The Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) issued a reminder that January 11, 2023, marked the 21st anniversary of that emblem of American injustice, the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, where the US government continues to imprison 35 people at an astronomical cost of $540 million a year.
CVT joined a diverse group of over 150 non-governmental organizations in the United States and other countries around the world that work on issues including international human rights, immigrants’ rights, racial justice and combatting anti-Muslim discrimination – to call on President Joe Biden to close Guantánamo.
“Among a broad range of human rights violations perpetrated against predominantly Muslim communities over the last two decades, the Guantánamo detention facility – built on the same military base where the United States unconstitutionally detained Haitian refugees in deplorable conditions in the early 1990s – is the iconic example of the abandonment of the rule of law,” the groups wrote.
Post-9/11 service members and veterans organizing to end a foreign policy of permanent war and the use of military weapons, tactics, and values in communities across the country were among the organizations calling for an end to the disgraceful prison established by President George W. Bush’s administration in 2002.
Bush’s endless War on Terror used the concentration camp to subject prisoners of war and other random captives to indefinite detention without trial, operating as a major breach of human rights.
The illegitimate internment has been condemned by Amnesty International and it has been cited as a violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth amendments of the United States Constitution by the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Guantanamo’s legacy of abuse, injustice and ‘lawlessness’ gets worse with each passing year, says former detainee Mansoor Adayfi, a citizen of Yemen who was kidnapped when he was 18, turned over to the CIA and spent 14 years detained without charge in the Guantánamo Bay concentration camp.
“It symbolises oppression, injustice, lawlessness, abuse of power and indefinite detention,” said Adayfi.
“The ‘war on terror’ will not end until Guantanamo is closed. So any claim that the war is over is false,” said Lisa Hajjar, a sociology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Hajjar is the author of the book titled The War in Court: Inside the Long Fight Against Torture, published last year. She said the prison’s lasting legacy is that the US government – “ostensibly a liberal political democracy” – denied the humanity of detainees in the name of national security interests.
“This is not a problem of the past,” they explained. “Guantánamo continues to cause escalating and profound damage to the aging and increasingly ill men still detained indefinitely there, most without charge and none having received a fair trial.”
The groups urged Biden to close Guantánamo, end indefinite military detention of those held there, and “never again us[e] the military base for unlawful mass detention of any group of people.”
“History will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism and those of us who fail to bring it to a responsible end,” wrote President Barack Obama, in a two-page letter to Congress on the eve of his departure from the White House.
“By any measure, the costs of keeping it open far exceed the complications involved in closing it,” Obama said. “There is simply no justification beyond politics for the Congress’ insistence on keeping the facility open. Members of Congress who obstruct efforts to close the facility, given the stakes involved for our security, have abdicated their responsibility to the American people.”
The Bush administration opened the detention center at the U.S. Navy base on Jan. 11, 2002, across the years brought in nearly 800 detainees, and had repatriated or resettled more than 500 of them by the time Obama took office.
“We have transferred 196 detainees from Guantánamo with arrangements designed to keep them from engaging in acts that pose a threat to the United States and our allies,” Obama wrote in his January 19, 2017, letter to make one more argument for closure. “Of the nearly 800 detainees at one time held at the facility, today only 41 remain.”
“For 15 years, the United States has detained hundreds of people at the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, a facility that never should have been opened in the first place,” Obama wrote. “Terrorists use it for propaganda, its operations drain our military resources during a time of budget cuts, and it harms our partnerships with allies and countries whose cooperation we need against today’s evolving terrorist threat.”
Read the full letter here.
Of the nearly 800 Muslim men and boys who have at some point since 2002 been held at Guantánamo, 35 remain today. The government’s most senior national security officials have already recommended that 20 of those men be transferred out, but they continue to languish.
To learn more about Guantánamo – including the men who remain, the military commissions system and how Guantánamo can be closed – visit https://www.cvt.org/GuantanamoOverview