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Activists Slam Obama For Failure to Close Guantanamo Bay Prison

Even with the government shutdown and a debt-ceiling crisis looming, activists aren’t trying to give President Obama a pass, sending a letter today accusing him of not following through on a commitment to shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

In the letter, 16 human rights and civil liberties organizations — including American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Human Rights Watch and the U.S. branch of the Presbyterian Church — urge him to close Guantanamo and to push to have more of the prisoners transferred out.

“More than four months have passed since you delivered your May 23, 2013, speech at the National Defense University, in which you recommitted the United States to the goal of closing the Guantanamo prison,” read the four-page letter. “However, despite your personal commitment and engagement, the population at Guantanamo over the past four months has been reduced by only two detainees, moving only from 166 to 164. Of the detainees who remain, 84 were cleared for transfer by national security officials more than four years ago.”

During his May speech, Obama said he would lift a moratorium on the transfer of prisoners to Yemen and ask the Department of Defense to designate a site on U.S. soil where military commissions could be held  to begin the process of permanently closing the prison.

Administration officials admitted that the highly publicized hunger strikes occurring at the prison, which led the government to resort to the barbaric act of force-feeding prisoners, pushed Obama to ask in a speech, “Is this who we are?”

Zeke Johnson, a spokesman for Amnesty International, told Al-Jazeera it was “deeply disappointing” that Obama had not made more progress on transferring prisoners out of Guantanamo since his national-security speech.

“Cleared detainees can be transferred under current law … The president should direct his administration to move Guantanamo to the front burner, stand up to Congress’ fear-mongering and get the job done,” Johnson said.

Two prisoners — Nabil Said Hadjarab, 34, and Mutia Sadiq Ahmad Sayyab, 37, who had been cleared for transfer for several years — were sent back to Algeria in August after spending more than a decade locked up at Guantanamo.

Last week the Department of Justice took the unusual step of notifying a federal court that it would not fight the release of a mentally ill Sudanese prisoner, Ibrahim Idris, who also suffers from diabetes.

But the activists say that is not enough.

White House officials say there will be more detainees released. One sign of progress is that defense officials have begun to notify Guantanamo attorneys that the Periodic Review Board was finally getting to work, with hearings expected to begin later this year. Obama established the board two years ago to review the cases of the prison’s indefinite detainees and determine whether they may be released,

Obama said in a speech before the United Nations General Assembly last month that he has not forgotten about Guantanamo.

“We’re transferring detainees to other countries and trying terrorists in courts of law while working diligently to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay,” he said.

But Johnson said the president’s rhetoric did not match his actions.

“The shameful delay in transferring cleared detainees underscores the fear that President Obama’s Guantanamo promises remain empty,” he said.

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