A U.S. federal court in Washington, D.C. is currently hearing a case that will determine the fate of 11 out of the 40 inmates still detained at Guantánamo Bay. The inmates have been kept at the U.S. military prison in the southeastern part of Cuba anywhere from 10 to 16 years. Attorneys from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) claim that the 11 Guantánamo inmates are in “perpetual detention for detention’s sake” and are arguing that they should either be tried or released from the prison.
Attorneys cite habeas corpus as the reason for the prisoners possibly unlawful detention, a writ that requires a court to prove that there are lawful grounds for the detention of any prisoner. The Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that was passed by U.S. congress in 2001 granted the executive branch authority to “use all necessary and appropriate force” against people responsible for the 9/11 attacks or those who helped those responsible. The AUMF stated that limited detention was justified because it prevented the detainees from returning to the battlefield. Thus, those in favour of Guantánamo argue that as long as the War on Terror persists, the US can indefinitely detain prisoners of war to ensure they are not a threat. During the court case this week, Justice Department attorney Ronald Wiltsie claimed that “we could hold them for 100 years if the conflict lasts 100 years.”
The War on Terror has never had a definable objective or foreseeable end. Following the 9/11 attacks, George W. Bush claimed that the War on Terror “will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.” He also called it “a task that does not end.” The goals of the war are vague and unachievable. They also leave room for U.S. administrations to continue and expand the war as they see fit without the approval of congress. Thus, detainees can potentially remain in Guantánamo even as the groups they were associated with become defunct and the War on Terror shifts focus.
The Director of National Intelligence reported that as of January 2018, 16.9% of the transferred detainees at Guantánamo were confirmed to have reengaged in terrorist activities, and 12.9% were suspected of reengaging. Since 2009, 4.6% of transferred detainees were confirmed to have resumed terrorist activities, and 8.2% were suspected. On the other hand, inmates like Toffiq al-Bihani have been held and subjected to torture in Guantánamo for 15 years now and U.S. authorities have no intention of charging him with any crimes. Many detainees have been proven to be innocent in the past, victims of circumstance in their home countries. Amnesty International considers the camp to be a breach of human rights, and a Red Cross International Committee inspection in 2004 reported “humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes and use of forced positions” against inmates.
Under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, around 750 inmates from Guantánamo were released. Obama called Guantanamo a “sad chapter in American history” and promised to to close the infamous detention center when he entered office. Although he attempted to shut it down, Congress blocked his efforts. Five more detainees were cleared for release when he left office, but so far only one man has been released under Donald Trump’s presidency. Trump has vowed to keep the “really bad dudes” in and detain more. He signed an executive order in January to keep the prison open indefinitely. CCR attorney Pardiss Kebriaei said that Trump has demonstrated that the detentions are “not about real threat… they’re arbitrary and… just being held out of his animus and punishment.”
Inmates at Guantánamo should either face trial or be released immediately. The indefinite detention of inmates there is unjust and undermines U.S. moral authority on the world stage. Guantánamo stands as a symbol of American torture and disregard for the rule of law. The Trump administration should work towards shutting it down entirely.
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