Guantanamo: Still Open, Still Violating Human Rights

August 20, 2012

Omar Khadr guantanamo
Omar Khadr has been held since he was 15 years old, and awaits transfer home to Canada as part of a plea deal.

Today, 168 people are imprisoned at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay by the US government.

I’ll be at Guantánamo this week to observe military commission proceedings in a case relating to the September 11 attacks. (When possible, I’ll share my thoughts from Guantánamo on the blog and on Twitter @ZekeJohnsonAi.) The case is resuming over three years after President Obama ordered the prison closed in one year.

All of the detainees at Guantánamo should already long ago have either been charged and tried fairly in civilian court, or been released to countries that would respect their human rights.

Instead, the US government continues to violate human rights at Guantánamo Bay. A 2010 government task force outlined the Administration’s plans:

The US government continues to violate human rights at Guantánamo Bay.

  • Refer some detainees for prosecution in unfair military commission trials. This is a violation of the right to a fair trial.
  • Hold others indefinitely without charge. This is a violation of the prohibition of arbitrary detention and undermines the fundamental role of the ordinary criminal justice system in safeguarding liberty.
  • Transfer, someday, a number of detainees to “conditional detention” in other countries. The detainees may face more human rights violations including continuing arbitrary detention.
  • And transfer of the dozens of detainees that the government itself considers to be cleared for release (today, reportedly numbering some 57 detainees)–a plan that remains to be fully implemented.

Why is Guantánamo still open?

  • It seemed clear to just about everyone back in 2008 that the Guantánamo disaster had to be fixed, in order to get back on track toward human rights, the rule of law and the fundamental principles of justice and fairness found in the Constitution. Indeed, in the 2008 election race, both candidates McCain and Obama supported closure of Guantanamo, and once he took office, President Obama ordered it closed within one year.
  • But soon after, some in Congress apparently calculated that they could gain political points for slamming Obama on closing Guantánamo and, in response, the President tacked the wrong way. He embraced indefinite detention and the unfair military commissions, and at one point his plan to close the prison appeared merely to amount to changing its zip code—he would move indefinite detention and military commissions to a new prison in the US mainland.  Congress—Republicans and Democrats—blocked even that.
  • Now, candidate Romney says he would “double Gitmo” and President Obama seems to have gone quiet on the goal of closing the detention center. All this just four years after it was seen by a wide spectrum ofUS political and popular opinion as an obvious and urgent.

A good start toward getting closure of Guantánamo back on track would be resettling the approximately 57 detainees who are reportedly cleared by the government itself for release.  If there is truly no other country willing to resettle these detainees, one that is both safe and acceptable to the administration, then the government should stop shirking its human rights responsibilities and allow the men their liberty in the mainland USA.

Let Presidential candidates Obama and Romney know where you stand on Guantánamo: Send tweets to @BarackObama  and @MittRomney.