Unhappy 16th Anniversary, Guantanamo Bay

It’s hard to believe, but here we are marking yet another anniversary of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center. It’s not a happy one.

Hidden and inaccessible as they are on a U.S. Navy base in Cuba, the remaining 41 detainees at Guantanamo might no longer grab people’s attention these days. But fortunately, many of them have lawyers.

On Thursday, a group of them filed a mass petition in federal court on behalf of about a dozen of the men still stuck at Guantanamo who have never been charged with a crime.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International is launching a global campaign urging the immediate transfer out of Guantanamo of one of the plaintiffs, Toffiq al-Bihani, a 45-year-old Yemeni man who was tortured by the CIA and has been detained without charge for more than 15 years. He’s been cleared for transfer out of the prison since 2010.

The U.S. government has long claimed that the Guantanamo detainees are being held under the laws of war, which allows detention of combatants, at least in an international armed conflict between states, for the duration of hostilities. Sixteen years later, that claim has surely lost its meaning, as the U.S. government has since re-defined all of its conflicts as a global battle against non-state armed groups around the world – essentially, one that will never end.

And time matters. The detainees are ageing and many are in ill-health. Some are on prolonged hunger strike. Some were tortured at the hands of U.S. agents, and continue to suffer both physically and mentally as a result. They have never been given the sort of rehabilitation services they are entitled to under international law.

The petition filed today seeks relief under the Due Process Clause and under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, which authorized military action in 2001 for a limited purpose – not for the sort of endless and ever-expanding global conflict the United States claims it’s engaged in today. Neither can international law justify this sort of endless and purposeless detention of men seized halfway across the world more than a dozen years ago, in some cases nowhere near a battlefield.

For years under President Barack Obama, advocates worked with officials in the administration to arrange for the safe transfer of cleared detainees like al-Bihani. And some transfers happened. But the Trump administration has made clear it has no intention of transferring anyone. It’s even dismantled the offices and eliminated the positions the Obama administration created for that purpose. President Donald Trump himself has vowed to expand Guantanamo rather than close it, despite the recommendations of a broad range of national security experts from both sides of the aisle. Detainees like al-Bihani who’ve already been deemed safe to transfer are now stuck there for no reason at all.

Sixteen years after its opening, supposedly for emergency purposes, it is high time to shut Guantanamo down. The detainees should be given a fair trial, sent home, or settled safely elsewhere. In the meantime, Toffiq al-Bihani and the others already cleared for transfer shouldn’t have to wait any longer.

 

Image: John Moore/Getty 

About the Author(s)

Daphne Eviatar

Director of the Security with Human Rights Program at Amnesty International USA She advocates for US compliance with international law in US national security policy. Follow her on Twitter (@deviatar).