We speak with CodePink co-founder Diane Wilson, who is on day 25 of a water-and-salt-only hunger strike in solidarity with Guantánamo prisoners. Earlier this month, she was arrested after chaining herself to the White House fence in a CodePink demonstration urging the president to close Guantánamo. We are also joined by Pardiss Kebriaei, senior staff attorney with Center for Constitutional Rights. Her client, Ghaleb al-Bihani, is one of the Guantánamo detainees currently on a hunger strike. She is lead counsel for CCR in the Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta case, which seeks accountability for the killing of three American citizens in U.S. drone strikes in Yemen.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, at a press conference following Obama’s speech, Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia said he believed Guantánamo Bay should remain open.
SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS: I have been one to advocate maintaining Guantánamo Bay, and my reason is pretty simple. If we were to capture some of the Benghazi terrorists, who we know today are running free, what are we going to do with them? We have no place to take them. Are we going to bring them into an Article III court? Are we going to trust the Libyans to prosecute them? What’s going to happen to them? That’s just one simple question.
The other one is, we’ve got 166 of the meanest, nastiest killers in the world located at Guantánamo Bay today. What the president said is that we’re going to move towards closure, and that means the release of presumably 86 of those individuals that have already been authorized for transfer, but they were not transferred because a number of them are going to Yemen. Fifty-six of them are Yemenis. And following the 2009 Christmas Day bomber incident, all transfers to Yemen were stopped, because we didn’t have confidence that the Yemeni government could handle them. Well, guess what? Between December 2009 and today, has Yemeni shown—has Yemen shown any indication that they’re more capable of looking after those individuals? Absolutely not. And if we were to transfer those individuals to Yemen, we’d be just like turning them loose. And I just don’t think that’s the right thing to do.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Saxby Chambliss, senator from Georgia. We’re also joined by CodePink co-founder Diane Wilson, who’s on day 25 of a water-and-salt-only hunger strike in solidarity with the Guantánamo prisoners. Earlier this month, she was arrested after chaining herself to the White House fence in a CodePink demonstration that was urging the president to close the Guantánamo prison. Diane is a fourth-generation fisherwoman from the Texas Gulf Coast.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
And we’re also joined by Pardiss Kebriaei, a senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. Her client, Ghaleb al-Bihani, is one of the Guantánamo detainees currently on a hunger strike. She is lead counsel for CCR in the Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta case, which seeks accountability for the killing of three American citizens in U.S. drone strikes in Yemen.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
PARDISS KEBRIAEI: Thank you.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Pardiss, your response to Saxby Chambliss’s statements?
PARDISS KEBRIAEI: You know, it’s unfortunate that that myth of everyone at Guantánamo who is still there is still being perpetuated. And I think that part of what was disappointing about President Obama’s speech yesterday—despite the stated recommitment to closing the prison, and despite the outline of some necessary steps that were the right thing to do, like lifting the ban on all transfers to Yemen, which discriminates on people solely on the basis of their national origin, appointing a senior envoy—was to explain who we have there, to explain what it means that his administration has approved for release 86 of the 166 men who remain, and to counter some of what, you know, people opposed to closure, like Mr. Chambliss, are saying to perpetuate, you know, this myth of who we’re holding and to justify continuing to keep Guantánamo open. So I think—
AMY GOODMAN: Who is being held there?
PARDISS KEBRIAEI: People like our client, Djamel Ameziane. He’s a man from Algeria who is at Guantánamo because he was captured while he was fleeing the fighting, captured by non-U.S. forces, transferred to Guantánamo, has been cleared for release for years, remains detained simply because he cannot return to Algeria and needs a third country for resettlement. Yemenis, of the 86 people who have been cleared for release, 56 of them are from Yemen. And as we’ve been saying for months now, what it means to be cleared for release is that every government agency—intelligence, law enforcement, justice, Homeland Security—everyone with a stake in these detentions under the Obama administration, has said these people do not need to be there. These people do not pose a security threat to the United States, or any kind of threat can be mitigated. And that is what President Obama has never explained and should have explained yesterday in making the case for closure.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a part of his speech yesterday at National Defense University where he mentions force-feeding prisoners at Guantánamo.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are hold—being held on a hunger strike. I’m willing to cut the young lady who interrupted me some slack, because it’s worth being passionate about. Is that who we are? Is that something our founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave to our children?
