A Letter to President Biden from a Former Intelligence Officer: Close Guantanamo Bay

Dear President Biden:

I was relieved to hear that you intend to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. I spent two years providing support to President Obama’s effort to transfer detainees from that awful place, and seeing this blight on America’s reputation close once and for all is something that is near and dear to my heart. I volunteered for that assignment because I believed the America I was born in would never torture — and yet we did.  It took me years to get my mind around that, and for me, the process of coming to grips with it meant I needed to do something, no matter how small, to help close this symbol of America’s descent into darkness. I read things that made me cry; things I never expected to read, but haunt me to this day.

During those years, and since, I have been struck by the disturbing thought that were it not for a little bit of luck in terms of where I happened to be born, the men in Guantanamo could have included my father or my uncle, not because they had anything to do with terrorism, but simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or took a job unwitting of who hired them, or were handed over by corrupt authorities who wanted to collect a bounty.

Or, Mr. President, it could have been your son. It could have been your grandson who, like the son of Ahmed Rabbani, only reportedly discovered that his father was in Guantanamo when he did an internet search.  That young man must be in a great deal of pain after learning his father—who is the victim of mistaken identity (see page 325 of the SSCI torture report)—is in such a state of despair after enduring 19 years in Guantanamo without charge that he believes death is likely the only way he will ever escape the prison.

Sure, some real terrorists wound up in Guantanamo — but they should be brought to justice in our time-tested courts.

It is past time to let many of these men go. Six have been cleared for release—Abdul Latif Nasir, Muieen al-Sattar, Said Salih Said Nashir, Sufyian Barhoumi, Tafiq al Bihani, and Ridah bin Saleh al Yazidi—yet they continue to languish there. Others have never been charged; still others in the aging population reportedly have serious medical issues and should be transferred on humanitarian grounds.

The war in Afghanistan is over. The so-called War on Terror is over for all practical purposes. Please prioritize transferring these men out Guantanamo, and fill the positions of Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure at both the State Department and the Pentagon. We took years—in some cases nearly two decades—of these men’s lives. It is unconscionable to take even one day more.

I mentioned that there were days on the job that I cried. I still do at times—the experience changed me forever. But imagine the tears these men and their families have shed, the pain they have endured, and how they have been changed and harmed.

There is shame in the knowing. There is greater shame in knowing, and doing nothing.

Mr. President, you can do something. End this horrible era of American history. Transfer the men who are cleared, review the cases of those who have not been charged, bring those facing charges to the United States to be tried in a legitimate court of law, and let’s finally close Guantanamo. This is one more step toward building a better America.

Respectfully,

Gail Helt

Former Intelligence Officer, CIA

Bristol, TN

IMAGE: (NOTE: Image has been reviewed by the U.S. Military prior to transmission.) Razor wire lines the fence of the “Gitmo” maximum security detention center on October 22, 2016 at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

 

About the Author(s)

Gail Helt

Gail Helt is a former CIA analyst (2003-1014) who spent two years supporting President Obama’s effort to transfer detainees from Guantanamo Bay prison. She is currently an assistant professor of security and intelligence studies at a small liberal arts school in Tennessee, where she teaches students that torture is always morally and legally wrong.