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MADRE Welcomes President Obama's Decision to Close Guantanamo

Today, with an order soon to be issued by President Obama, the process of shutting down the prison at Guantanamo Bay will be put in motion. This prison, opened more than seven years ago and which has held nearly 800 prisoners, has drawn international condemnation for its sidestepping of the rule of law and for the unaccountability of its military trials. MADRE welcomes the decision to end this chapter in US history and calls for a rapid closure of the prison.

On the same day as his inauguration, President Obama directed military prosecutors to seek a four month halt to six trials currently in process. This break in the proceedings was requested in order to allow President Obama and his administration to review the cases pending before the military commissions. There are currently 254 detainees being held at Guantanamo.

Vivian Stromberg, MADRE Executive Director, today said, "In the name of national security, the US has for seven years flouted legal standards and human rights established both internationally and in the US. Closing down Guantanamo, and returning the land to Cuba, is an important step towards upholding the rule of law and ending such unfair military trials." 

The military trials at Guantanamo have been further tainted by the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" or torture to obtain evidence from prisoners. MADRE asserts that such actions represent a blatant violation of international human rights law. The closure of the prison at Guantanamo must signal an end to such activities and increased transparency in the legal proceedings.

Margaret Ratner-Kunstler, Vice-President of the MADRE board and President of the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice, today said, "We are pleased that President Obama has called for a halt to the prosecution of the Guantanamo detainees. But the timing of the closing of the prison and the prosecution of those responsible for criminal conduct on the part of US officials are issues that still need to be resolved."

Vivian Stromberg further said, "The inauguration of President Obama has created new opportunities for progressive action, and I am heartened to see this in evidence with his decision to close Guantanamo. But this is only a first step. MADRE is committed to maintaining the necessary pressure to ensure that the prison is closed and that the new administration upholds policies that respect human rights. Our hope lies in the openness of this new administration to respond to the calls of human rights defenders."

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Margaret Ratner-Kunstler joined the board of MADRE in 1998. In 1968 She helped restart the Columbia Law School Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (silenced by the Red scare), and worked at the newly created Mass Defense Committee to coordinate defense of those arrested during the Columbia University Protests. After a stint at Legal Aid, Ms. Ratner became an expert on grand jury law, representing grand jury resisters nationwide and becoming the first director of the Grand Jury Project. Ms. Ratner worked at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) as an attorney and educational director. Ms. Ratner is the President of the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice, a foundation established in 1995 in the memory of her late husband to combat racism in the criminal justice system. With the Kunstler Fund, she has fought for the reform of New York State's Rockefeller Drug Laws and helped hundreds of nonviolent first-time drug offenders get out of prison. 

Yifat Susskind, MADRE's Communications Director, worked for several years as part of a joint Israeli-Palestinian human rights organization in Jerusalem before joining MADRE. She has written extensively on US foreign policy and women's human rights. Her critical analysis has appeared in online and print publications such as, Foreign Policy in Focus, and The W Effect: Bush's War on Women, published by the Feminist Press in 2004. Ms. Susskind has been featured as a commentator on CNN, National Public Radio, and BBC Radio.

January 22, 2009