1. Letter
  2. U.S. Wars & Militarism

Congressional Progressive Caucus Calls on President Obama to Close Guantanamo

By Yasmine Taeb, January 11, 2017


Concerned by President-elect Trump's comments on torture, 40 members of Congress wrote to President Obama on January 11th with a request that he "engage in a bold, renewed push" to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay before leaving office. They also urged him to distribute the 2014 Senate Torture Report more widely and reaffirm that the practices it describes are legally and morally unacceptable.

"We thank these legislators for standing up in opposition to torture and calling for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility," said Yasmine Taeb, FCNL lobbyist for Human Rights and Civil Liberties.

"Like the authors of this letter, we are deeply concerned by President-elect Trump's comments on torture and believe that the measures outlined in this letter are important means of hindering the use of torture by future administrations.

"It is long past time to close Guantanamo, considering the legacy of torture and indefinite detention at the detention facility.

"Our government must also take full accountability for the practices outlined in the 2014 Senate Torture Report and take action to ensure that the abuses it describes are never repeated.

"Torture is an affront to the dignity and humanity of all people, and we must do everything in our power to block its current and future use."


January 11, 2017

Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20006

Dear Mr. President,

As President-elect Trump prepares to take office, we write to you to express our grave concerns over his public declarations in support of torture, which would violate U.S. and international law, and his ability to act on these stated pledges. We admire your leadership in having guided our country away from the Bush administration's reliance on this barbaric practice, and therefore appeal to you to cement that legacy by urgently deploying strategies at your disposal to prevent torture's resurgence.

As you know, Mr. Trump routinely issued disturbing pronouncements throughout his campaign, promising that he "would absolutely authorize something beyond waterboarding," which he considered a "minimal form of torture." He argued, "We're going to have to do things that are unthinkable, almost." Mr. Trump also vowed to keep the Guantanamo Bay detention camp open and "load it up with some bad dudes."

For this reason, we propose two immediate actions to avert this threat, which build upon your laudable recent efforts. First, we encourage you to engage in a bold, renewed push to shut down the Guantanamo facility. We have admired your thoughtful and determined leadership on this front in the face of unprecedented legislative obstructionism. We applaud your skillful diplomatic efforts to transfer a majority of the 22 detainees held in Guantanamo who were already cleared for release. But with only days before your term ends, we ask that you definitively close the site by rapidly pursuing any and all options within your existing authority to seek lawful disposition of all of the 55 remaining individuals languishing in the camp. Mr. Trump must be deprived of the use of Guantanamo Bay.

Secondly, while we congratulate you on your recent decision to archive a copy of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's full study on the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogations Program, far more must be done. The Justice Department's instructions to federal agencies to keep this 6,700-page report on CIA torture sealed and inaccessible remain in effect. We ask that you direct federal agencies to immediately open, read, and internally promulgate copies of the classified report to relevant officials in the State Department, Defense Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Justice Department. Given that the public is prevented from accessing for 12 years the specific copy of the report that you have preserved, we also encourage you to declassify and release at minimum its table of contents.

Federal agencies, without delay, must take stock of the wide array of Bush-era interrogation techniques detailed in the Senate report, such as sleep deprivation, "rectal feeding," and near-drownings; recognize their lack of efficacy and lawfulness; and issue clear directives in response. Immediately disseminating the Senate torture report and circulating new guidelines will immunize these agencies from executing potentially unlawful directives on behalf of the executive branch in the future. Although changes in U.S. Jaw designed to prevent the resumption of torture already mandate compliance from all federal agencies, a review of the Senate report and reaffirmation of torture's illegality will empower federal employees to resist any possible effort by the president-elect to undermine torture's prohibition.

In closing, we wish to commend you for your endeavors to uphold the rule of law, our Constitution, and American values during your presidency. Mr. Trump seems determined to dismantle these efforts, having argued that he would approve of torture against detained suspects even "if it doesn't work," as they "deserve it anyway for what they do to us." The moral imperative to avert the potentially disastrous consequences of Mr. Trump's objectives could not be clearer. We respectfully ask that you proceed to close the Guantanamo detention camp and direct officials to disseminate the Senate torture report to federal agencies with utmost urgency.

Sincerely,

Keith Ellison (D-MN)
Member of Congress

Raul M. Grijalva (D-AZ)
Member of Congress

Mark Pocan (D-WI)
Member of Congress

Barbara Lee (D-CA)
Member of Congress

John Conyers (D-MI)
Member of Congress

Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)
Member of Congress

Marcy Kaptur (D-OH)
Member of Congress

James P. McGovern (D-MA)
Member of Congress

Janice D. Schakowsky (D-IL)
Member of Congress

Peter A. DeFazio (D-OR)
Member of Congress

Seth Moulton (D-MA)
Member of Congress

Ted Lieu (D-CA)
Member of Congress

Jose E. Serrano (D-NY)
Member of Congress

David N. Cicilline (D-RI)
Member of Congress

Bobby L. Rush (D-IL)
Member of Congress

Nydia M. Velazquez (D-NY)
Member of Congress

Frederica S. Wilson (D-FL)
Member of Congress

Betty McCollum (D-MN)
Member of Congress

Alan Lowenthal (D-CA)
Member of Congress

Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)
Member of Congress

Theodore E. Deutch (D-FL)
Member of Congress

Henry C. "Hank" Johnson, Jr. (D-GA)
Member of Congress

Judy Chu (D-CA)
Member of Congress

Juan Vargas (D-VA)
Member of Congress

Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR)
Member of Congress

Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)
Member of Congress

Peter Welch (D-VT)
Member of Congress

John A. Yarmuth (D-KY)
Member of Congress

Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ)
Member of Congress

Joseph P. Kennedy, III (D-MA)
Member of Congress

Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA)
Member of Congress

Beto O'Rourke (D-TX)
Member of Congress

Pramila Jayapal (D-WA)
Member of Congress

Ro Khanna (D-CA)
Member of Congress

Ruben J. Kihuen (D-NV)
Member of Congress

Jared Polis (D-CO)
Member of Congress

John Lewis (D-GA)
Member of Congress

Jamie Raskin (D-MD)
Member of Congress

Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY)
Member of Congress

Karen Bass (D-CA)
Member of Congress

Yasmine Taeb

  • Legislative Director for Human Rights and Civil Liberties

Yasmine directs FCNL’s work on a number of human rights and civil liberties issues, including lobbying for increased resettlement of refugees, more transparency and oversight of the U.S. lethal drones program, calling for the closure of Guantanamo, and for the repeal of the 2001 AUMF, among other issues.