Earlier this week, just before he gave his state of the union address, Trump came a step closer to fulfilling his promise to “load it up” by issuing an executive order to keep Guantanamo Bay open indefinitely. According to the order, the prison is necessary because the US is still involved in “an armed conflict with al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, and associated forces, including with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.” The order attempts to justify the continuation of GITMO detentions on the basis that many remaining prisoners are awaiting trial in military commissions, while arguing that the release of others would pose a security threat. The order describes the prison as “legal, safe, [and] humane.”
Opened in 2002 under President George W. Bush, Guantánamo was never legal or humane. It exists outside the US because its founding administration sought to act outside the confines of US law. Over the past 16 years, almost 800 men have been subjected to torture and egregious human rights violations at the prison. Many of the original GITMO detainees were sold to the US by foreign governments, severely mistreated, and then determined to be of no risk to the US. Under Bush, over 532 detainees were ultimately released from Guantanamo. 198 were released under President Barack Obama.
Like the prison itself, the Guantánamo military commissions are designed to violate basic rights. In the military commissions process, the government can hide evidence that it deems “too secret” from defense counsel (including evidence of torture). Government officials have spied on confidential conversations between attorneys and clients, and there is a longstanding shortage of capital attorneys. The Bush administration promoted the idea of military commissions as a way to bring swift justice to the architects of 9/11, but over 16 years have passed and there hasn’t been a single conviction. Meanwhile, terrorism trials that take place in the normal federal court process have expeditiously convicted and sentenced terrorists, including Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was sentenced for his role in the Boston Marathon bombing just two years after the attack.
Although Trump’s order seems to imply there is a large detainee population at GITMO, only 41 prisoners remain at the island gulag. Of these, five are cleared for release, and 28 are imprisoned under “indefinite detention,” and have not been accused of a crime. There is no justification for keeping the prison open—certainly not any judicial cause. Since 2002, only eight prisoners have been convicted, and four of those decisions were overturned.
The accused 9/11 terrorist attack plotters have not even been put on trial yet. Trial is not the primary goal at Guantanamo Bay; the chief concern is getting people inside its walls, and once they are there, letting them rot. The prison is a stain on the United States, and instead of sending more people to suffer there under extralegal “special” war on terror powers, it should be shut down once and for all.
This post was written by Iqra Asghar, an intern with the ACLU of Massachusetts’ Technology for Liberty Program.