anyone responsible for the crimes against humanity committed on September 11, 2001, should be brought to justice in fair trials,” Huang wrote. “However, not only do the military commission trials seem unlikely to begin—much less conclude for years to come, when they do take place they will fail to meet international fair trial standards.”