Guantanamo: Reopening Under New Management

January 5, 2012

(JTF Guantanamo photo by U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Gino Reyes)

Next Wednesday will mark the tenth anniversary of the arrival of the first detainee at the military prison hurriedly erected on the arid scrubland of the United States Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In the past decade more than 775 individuals have made that journey, the vast majority have been released without charge after years of harsh captivity, 171 still remain – many cleared for release by the military but trapped by the restrictions placed on their resettlement by Congress.

The last prisoner arrived in Guantanamo in March 2008 but this spring we can expect the first new arrivals in four years to start trickling into the facility. The passage of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) means that Gitmo has now been reopened for business.

In tandem with opening up Guantanamo to new detainees, the NDAA has also given a shot in the arm to the moribund Military Commissions process. Military Commissions have heard six cases to conclusion since they were first established by the Bush administration in 2001.

By contrast Federal courts successfully prosecuted 523 terrorism-related defendants between September 11, 2001, and December 31, 2009. Among those convicted were Al Qaeda members such as the shoe bomber Richard Reid and the Millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam. The Military Commissions convicted bin Laden’s cook.

Promoting an international global armed conflict paradigm as the most appropriate framework for confronting Al Qaeda has led the United States down some very dark paths in the past decade. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the military may have some pretty big hammers but not every problem is as straightforward to solve as pounding a nail.

Provoking the state to overreact, to undermine its own values and to discard human rights protections is a core staple of the terrorist playbook. It is a strategy you can find described in countless terrorist manuals dating back to the nineteenth century.  And it is a trap into which the U.S. Government has fallen.

Targeted killing has become a commonplace tactical tool with drones striking targets in countries in which US personnel are not even fighting, such as Yemen and Somalia.

Indefinite detention for suspected members of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and loosely defined associates has been codified in US law. A profound distinction now exists in US law between US persons and foreigners, a violation of one of the most fundamental principles of justice – equality before the law.

US government officials now boast of ordering the abuse of detainees in American custody, ordering the enforced disappearance of suspected enemies and establishing secret prisons with impunity. Candidates for office openly avow that they too will do the same.

Shameful partnerships between the CIA and repressive security services have been exposed by popular uprisings in Libya and Egypt. A former Guantanamo detainee is now even part of the ruling coalition in Tripoli.

Friendly governments now think twice before cooperating with the United States in counterterrorism operations for fearing of exposing themselves to criminal liability. Intelligence officers in Italy and the United Kingdom have been subject to police investigations. Others may soon face investigation in Poland, Lithuania and Romania.

Perhaps most damaging of all is the fact that authoritarian governments around the world are now using US actions as a cover for their own activities. Human rights abuses in the name of counterterrorism are the new normal.

Like the USA, Russia is hunting down and killing suspected terrorists overseas. In the same month that alleged Al Qaeda cleric Anwar Al Awlaki was killed by a US drone strike in Yemen, the Turkish authorities believe Russian military intelligence gunned down three Chechen militants outside a mosque in Istanbul.

Sri Lanka waged its own war on terror against the Tamil Tigers, which ended with Tamil civilians forcibly herded into containment camps. Saudi Arabia has used counterterrorism legislation to clamp down on dissidents. Iran justified its treatment of three captive US hikers by likening conditions in Tehran’s Evin Prison to those in Guantanamo.

There can be little doubt that the rejuvenation of the Guantanamo detention facility is a catastrophe for the reputation of the United States and for the global cause of human rights promotion. The prison may be reopening under new management but the change is, at best, cosmetic.

Guantanamo has infected everything it has touched and we mark this dismal anniversary knowing with a heavy heart that Guantanamo, and the rank injustice it represents, is once more in the ascendant.

Take Action: End Indefinite Detention & Close Guantanamo

Join us in Washington DC on January 11, 2012—the 10th anniversary of Guantanamo—for a mass demonstration against indefinite detention and torture.