January 11, 2015 marked 13 years since the opening of US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. As part of the international campaign for its closure, Dr. Aloysia Brooks, torture prevention advocate, and songwriter and human rights advocate, Les Thomas, have released the song ‘Guantanamo Blues’ as a free download and Youtube video featuring artwork from Molly Crabapple and video editing by Cathy Vogan. The song is accompanied by an open letter (below) to President Barack Obama calling for him to close Guantanamo, restore due process and human rights.
The song was written to raise awareness about the ongoing situation of those detained in the facility. ‘Guantanamo Blues’ songwriter, Les Thomas said “It is important that President Obama is aware that people from all over the world are counting on him to adhere to his promise to close Guantanamo and ensure fair trials.” Most of the 127 prisoners that remain have been cleared for release, but remain imprisoned without charge or trial. Dr. Brooks commented “The men who remain in Guantanamo have all been subjected to conditions and treatment that amount to torture. The fact that President Obama has failed to hold to account those who ordered and carried out torture means that human rights and global torture prevention strategies are compromised around the world.”
This is in line with recent comments made by the UN Committee against Torture upon its review of US compliance with the Convention against Torture of which it is a signatory.
An unknown number of men are participating in a hunger-strike to protest their ongoing detention without charge or trial, and their conditions and treatment. Upon the release of the summary of the US Senate Committee Report on the CIA torture program, there is a renewed call for the Obama administration to hold those who orchestrated the torture program to account.
Letter to President Obama
Dear President Obama,
As you know, January 11, 2015 will mark 13 years since the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp was opened. We recall that one of your first orders when you took office was to “restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country [the United States of America] great”. We understand the difficulties in moulding consensus when faced with strong domestic opposition, but especially following the CIA Torture Report, we welcome your renewed commitment to do everything you can to close the facility before your term expires, and call on all politicians who value human rights and procedural fairness to end this prolonged and damaging chapter in your legal history.
The song we submit with this letter ‘Guantanamo Blues’, tells a story that is fairly typical of Guantanamo prisoners, most of whom were handed over to US authorities for a bounty, and subsequently experienced unimaginable cruelty, torture, and prevented access to a fair trial. The song’s main refrain is a hopeful one, that “One Day I’ll Leave Guantanamo” which is sung in a way that human beings have used for centuries to overcome adversity and recognise Sam Cooke’s immortal words that ‘change is gonna come’.
Connected as we are by global politics and our common humanity, we recognise that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. By allowing people hang in a legal limbo at Guantanamo, it has increased the probability of people being indefinitely detained and held in conditions that amount to torture elsewhere.
While the words on a sign at Guantanamo read “Honor bound to defend freedom”, it has become a symbol of lawlessness and the violation of freedom. To the wider world it now represents disregard for the rule of law, torture and hypocrisy, fueling nothing but resentment and hostility. It’s time to steer a course to the best traditions of humanity and justice: to free the cleared men; to charge those suspected of criminal activity in a regularly constituted court; and to hold the torturers and those who created, ordered and carried out the US torture program to account.
Thirteen years is an enormous amount of time in any person’s life. Though many of us may take for granted our time with loved ones, the men who have been held without charge or trial can never get those years back. A few of the men still imprisoned were just children when they were first detained. They have grown into men within the confines of concrete walls, without the guidance of their mother or father, they have missed birthdays, they have been denied the joy of getting married and having children of their own, and mourning beside their families when treasured loved-ones have died. All of these memories are irreplaceable. But, the certainty remains that, one way or another, they will eventually leave Guantanamo and we call on you to make that exit as prompt, humane and just as possible. It’s time these men are allowed to rebuild what they can of their shattered lives. We call on you to right this wrong.
Dr Aloysia Brooks and Les Thomas