Cuba – President Joe Biden On September 11, 2001, one of the legacies turned the page by ending the war in Afghanistan. But it still has a lot to do with another: the Guantanamo Detention Center.
The White House has confirmed that it intends to close the prison at the US base in Cuba, which was inaugurated in January 2002 and Most of the 39 men still taken into custody have not been charged with any crime. It is unclear when and how the government will implement that plan, although the first steps to free one prisoner and place five others on the list eligible for release have generated optimism among some, including prisoners, who have been shutting it down. want to do.
“The fact that Biden is saying at least the right things gives people hope.”, said Clive Stafford Smith, a lawyer who recently made his 40th visit to Guantanamo to see prisoners who had not been able to go since the start of the pandemic. “Hope is dangerous because it is easily crushed. But at the same time, at least they have hope, and that’s good.”
Like Afghanistan, Biden faces a complex task of shutting down Guantanamo. It’s a promise that the President Barack Obama did, and then did not comply. The shutdown was completely canceled under a presidential order. Donald Trump, who once promised to “load him up with some bad guys” but mostly ignored the place.
Even then the challenge remains: What should the US government do with the few people in Guantanamo, including some two dozen whom it is unwilling to release?
among them is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was a well-known figure in al Qaeda at the time and is considered the architect of the September 11, 2001 attacks. He faces a trial before a military commission with four co-defendants – amid legal and logistical problems, personnel issues and the pandemic – in a specially built high-security room from 9 to the pre-trial phase. Been stuck for many years. For this. It is not clear when it will start.
Mohamed and his co-defendants went to court this week for the first time since the start of the pandemic to hear on the qualifications of a new judge, an Air Force colonel. Matthew McCall, to preside over the matter. This was the 42nd session of the pre-trial hearing since the charges were filed in May 2012.
With time come new problems. The oldest prisoner, a Pakistani who was approved for release in May but lives in Guantanamo, is 74 years old and suffering from heart disease and other ailments. Many other men also have significant physical and mental health problems that will have to be addressed if “indefinite” detention is prolonged over a long period of time.
Since Guantanamo opened, nine prisoners have died: two from natural causes and seven from apparent suicides.
“People are getting older, getting sicker, getting more desperate”, said Pardiss Kebriaeei, a lawyer for the Center for Constitutional Rights representing a Yemeni prisoner who was recently granted permission to be released but is still in custody.
It’s really not surprising that no one has made a long-term plan for a detention center. It was an improvised project from the start.
Following the invasion of Afghanistan in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks, the United States wanted a place to hold hundreds of prisoners from dozens of countries that had been captured by US forces, many of whom were overturned, He learned later, as he explained, in exchange for rewards, even if he had any ties to al Qaeda or the Taliban.
government of the then president George W Bush Declared that they were “the worst of the worst”, and claimed that he had sent men abroad without charge, as illegal enemy combatants, without the right to protect prisoners of war, along the rugged south-east coast. But can be caught at a naval post. of Cuba.
A photo released by the Pentagon shows the first detainees, wearing orange overalls and kneeling in cages outside in the tropical sun. It was intended to show that “we are doing what we have to do” in a challenging message to the world., said Karen GreenbergDirector of the Center for Homeland Security at Fordham Law School.
“He regretted that decision very soon, in a matter of days if not weeks.”Greenberg, author of “The Least Worst Place: The First 100 Days of Guantanamo,” said.
As reports of the brutal treatment surfaced, Guantanamo became a source of international outrage, which diminished the sympathy and support the United States had attracted after the September 11 attacks.
The United States will eventually hold 779 prisoners at Guantanamo and spend hundreds of millions building and operating what today looks more or less like a small state prison, surrounded by barbed wire and guard posts on the shores of the dazzling Caribbean Sea Is. .
Bush released 532 prisoners. Obama released 197. Trump released only one captive: a Saudi who returned to his homeland after reaching an agreement in military commissions.
Some of the detainees may be charged with a crime because evidence was not collected when they were captured, or none was, or was contaminated beyond use when detainees were subjected to what the CIA called “enhanced interrogation”. Was. Of those who survived, 10 await trial before the military commission, and all are still under investigation.
Over the years, the population has been shrinking as the United States has decided that some men are no longer a threat and do not deserve to be detained against legal challenges as background. The prison has been shaken several times by hunger strikes and clashes between prisoners and guards, in large part from the frustration of being held indefinitely without charge under what the United States claims its right under international prison law. has spread in. Warning.
Now Guantanamo Prison is smaller and quieter. but Stafford SmithThe founder of human rights organization Reprive says it remains oppressive. “They are not so much physical conditions, but psychological ones”, said. “It being said that you are free to leave, but you can never leave, is extremely psychologically damaging to people.”
Obama, who issued an executive order shortly after ordering the closure of Guantanamo within a year, ran into political opposition when his administration announced it would take the military trials to federal courts. Congress ended up adding text to the Pentagon’s annual authorization law that prohibited the government from transferring Guantanamo prisoners to the United States for any reason.
In a sign that political winds may be turning, Congress recently lifted a ban on relocating Guantanamo prisoners with Pentagon approval, and removed funding for the detention center from next year’s budget. It remains to be seen whether this will change, especially after Many former prisoners, released under both Bush and Obama, became Taliban leaders in Afghanistan.
The Biden administration, which did not respond to requests for comment for this story, has not said much about its plans.
“I don’t have a calendar for you”press secretary said jane saki When asked by reporters about the closure of Guantanamo in July. “As you know, there is a process. The process consists of various stages. But this remains our goal, and we are considering all available methods to responsibly transfer detainees and of course to shut down Guantánamo. are.”
Supporters of the shutdown are encouraged that the new administration has reactivated a review board process and authorized the release of five prisoners (none was authorized under Trump). But they are concerned that Biden’s team has yet to appoint anyone at the State Department to lead the effort to secure agreements with other countries to rehabilitate prisoners, as was done under Obama. .
Many argue that the easiest solution would be to take the cases of the 10 detainees who are being tried by a military commission to a federal court in the United States and an attempt to transfer or release the rest. Find a way. Lawyer Kebriye, awaiting the release of the Yemeni client, said the government only had to look into the matter.
“There is a feeling that it has to be done, and … there is more than a possibility that it can be done.”, said.