‘It’s a huge political albatross’: Guantánamo Bay, 20 years on | Guantánamo Bay

On 4 January 2002, Brig Gen Michael Lehnert acquired an pressing deployment order. He would take a small power of marines and sailors and construct a jail camp within the US-run navy enclave on Cuba’s south coast, Guantánamo Bay.

Lehnert had 96 hours to deploy and construct the primary 100 cells, in time for the primary plane-load of captives arriving from the battlefield in Afghanistan on 11 January. The job was completed on time: a grid of chain-link cages surrounded by barbed wire and 6 plywood guard towers manned by snipers. There have been 5 windowless huts for interrogations. It was named Camp X-Ray.

Camp X-Ray was in-built three days, however the sprawling Guantánamo Bay jail camp which grew out of it has proved very onerous to dismantle. About 780 detainees have been held there over the previous 20 years, lots of them swept up arbitrarily on the battlefield. One university study discovered that 55% of them had not dedicated hostile acts towards the US or its allies.

(*20*)US army military police escort a detainee to his cell in Camp X-Ray on 11 January 2002.
US military navy police escort a detainee to his cell in Camp X-Ray on 11 January 2002. {Photograph}: Reuters

Three of the previous 4 US presidents (Donald Trump being the exception) have tried to shut it, however 20 years on, it’s nonetheless there, a authorized anomaly and lead weight wrapped round America’s world status.


Because the twentieth anniversary approached, Lehnert, now retired, appeared at a Senate listening to and seemed again in remorse.

“The velocity of Guantánamo’s creation and the urgency to achieve info had unhealthy penalties,” Lehnert instructed senators. “I’m not an lawyer, however even I do know that whenever you forego generations of authorized thought and precedent, unhealthy issues occur.”

Lehnert had been a part of a group of navy officers who tried to make Guantánamo a standard prisoner of conflict camp, topic to the Geneva conventions, however they had been overruled by their superiors within the Pentagon, which had chosen the positioning exactly as a result of it will lie exterior the rule of regulation.

“I keep in mind overhearing conversations that it was helpful to place a facility for holding captured terrorists in Guantánamo, as a result of mainly there was no clear authorized context and that was seen as a bonus,” Daniel Fried, a profession US diplomat who was working within the Bush White Home on the time, instructed the Guardian. “What I stored listening to in these days was it’s a model new world, the outdated guidelines don’t apply.

“It turned out to be a horrible mistake,” he stated.

Detainees hold on to a fence at maximum security prison Camp Delta at Guantánamo naval base in August 2004.
Detainees maintain on to a fence at most safety jail Camp Delta at Guantánamo naval base in August 2004. {Photograph}: Reuters

It has been a onerous mistake for the US to erase, as Fried is aware of first-hand. Within the Obama administration, he was made particular envoy for closing Guantánamo. He had some success within the first yr of the administration in persuading allied governments to just accept Guantánamo detainees, and the camp’s inhabitants was decreased to 41, however Barack Obama did not fulfil his pledge to close it down fully. His administration gave up on efforts to carry trials in New York and place long-term detainees in an empty jail in Illinois within the face of livid native opposition.

Guantánamo Bay (identified within the US navy by its abbreviation GTMO) has been left to fester. Situations have improved: the detainees are now not in solitary detention and are stored in cell blocks with fridges and communal pantries, however the truth of detention with out trial stays a fixed. Over the 20 years of its existence, solely 12 detainees have been charged, and solely two have been convicted by the navy commissions.

The trial of the 5 accused of direct participation within the 9/11 plot, together with its supposed mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, has not even began. They’re coming into the tenth yr of pre-trial hearings. On the different finish of the dimensions, 13 “low-value” inmates have been cleared for switch, in some circumstances many years in the past. Tawfiq al-Bihani, a Yemeni picked up in Iran in 2001, was advisable for repatriation in 2010. However due to congressional Republican opposition, bureaucratic inertia and the issue of discovering nations prepared to just accept them, they’re nonetheless caught on the island.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, center, and co-defendant Walid Bin Attash, left, attending a pre-trial session at Guantánamo Bay.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, middle, and co-defendant Walid Bin Attash, left, attending a pre-trial session at Guantánamo Bay. {Photograph}: Janet Hamlin/AP

Chairing final month’s judiciary committee listening to, the Democratic senator Dick Durbin famous: “A era of battle has come and gone but the Guantánamo detention facility continues to be open, and daily it stays open is an affront to our system of justice and the rule of regulation.

“It’s the place due course of goes to die,” Durbin stated.

Additionally it is the place an rising variety of inmates could finish their lives. Over the previous 20 years, 9 inmates have died within the camp, seven of them by obvious suicide. A kind of was Yasser Talal Al Zahrani, a Saudi teenager on the time of his seize in Afghanistan in 2002. He was discovered lifeless in his cell 4 years later. His household insist he didn’t take his personal life.

