Will Guantánamo Still Be Open in 2050?

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GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - OCTOBER 28: (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been reviewed by U.S. Military prior to transmission)  A group of detainees kneels during an early morning Islamic prayer in their camp at the U.S. military prison for "enemy combatants" on October 28, 2009 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Although U.S. President Barack Obama pledged in his first executive order last January to close the infamous prison within a year's time, the government has been struggling to try the accused terrorists and to transfer them out ahead of the deadline. Military officials at the prison point to improved living standards and state of the art medical treatment available to detainees, but the facility's international reputation remains tied to the "enhanced interrogation techniques" such as waterboarding employed under the Bush administration. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA – OCTOBER 28 (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Will Guantánamo still be open a decade from now? What about in 2050, a half century after it opened? Years from now, will we still be protesting—every January 11– the grim anniversary of this site of injustice, torture and detention without charge?

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 23:  President Barack Obama makes a statement about his plan to close the detention camp at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base and relocate the terrorism suspects there to the United States in the Roosevelt Room at the White House February 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. Attempting to follow through with a campaign pledge he made in 2008, Obama will continue to face an uphill battle to close the prison in Cuba because of strong opposition to the plan by congressional Republicans.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 23: President Barack Obama makes a statement about his plan to close the detention camp at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base and relocate the terrorism suspects there to the United States in the Roosevelt Room at the White House.

We hope not, and today we saw President Obama share our conviction that Guantánamo must close. He, too, harkened to a future where the US still holds people indefinitely and without charge:

And if, as a nation, we don’t deal with this now, when will we deal with it?  Are we going to let this linger on for another 15 years, another 20 years, another 30 years?  If we don’t do what’s required now, I think future generations are going to look back and ask why we failed to act when the right course, the right side of history, and of justice, and our best American traditions was clear.

The immediate reaction from many members of Congress and other public officials was disdain for President Obama’s commitment to closing Guantánamo. Exploiting the public’s fear and genuine need for security, they argued Guantánamo should stay open –implicitly, until the 91 men who are held there die, and longer still. They want Guantánamo to remain open indefinitely, as a permanent offshore prison for anyone who might be captured in this global, apparently endless war.

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 23:  Journalists cover President Barack Obama making a statement about his plan to close the detention camp at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base and relocate the terrorism suspects there to the United States in the Roosevelt Room at the White House February 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. Attempting to follow through with a campaign pledge he made in 2008, Obama will continue to face an uphill battle to close the prison in Cuba because of strong opposition to the plan by congressional Republicans.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 23: Journalists cover President Barack Obama making a statement about his plan to close the detention camp at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base and relocate the terrorism suspects there to the United States.

The stakes are nothing less than this:

  • Will the United States keep Guantánamo open—and hold individuals without charge–for decades and decades to come?
  • Will prolonged detention without charge become the U.S. norm?
  • Will the U.S. criminal justice system exist in parallel with a system of Life In Prison Without Charge?

We strongly disagree with aspects of the Obama administration’s plan to close Guantánamo, including using military commissions that by design fail to meet international fair trial standards. And we are disturbed by President Obama’s proposal to relocate a number of detainees to the U.S. mainland for detention without charge. That would recreate Guantanamo at home, entrench its fundamental flaws and further perpetuate the violations of international law associated with it.

But we are gratified that President Obama has in some ways rejected the fear, hate and ignorance that underlie the continued existence of Guantánamo. What he did not mention today is the serious risk that the phenomenon of Guantánamo will spread, i.e., that subsequent administrations will try to introduce preventive detention on national security grounds in the United States.

US President Barack Obama delivers a statement on the Guantanamo Bay detention camp flanked by US Vice President Joe Biden (L) and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on February 23, 2016 in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC. President Barack Obama on February 23 took his case for closing the Guantanamo military prison to the American people, saying it was time to shutter a facility that betrayed US interests and values. A total of 91 suspected jihadists remain at Guantanamo, a prison that once housed about 700 inmates at its peak and has become synonymous around the world with torture, indefinite detention and orange jumpsuits. / AFP / Mandel Ngan        (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

US President Barack Obama delivers a statement on the Guantanamo Bay detention camp flanked by US Vice President Joe Biden (L) and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on February 23, 2016 in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

We are witnessing an alarming rise in anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment. It is easy to imagine a subsequent administration trying to fill Guantánamo —or a Guantánamo -style facility in the U.S. mainland—with new detainees.  And it is all too foreseeable that U.S. courts would give deference to elastic detention standards argued for by a future administration. These standards could be applied on the basis of prejudice and fear, with echoes of some of the worst chapters of U.S. history—including Japanese internment.

We have questions for the public officials who continue to parade “national security” as justification for keeping detainees at Guantánamo:

Where does this all end? And in your vision of the future, is there any place for human rights?

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