Panelists: Obama has let Guantanamo slip from public consciousness

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President Obama has made closing the Guantanamo Bay detention camp even harder by letting it fade from the national political conversation, panelists at the New America Foundation said Jan. 11.

The government can continue to hold prisoners cleared for release "because nobody cares enough," said Andy Worthington, a journalist who has authored a book and directed a documentary about Guantanamo. Obama should at least take up the issue and argue with members of Congress who oppose the release of prisoners or the facility's closure, but he's allowed it to drift away, Worthington said.

Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay, said Obama has let Republicans dictate the terms of the debate on the issue and that he should use the bully pulpit as he did during the fiscal cliff debate and has begun to do on gun violence.

Thomas Wilner, an attorney who has represented Guantanamo detainees, said that after Obama initially tried to close Guantanamo in 2009, he didn't do enough to dispute the claims of those who said all the facility's detainees were dangerous, when in fact dozens had been cleared for release by the Bush administration.

The process to clear detainees for release was very conservative, Wilner noted. All the agencies involved had to agree that a person was no threat to the United States and had no intelligence value.

Wilner also lamented that, from the impression he's gotten, it seems many young people who don't remember the time when Guantanamo was a prominent issue know little or nothing about it, because political leaders and the media discuss it so rarely.

One hundred sixty-six detainees remain at the facility, some of whom have been cleared for release since the mid-2000s.

For those who were told long ago that they would be released, Worthington said the experience is likely "more cruel than a dictatorship" that is candid about its intent to hold prisoners indefinitely.

For more:
- go to the event webpage (archived webcast available)

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