Protesters call on Obama to close Guantanamo detention center

Close Guantanamo Bay Coalition protesters stand Wednesday in front on the U.S. Supreme Court urging President Barack Obama to close the detention facility. Photo by Shahzeb Hashem/Medill News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A coalition of groups protesting the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, marched from the Supreme Court to the Senate on Wednesday, demanding that President Barack Obama close the prison as one of his final acts in the White House.

“We recognize that there have been many obstacles put in [Obama’s] way,” said Elizabeth Beavers, senior campaigner for Amnesty International, one organization participating in the Close Guantanamo Bay Coalition. “Congress has been incredibly obstructionary, but the Obama administration made some really key missteps, and they missed moments when they had a political mandate.”

A dozen of the about 60 protesters stood silently in a row wearing orange prison jumpsuits with black pillow cases over their heads as leaders criticized Obama and expressed concern about the policies of President-elect Donald Trump.

Obama “will tell you to the end he failed [in closing the prison] because of members of Congress,” said Andy Worthington, co-founder of the Close Guantanamo Coalition. While Obama is right to acknowledge Republican opposition, he said, the president “should have acted much earlier to overcome that resistance.”

“When it comes to Guantanamo, this is a time of a double disappointment, there is no other way of looking at it,” Worthington said. “President Obama failed to fulfill the promise he made eight years ago. I think Donald Trump is going to shut the door on Guantanamo immediately.”

In 2009, Obama signed an executive order to close the detention center, which held 59 Muslim prisoners as of last month, according to The Miami Herald. Trump has said he would keep Guantanamo open and send even more prisoners there after he takes office.

The White House said last week that Obama would likely transfer more inmates out of the facility before he leaves office.

Maha Hilal, executive director of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, said, “As a Muslim I am calling for the prison to be shut, for the torture to end. As a Muslim, I can no longer accept this treatment.”

Organizations participating in the Guantanamo Bay coalition included Hilal’s group; Amnesty International USA; Code Pink, a women’s human rights and peace organization; the Council on American-Islamic Relations; Veterans for Peace; and Witness Against Torture.

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