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Federal Government Thu May 23 2013

Chicago Activists Call for the End of Guantanamo Bay

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Marching in ominous orange prison jumpsuits with black hoods over their heads, activists marched amongst commuters and shoppers last Friday, May 17. The demonstration in downtown Chicago called for President Obama to shut down the infamous prison facility at Guantanamo Bay.

An ongoing hunger strike at the detention facility in Cuba has reached its 100th day with more than 100 detainees refusing to eat. This has drawn some attention back to the facility that President Obama promised to close down back in 2009.

Many of the prisoners, alleged terrorists and enemy combatants, have never been charged, much less tried by a jury. The majority of detainees have even been cleared by the CIA [PDF] for their release. As a act of defiance the prisoners began a hunger strike to draw attention to their indefinite imprisonment.

In support, many American activists have mobilized to highlight attention to the harsh imprisonment of the detainees. Cities like Austin, Oakland, Milwaukee, Washington DC and Chicago have participated in the rallies.

The small gathering of activists rallied at Daley Plaza, and voiced their concerns via megaphone. "These are heinous war crimes. Most of these prisoners are without any charges, without any trial, and at this point, without any hope. They put their lives on the line rather than endure anymore torture at the hands of the US government in our names. We want the public to know, that President Obama alone has the authority to release these prisoners. And provide fair trials for those who he claims are guilty," stated a spokesperson from the Illinois Coalition Against Torture.

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After three years of stagnant inaction, President Obama hasn't shown any intention of shutting down the facility. When the question has been recently raised, he admits his willingness to reassess the predicament in Cuba. "I'm going to go back at this, I've asked my team to review everything that's currently being done in Guantanamo, everything that we can do administratively, and I'm going to re-engage with Congress to try to make the case that this is not something that's in the best interests of the American people," Obama said in a press conference last month.

However, in a recent article, the New York City Bar association has stated that despite reluctance from some members of Congress to close the detention facility, "Obama has the authority to close it himself under Section 1028 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013, which sets the defense budget for the year."

The law association continues, "the indefinite detention of these individuals has become legally and morally indefensible."

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This controversy arises amidst the fog of a recent federal indictment of President Obama and former President George W. Bush, which has allured many media outlets, including the majority in the Chicagoland area.

In April, an 11-member nonpartisan legal research committee convened by the Constitution Project reviewed the interrogation and detention programs in the years after Sept. 11, 2001 and concluded that, "it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture" and that ultimately the nation's highest officials bore responsibility for it.

Although the committee did not have access to classified records, the 600-page report is headed by two former members of Congress and contains specific testimony by various former members of the army, including former Captain Albert J. Shimkus Jr., who ran a hospital for detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison.

Committee member and former congressman James. R. Jones states in the report, "I had not recognized the depths of torture in some cases. We lost our compass."

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As bold and timely as the indictment is, it remains to be seen if it will have any real pressure on President Obama. Representative of the NATO 5 Committee and demonstrator, Dylan Hayworth-Wesle, discusses the craftiness of the current administration, "I would hope that [the indictment] would carry some weight. But as the Obama administration has demonstrated they've been very savvy at crafting really precise and tactical legal instruments and justifications to commit acts of torture. Like the ones at Guantanamo Bay that we are protesting today."

Regardless of the politics, or who actually has their finger on the button, the primary reason the facility may be shut down is simply its economic costs.

The Pentagon estimates it spends about $150 million each year to operate the prison and military court systems at the US Naval Base in Cuba. With 166 inmates in custody, that amounts to an annual cost of $903,614 per prisoner.

Amongst the litany of legal, political, social and economic pressures, it seems that the president is hard pressed to finally make a judgment about the long controversial prison in Cuba.

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