AMY GOODMAN: That’s President Obama in his address last night—yesterday at National Defense University. We’re also joined by Diane Wilson, who’s on a hunger strike calling for the closure of Guantánamo. She chained herself to the fence of the White House and was arrested. This is day 25 of her water-, salt-only fast. Your response, Diane Wilson? Do you feel—do you feel that President Obama is on his way to closing Guantánamo?
DIANE WILSON: I believe President Obama has spoke about closing Guantánamo many, many times. I know last night I read an article that said the Guantánamo prisoners had watched the speech by President Obama, and there was no apparent response. And I think that says it very well, as they have heard this before. Now is the time for action. And I was—there were—there were times I was real heartened, and I thought there is definitely progress, I think, especially about lifting the ban and bringing the prisoners to the United States, although I don’t believe a military commission is the proper avenue at all. But I also know that—and this is something I really wondered about during the whole speech is, are the men still on a hunger strike? Are they still being force-fed? And until we actually see them making those transfers, that’s when I will believe it.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what is your hope, through your hunger strike? And do you have a sense that the prisoners in Guantánamo are aware of your actions and the solidarity of some Americans here with their condition?
DIANE WILSON: Well, I think it’s real difficult to meet with some of the prisoners. I know even, I believe, some of the lawyers were having a difficult time. But I do know, when CodePink had a press conference at the National Press Club, I believe last week some time, one of the lawyers for one of the detainees came up to me, and he said he was going to make sure my solidarity with them became known to them. And I think it’s real important that they know it, because I think hunger strikes are a powerful instrument. I wouldn’t have never heard of them unless they had did that hunger strike. And it’s unfortunate, but that’s how I heard from them. And I believe in the power of voices like that.
AMY GOODMAN: Obama suggested the possibility of establishing a court or an executive board to oversee targeted killings in the future.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I’ve asked my administration to review proposals to extend oversight of lethal actions outside of war zones that go beyond our reporting to Congress. Each option has virtues in theory, but poses difficulties in practice. For example, the establishment of a special court to evaluate and authorize lethal action has the benefit of bringing a third branch of government into the process, but raises serious constitutional issues about presidential and judicial authority. Another idea that’s been suggested, the establishment of an independent oversight board in the executive branch, avoids those problems, but may introduce a layer of bureaucracy into national security decision making, without inspiring additional public confidence in the process. But despite these challenges, I look forward to actively engaging Congress to explore these and other options for increased oversight.
AMY GOODMAN: Pardiss Kebriaei, can you respond to this?
PARDISS KEBRIAEI: Yeah, I think the idea of a special court, a special secret court to go with a special secret program, is misguided. He was right to discuss the importance of accountability and oversight. I didn’t hear any clear proposals about how that’s going to happen. I think the most obvious route of judicial review of claims of violations after the fact is an obvious one that wasn’t addressed at all. There was—the Justice Department acknowledged the killing of four U.S. citizens the day before. Three of those individuals, we have—we have a lawsuit pending on behalf of, in district court. The same Justice Department, now that it is acknowledging those deaths and defending its actions in a letter to Congress, should be prepared to defend its actions—the legality of its actions on the merits in court, instead of moving to dismiss that case. So that’s an obvious route for review, for oversight, for accountability, that was omitted from President Obama’s speech.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, not only that, but the idea of establishing a special court to authorize what are, in essence, assassinations.
PARDISS KEBRIAEI: Right. Well, I mean, that’s—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: It seems to me like a bizarre idea, to begin with, to get the legal system involved in actually authorizing killings before any trial or any sort of adjudication of evidence is brought forth.
PARDISS KEBRIAEI: Well, I think that’s—you know, if the United States—if the administration were following the right law here, which is that outside of war zones you resort—killing—lethal force is permissible, but there are tighter standards for it. The standard is imminence, last resort. And if you were following that standard, before-the-fact review, ex ante review, in some sort of court would be infeasible. So that the very idea that there would be a special court set up to effectively issue death warrants before the fact, I think, demonstrates that the administration is not following the right law here, is outside of the right paradigm. And, you know, that is not at all the right way to go forward on accountability.
AMY GOODMAN: And setting up military tribunal on U.S. soil for the prisoners at Guantánamo?
