US President Barack Obama gives a thumbs-up after winning the 2012 US presidential election in Chicago on November 7, 2012. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
When President Obama was first elected in 2008, many human rights activists rejoiced. It had been eight long years where the United States tortured, detained hundreds without charge and trial and tried to justify the horrors of Abu Ghraib. His first campaign for the White House offered the promise of an administration that would recapture the United States’ credibility on human rights issues, bringing detention practices in line with international law, repudiating secrecy and ensuring that human rights weren’t traded away in the name of national security.
More simply, President Obama promised a new dawn of American leadership, one in which human rights would be given more than lip-service.
Unfortunately, the first Obama administration broke many of its promises when human rights were pitted against national security interests. When it comes to countering terrorism, President Obama has hidden behind national security imperatives to shield administration policy in secrecy and pursue programs such as expanded drone use and thwarted accountability.
On Monday here at Guantánamo, I saw Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in person for the first time. He’s accused of leading involvement in the 9/11 attacks that killed 2,976 people. Proceedings against him and the four alleged 9/11 co-conspirators resumed at the U.S. Naval Station this week, in a military commission process that does not meet international standards for fair trials.
Ever since the 9/11 attacks, a crime against humanity, Amnesty International has been calling for those involved to be brought to justice. In a letter to President George W. Bush over 11 years ago, we wrote that in the wake of such a crime:
It is vital to maintain the highest respect for human rights and international human rights standards. This should include using every means available to bring those responsible for the 11 September attacks to justice within the framework of a fair and accountable criminal justice system, and with full respect for international standards for a fair trial. We urge your administration to adhere to such standards every step of the way towards the objective of justice, and to reject any resort to the death penalty in pursuit of this goal.
It’s no secret that I’m at Guantánamo this week to observe pre-trial motion hearings in the military commission case against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the four other alleged co-conspirators in the 9/11 attacks.
What is secret? According to U.S. authorities, everything the five defendants know, say or write–including about their time in CIA custody. It’s all “presumptively classified” Top Secret/Special Compartmented Information (TS/SCI). Everything. From torture to what they ate for breakfast.
According to a defense motion filed against “presumptive classification” (one of several motions to be addressed at Guantánamo this week), “If a prisoner says that he misses his family, this information is ‘born classified’ even though no original classification authority would or could ever classify it.”
Protest in Washington DC of the 9th anniversary of the Guantanamo prison.
On Wednesday, a U.S. judge ruled that a provision in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that authorizes indefinite detention is unconstitutional, and blocked the government from using the provision to hold people without charge.
The ruling is a major win for the movement to end indefinite detention, which for over 10 years has been a hallmark of the human rights vaccum at Guantánamo and was codified in U.S. law last year by President Obama and Congress. Shamefully, the Obama administration has appealed.
Why care about indefinite detention?
Imagine you were locked up, accused of—but never charged with—a crime, and denied a fair trial to make your case. Seem farfetched?
I’ll be at Guantánamo this week to observe military commission proceedings in a case relating to the September 11 attacks. (When possible, I’ll share my thoughts from Guantánamo on the blog and on Twitter @ZekeJohnsonAi.) The case is resuming over three years after President Obama ordered the prison closed in one year.
All of the detainees at Guantánamo should already long ago have either been charged and tried fairly in civilian court, or been released to countries that would respect their human rights.
Wednesday, January 11 marked 10 years since the US government brought the first twenty Muslim men to the US Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in order to detain and interrogate them outside of the law.
Ten years ago today the first twenty prisoners arrived at the US military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay. As we mark this dismal anniversary, it is instructive to take a moment to reflect on the damage Guantanamo continues to do to the global cause of human rights.
Guantanamo is much more than simply the sum of its parts, and outlined below are 10 powerful anti-human rights messages that the continued existence of the detention facility sends out to the world: