'Illusion of progress': Obama speech offers little insight on closing Guantanamo

US President Barack Obama reiterated the same “empty promises” to close Guantanamo Bay prison camp during his speech Thursday, according to attorney David Remes. Remes, who represents 17 Gitmo detainees, told RT the speech gave Americans little insight.

Obama’s comments were the first of his second term regarding the controversial counter-terrorism measures employed by the US, primarily drone warfare and the indefinite detention of perceived enemies at Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba. While Remes hoped Obama would outline a plan to close the detention center, the experts later said any hopes of transparency from the president were met with disappointment. 

RT: Is Obama’s speech and the news attention surrounding it a result of the prisoners’ hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay?

David Remes: I fear to say that it is. I also have to say that the speech was a deep disappointment. We had been led to expect, at least in the media, that President Obama would do something constructive. All he offered, however, was the same empty promises we’ve heard before. He continues to defend indefinite detention, he is going to appoint an envoy who has no power to do anything beyond what Obama allows him to do, and he keeps blaming Congress for the problem when he has the authority to transfer men. My fear is that people will conclude, from listening to this speech, that there is forward motion, that the problem is solved, Guantanamo is closed, and everybody can go on to other things. That’s exactly what happened in 2009 and I’m very sorry there was no forward movement here. 

RT: Are you convinced the prison camp’s closure is imminent

DR: Not while President Obama takes this stance. The news will say ‘Well, he lifted the ban on the transfer of Yemenis.’ That’s a nice gesture. I have to say it’s a gesture, though, because as long as he blames Congress for not letting him transfer anyone it doesn’t matter. He was the one who imposed the obstacle in the first place. I just think this is an unfortunate speech because it was give an illusion of progress where there is no progress at all. 

RT: Isn’t the news that he’ll allow judicial review a victory for the lawyers, though?

DR: Well, actually the detainees that I represent and all of the other detainees have had the opportunity for judicial review through habeas corpus actions. I think that he may have been referring to the high value detainees that he’s been putting on trial for direct attacks against the United States. He wanted to try them in federal court but there was an uproar so he moved them to military commissions. So what’s new about saying that he wants to use the courts to try them? He’s already made that effort and it failed, I just don’t see what’s new.

RT: One concern is that inmates will join terror cells once they’re released. Are your clients really harmless?

DR: It’s a fake argument. I was in Yemen just three months ago, I met three of my clients who have been released. Two of them work at a honey shop in downtown Taiz. They’ve married since they came back, they’re building families and trying to out their lives back together. The third client returned to his job as an engineer as the state energy monopoly in Yemen. I think that’s the typical story and I don’t think that the overwhelming majority of detainees should continue to be held because of a fear of a few who might go awry. You can’t take a zero risk approach to this, even the Bush people said so.