“Lots of people don’t realise the gravity of being imprisoned in GTMO” stated Omar Deghayes, a Libyan citizen and UK resident, who spent 5 years there with out cost. He was blinded in a single eye in what he stated was an assault by a guard.


“It’s not how folks think about. It’s worse,” Deghayes stated. “I don’t see why GTMO is open when the Afghanistan conflict has ended. Put folks on trial, allow them to see the proof, and characterize themselves, or launch them.”

As time goes on, extra prisoners face loss of life in Guantánamo by pure causes. It is going to more and more turn into a very costly, but very rudimentary, nursing residence within the Caribbean. The Pentagon has requested for $88m to construct a hospice for ageing detainees, the New York Times has reported. The jail camp already prices over half a billion {dollars} a yr, understanding at almost $14m per detainee, in comparison with about $80,000 an inmate in US ‘supermax” prisons.

Joe Biden, like Obama, has pledged to shut the camp, however to date has solely decreased the jail inhabitants by one. Abdul Latif Nasser, a Moroccan captured in Afghanistan, was returned to his residence nation in July, after being held 19 years with out cost. He had been on the purpose of launch in 2016, however the required paperwork was not put collectively in time earlier than the Trump administration took workplace. All work on releases stopped, and Nasser needed to wait almost 5 extra years.

His lawyer, Thomas Durkin, is uncertain that Nasser’s launch is a part of a broader administration plan to shutter the jail.

Abdul Latif Naser.
Abdul Latif Nasser. {Photograph}: AP

“I’m undecided what their technique is,” Durkin stated. “They are saying they need to shut Guantánamo, however they appear to be working into all the identical issues that Obama did … Guantánamo has taken on a lifetime of its personal. It’s a huge political albatross, and albeit Obama dropped the ball.”

In 2010, a Republican-led Congress handed a defence spending invoice that included clauses geared toward stopping prisoner transfers to the US and putting restrictions on transfers from Guantánamo. These restrictions have been renewed and adjusted yearly since.

Biden’s critics declare Biden is utilizing Congress as an excuse for his sluggish progress. They level out he has not appointed a particular envoy, and his administration declined invites to ship officers to the Senate listening to on Guantánamo.

The rating Republican on the Senate judiciary committee, Chuck Grassley, taunted the Biden crew, saying: “Nobody from the administration has come to defend the president’s plan to shut Guantánamo, and I’m undecided there’s a plan.”

Administration officers insist that a lot of the groundwork for emptying the camp is being completed behind the scenes with out fanfare, and that with a comparatively small variety of remaining detainees, a particular envoy was not longer needed.

The guard tower of the ‘Camp Six’ detention facility in January 2012.
The guard tower of the ‘Camp Six’ detention facility in January 2012. {Photograph}: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Photographs

“The state division staffs a crew of officers in its bureau of counter-terrorism that focuses on Guantánamo transfers and associated points,” a senior administration official stated. “The division is dedicated to making sure that it may well successfully tackle the wants of this precedence mission. With solely 39 detainees remaining, we face a far totally different panorama now.”

What has not modified in that panorama is the adamant Republican opposition to any transfer in the direction of closure of the jail camp. Congressional Republican leaders, who supported transfers below the Bush administration, now painting all Guantánamo inmates, from the 9/11 accused to these cleared for launch years in the past, as “terrorists”.

Within the December listening to, Grassley invoked the “over 4,000 service members have given their lives in a conflict on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan”.

“The veterans of these wars gave life and limb to guard People from terrorists, like these at Guantánamo Bay,” Grassley stated.

Within the face of such absolutist opposition, Hina Shamsi, director of the nationwide safety venture on the American Civil Liberties Union, stated the most effective administration technique can be to drop its opposition in habeas corpus circumstances, and permit the courts to order prisoner transfers.

These could possibly be completed “responsibly, lawfully and safely”, Shamsi stated. “With court-ordered transfers, there are not any congressional notification necessities.”

As for these inmates who’ve been charged, she argued the administration ought to pursue plea agreements, which might entail, amongst different compromises, taking the loss of life penalty off the desk.

US military guards walk within the Camp Delta prison in June 2006.
US navy guards stroll throughout the Camp Delta jail in June 2006. {Photograph}: Brennan Linsley/AP

The political storm that will erupt over any plea settlement can be explosive, and can be grist to the mill for the Republican portrayal of Biden as weak within the face of America’s enemies. However Bernard Harcourt, a regulation professor who additionally represented Abdul Latif Nasser, stated the politics for Biden aren’t going to get any higher.

“These are the type of thorns that you’ll want to pull out instantly,” Harcourt stated. “With the midterms on the horizon after which one other presidential election, the stress just isn’t going to ease up. It’s simply going to worsen.”

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