PARDISS KEBRIAEI: For—and as we have always said, for men the administration intends to charge, those people should charged in federal court. That is the appropriate forum. These ad hoc military tribunals have had many problems that have been discussed ad nauseum. You know, the idea of bringing military commissions to the United States and trying people here in that way, when we have federal courts that can do that, is not at all the right path forward, either.
I should say also, moving people to supermax facilities in the United States and shifting the location of Guantánamo from one place to another is also not the right way to close the prison. More than half of the population, as we’ve been saying, has been cleared for transfer. They can go home. They can go to third countries if they need resettlement. This remaining—the remaining men whom the administration has said are—it will not charge, it doesn’t not plan to charge, but are too dangerous to release, that is a—that is a made-up standard by the administration. The law doesn’t support—the laws of war do not support that kind of a standard. And those men ultimately should be released, as well. And President Obama a few weeks ago said detaining people indefinitely, in perpetuity, without charge, is not sustainable. There is a very small number of people that the administration ever plans to charge. It is about 30. And that—it’s important to keep in mind that there were nearly 800 people kept at Guantánamo at its peak, and of that number, only a few dozen are people the administration ever plans to charge. That speaks for itself.
AMY GOODMAN: Diane Wilson, I wanted to go back to you. You’re in the 25th day of this extreme hunger fast. How are you doing? How did a Texas fisherwoman end up chaining herself to the gates of the White House and going on this hunger fast for the prisoners at Guantánamo?
DIANE WILSON: Well, actually, I was in Dallas at the Bush library protest. And Medea was there, and she had just come back from London and had been talking with the group that had been trying to get the British citizen back from Guantánamo. And she mentioned that they were—
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Shaker Aamer.
DIANE WILSON: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: That the British government said they would receive.
DIANE WILSON: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: He hasn’t been charged, but he hasn’t been released, and he’s been cleared for release for a long time.
DIANE WILSON: That’s right. He’s the one. And they were doing a rolling hunger fast, and so Medea brought that idea back. And I immediately said I would do a long-term hunger fast. And I said that because I know the desperation and the at-your-wits’-end feeling and the frustration that will drive you to a hunger strike. That is not your first resort; that is the last resort. And I have—did a hunger strike on the Texas Gulf Coast, so I understood that.
And I also understood the jail experience, because I have been jailed for my civil disobedience in Texas. And I even formed the Texas Jail Project based on the horrific conditions within the jails. And I knew what—a tiny sense what those men must have been experiencing. And so, for them to be doing a hunger strike, I was—felt very compelled, and I also was very ashamed what our government was doing, and I did not feel this was anything about the America that I believed in. And so, I flew to Washington, D.C., and have been in front of the White House ever since.
AMY GOODMAN: And what would end this fast?
DIANE WILSON: I think when we finally start seeing the detainees being released. Like I said, there has been so many words, so many promises broken, that now is the time for action. When I actually see those detainees coming home—and also, the guys on the hunger strike, are they still on the hunger strike? Are they still being force-fed? Those are the type of questions I want to know.
And I also—you know, excuse me for keep going on, but we’re pleading for the people, for the American people, to come out and support. I feel it’s the last leg of this closing Guantánamo now. And we can’t stop now. And we need people in front of the White House. We need people to continue this hunger strike. And so, I’m making a public plea to, please, join us. And if you’re interested, go to CodePink.
AMY GOODMAN: Pardiss, 10 seconds.
PARDISS KEBRIAEI: In answer to your questions, yes, the hunger strike continues; yes, force-feeding continues. There are at least over 30 men being forcibly fed right now. I talked to one of them two days ago. President Obama is not powerless there. He talked movingly about force-feeding and "Is this who we are?" It is his administration, his secretary of defense and Defense Department, that is authorizing those force-feedings, that has authorized the move of people into solitary confinement at Guantánamo right now. Those are conditions that he absolutely has the power to affect. And that’s part of what needs to happen, going forward, as well as release.
AMY GOODMAN: The American Medical Association has also come out against force-feeding, I understand. I want to thank you all for being with us. Pardiss Kebriaei is the senior staff attorney for Center for Constitutional Rights representing prisoners at Guantánamo. Diane Wilson, on the 25th day of her hunger fast. And Medea Benjamin, who interrupted President Obama’s address at National Defense University a number of times yesterday. He concluded by saying she deserves to be listened to.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll find out just who Jude Mohammad is, one of the four Americans that this week the U.S. government announced they had killed in a drone strike. Stay with us.