On January 11, 2008, Center for Constitutional Rights Executive Director Vincent Warren spoke to a crowd in Washington DC assembled to protest the continued and indefinite detention of people without charge in Guantanamo Bay by the U.S. government. You can listen to Warren’s remarks yourself by clicking here, or read the transcript below:
“Thank you all very much. It is a pleasure to be here. I want to thank Amnesty International for inviting us, and the other speakers, especially my brothers, the survivors of torture who laid it down for us today. As I stand out here looking at you I think about the people standing behind me and for me they represent six years of lawlessness in America. And I look in front of the podium, and I see two things. Right before me I see what will happen if we do not act. The men and women that are standing here in orange jumpsuits, and they are shackled and they are bound and they are gagged. This is what we have to look forward to unless we act. Behind them I see the rest of you. And for the rest of you I see the possibilities. I see the future: our action, moving together to make sure we end the lawlessness that has been in this country for the last six years.
“Six years ago today, the first twenty men were brought to Guantanamo. Six years next month, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed the first Habeas Corpus petition to get those men into court, to be able to challenge their detention. In those six years, we have been to the Supreme Court three times. The first time, the Rasul case, where we got the Supreme Court to say that Habeas Corpus as a statute applied to the people of Guantanamo. Well, what happened? Congress came back with the Detainee Treatment Act, and they changed the statute so that it didn’t apply to people at Guantanamo. The second time we were at the Supreme Court, the Hamdan case, we got the Supreme Court to say that the Geneva Conventions apply to the men at Guantanamo. What happened after that? Congress came back with the Military Commissions Act, which restricted access to the Geneva Conventions, and restricted access of the courts to even hear Habeas Corpus petitions. Last December, we were in the Supreme Court again. December 5, we argued that the constitutional right to Habeas Corpus applies to the men in Guantanamo, and the men in Guantanamo need to be either charged or released.
“There have been 770 men in the Guantanamo offshore penal colony. The Bush administration feels that there is no law and no court anywhere in the world in which these men can go to challenge their detention. Let’s be clear about one thing about Habeas Corpus: Habeas Corpus is not a Get Out Of Jail Free card. Habeas Corpus is simply the right of a person who is thrown in jail indefinitely without charge and without cause to be able to go to a court and demand to know why they are being held. Of the 770 people that were there, to date over 400 people have been released from Guantanamo, which is good news. The bad news is, not a single one of those people was released by a court. Not one. They have all been released because of pressure that the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Amnesty International, the people up here on this podium and the people here in the streets have put on this administration to put up or shut up about these men.
“Let’s be clear: there are three branches of government that are enshrined in the Constitution. But there is a fourth branch of government that is more important, and that is you. Every single person that has walked free of Guantanamo has been because of us, and not because of the Congress, not because of the courts, and certainly not because of the President of the United States. George Bush is not the CEO of America, right? George Bush is not the military commander of the people. George Bush is the President of the United States. This entire regime of post-9/11 nonsense stems from the idea that he feels that he has inherent powers to be able to lock people up, to spy on Americans, to send people to different countries to be tortured. Well, he’s the President of the United States, and he doesn’t have inherent powers. He’s got enumerated powers in the Constitution, and you are the people that have given him that power. So when he comes up with this nonsense about ‘I’m acting to keep America safe by taking away all of your rights,’ we need to be out here on the Washington Mall rain, shine or snow to tell him, ‘This will not happen!’
“But we need to move beyond Guantanamo. Our position for the last six years has been: Where ever in the world an American flag flies over a detention facility, if it’s in Iraq, if it’s in Iran, if it’s in Afghanistan, if it’s in Guantanamo, if it’s in the United States, if it’s in one of those secret black sites, where ever the American flag flies, the people in those prisons have a right to go to court in the United States to challenge their detention. We at the Center for Constitutional Rights will not rest until that right is acknowledged.
“Finally, moving forward beyond Guantanamo, how do we rescue the Constitution? Six years of nonsense! But there is a very simple, fundamental truth: all of this can be ended by the stroke of a pen. The next president, he or she, can end this by the stroke of a pen. He or she can restore Habeas Corpus by the stroke of a pen. He or she can close the black sites by the stroke of a pen. He or she can end torture by the stroke of a pen. He or she can comply with the Geneva Conventions and international law by the stroke of a pen. So we know why we are here. When history looks back on this moment — six years of nonsense and shamefulness in Guantanamo — we will all be able to say to our children and our grandchildren, ‘We were here! We were out in the streets in the rain.’ But the question is for the next president, ‘Where were you? What are you going to do about it?’
“We invite all of you to stand with us as we move forward through this next year, which we hope will end in the closing of Guantanamo, which we hope will end in the restoration of the Constitution. We must together move forward, move beyond Guantanamo, and together we must rescue the Constitution.”