On Gitmo's 14th Anniversary, SouthCom Protesters Demand Prison's Closure

It’s been seven years since President Obama made the lofty promise to shut down Guantánamo Bay Detention Center, the overseas prison notorious for its inhumane treatment of terrorism detainees. But as the 14th anniversary of the prison's opening rolls around, Gitmo still houses 104 detainees.

This Saturday, South Florida organizers marched in Doral to the United States Southern Command — which is responsible for all U.S. military activities in South America and Central America — to protest the detention center's continued abuses.

“There is no excuse for there to be 104 prisoners. The U.S. has already cleared half of these prisoners for release, so if the U.S. itself admits that these men pose no danger to civilians, we don’t see any reason for them to still be detained,” says Conor Munro, an organizer with People’s Opposition to War, Imperialism, and Racism (POWIR). “Southern Command is the place where the U.S. plans torture for the detainees; it’s the place where they decide which detainees are going to be released, so we think it’s an appropriate place to list our demands.”

Over the weekend, President Obama's spokesperson pledged yet again that Gitmo would be closed by the time Obama leaves office. The problem, though, isn't the White House — it's Congress. Those 104 men in Gitmo include dozens of Yemeni prisoners who can't be returned tot their war-torn homeland and realistically need to be moved to a U.S.-based prison; the GOP-controlled Congress refused to consider that.

But protesters Saturday said that regardless of their homeland, prisoners who haven't been directly tied to terrorist attacks need to be released immediately. The marchers also went a step further, demanding that the U.S. return the naval base to Cuba. 

“This is a base that the U.S. got under dubious circumstances and the lease has long since expired; they should listen to the Cuban people’s demands and let the Cubans do something better with it,” Munro says.

Medea Benjamin from Code Pink for Peace, a grassroots peace and social justice movement, recently traveled to Cuba with a group of 60 people for a conference on military bases around the world. Most of those discussed were U.S. bases.

"I find it insulting when we send a group to Cuba and the people of Guantánamo say they used to be known for that beautiful song, 'Guajira Guantanamera,' about a lovely girl from Guantánamo; now we’re known for a prison, for torture," Benjamin says. "We have to praise Obama for opening up ties with Cuba, but the Cubans have said there will never be normal relations with the U.S. until that base is returned to its people."

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