This Sunday, January 11, marks the grim 13th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantanamo Bay. With the momentum President Obama has now, he must make this anniversary Guantanamo’s last. Here are 11 reasons why closing the prison now is a human rights imperative:
1. THEY DON’T KNOW WHEN – IF EVER – THEY WILL BE FREE
Imagine if you were in prison. Now imagine you had no idea when, if ever, you would be charged with a crime or released. For more than 100 men at Guantanamo, indefinite detention is a cruel reality. They face the prospect of remaining in limbo—their lives on hold—forever.
2. WE HAVE MOMENTUM
Six years ago, President Obama ordered Guantánamo closed within a year. In the face of his failure, we have kept up the pressure through protests around the globe. And we are beginning to see long overdue progress: in the last year and a half, the government has transferred 39 detainees out of Guantanamo. Compare that to just 4 cleared detainees being transferred between July 2011 and July 2013.
3. TOO MANY MEN ARE IN LIMBO
But President Obama must do far more. More than one hundred detainees still remain in indefinite detention without charge or trial. Every detainee must either be fairly tried or released.
4. A HISTORY OF TORTURE AND OTHER INHUMANE TREATMENT
Shackled, hooded and blindfolded, detainees began arriving at Guantánamo in 2002. The place was treated as “battle lab” for experimental, unproven interrogation techniques, according to a Senate report. Since then, it has been the site of abuses including widespread and prolonged solitary confinement.
Compounding the injustice, at least 28 of those still held at Guantanamo were secretly detained at other U.S. sites, before being sent to Guantanamo. “[T]hey gave me a ‘Goodbye Party’ at Kandahar and a far worse ‘Welcome Party’ at Guantanamo,” said Shaker Aamer, who was first detained in Afghanistan in 2002 and still languishes at Guantanamo after nearly 13 years– despite being cleared for transfer by the Obama and Bush administrations.
5. A HISTORY OF DESPAIR: “DEATH IS MORE DESIRABLE THAN LIVING”
In 2012, Adnan Latif died at Guantánamo, after being held for more than 10 years without charge—despite a judge’s order that he be released. His circumstances, he said, “made death more desirable than living“. Latif protested his treatment with a hunger strike and poetry, writing:
Where is the world to save us
Where is the world to save us
from the fire and sadness?
Where is the world to save
the hunger strikers?
Nine men have died at Guantánamo since detainee operations began there in January 2002. According to the US military authorities, six of the previous eight deaths were the result of suicide and two from natural causes.
6. INTOLERABLE DOUBLE-SPEAK – AND THE DOUBLE STANDARD
With Orwellian overtones, Guantánamo’s official slogan is “Honor Bound to Defend Freedom.” But the doublespeak goes much further. Every year that Guantánamo has been open, the U.S. has continued to proclaim its commitment to international human rights standards. If an abusive regime was responsible for a place of injustice like Guantánamo, it would surely draw U.S. condemnation. It’s long past time for the US authorities to end the double-speak—and the double standard.
7. WE MUST DISRUPT THE POLITICS OF FEAR
Members of Congress and pundits have treated Guantánamo like a political football, using it to sustain the politics of fear and ignoring the reality of human beings languishing in detention. That has made the likelihood of human rights obligations being recognized and fully respected by the US even more remote, and fed the possibility that a future president might decide to keep the facility in operation indefinitely.
8. WE REJECT “GLOBAL WAR”
To justify the unlawful detentions at Guantánamo, the USA has invoked a vision of global “war” against al-Qa’ida and other armed groups. The Guantánamo detainees held on “law of war” grounds have included people taken into custody far from any battleground as traditionally understood, and not in the territory of a state at war with the United States, including places like Azerbaijan and Thailand. The “global war” theory denies human rights, including the requirement that the US either release or fairly try in federal court every detainee.
9. GUANTANAMO IS PART OF A WEB OF ABUSE
The US is “at a crossroads”, President Obama said on May 23, 2013, requiring it to “define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us.” Yet this “global war” has done just that. Guantánamo, unlawful drone attacks, mass surveillance—they are all part of a web of abuse. Sustained by secrecy and impunity for abuse, this web persists.
10. THE US IS DAMAGING HUMAN RIGHTS GLOBALLY
Why, as we near day 4,749 in the life of this notorious prison camp, is Amnesty International still talking about Guantánamo? As we said on its 10th anniversary, Guantanamo is “a symbol that emboldens predatory states around the world to ignore fundamental human rights…and every single one of us is a little less secure as long as Guantanamo remains open.”
11. THE DEBATE OVER GUANTANAMO AND TORTURE IS ALIVE AND WELL
In his memoir Decision Points, President Bush recalled that by his second inauguration in January 2005 he had come to appreciate that Guantanamo had become “a propaganda tool for our enemies, and a distraction for our allies.”
Yet since President Obama entered office—and especially since last month’s release of the summary of the Senate torture report—defenders of abuse have gone on the offensive. In his 2014 memoirs, former vice president Dick Cheney wrote: “it’s not Guantánamo that does the harm, it is the critics of the facility”, adding he is “happy to note that for President Obama the ‘imperative’ of closing Guantánamo has evolved into the necessity of keeping it open.”
President Obama’s delay in closing Guantánamo has provided fodder to those who would revisit the worst detention practices of the “War on Terror.” It may even give future administrations an excuse not only to keep the Guantánamo open, but to commit other abuses out of alleged “necessity.”