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136 To Go…The Unbearable Slowness of Closing Guantánamo

We have offered our hospitality to human beings who suffered an atrocious kidnapping in Guantánamo

– Uruguayan President José Mujica, 5 December 2014

With the transfer from the US naval base in Guantánamo Bay of six men who had been held there without charge or trial for more than 12 years, there are now 136 detainees left at the base. This is the lowest number since mid-January 2002, nearly 13 years ago, a few days after these ill-judged and unlawful detainee operations began. The USA is reducing the detainee population, but is doing so at a glacial pace and by relying on others to do what it refuses to.

It took about seven weeks to get the Guantánamo detention facility up and running – from Presidential order to the first detainees arriving on 11 January 2002. It is now around eight years since the US authorities say they have been working to shut it down, and we are approaching the fifth anniversary of the date – 22 January 2010 – by which President Barack Obama said that the prison camp would be closed and the detentions resolved.

Thus, as Amnesty International has previously pointed out, the country that was first to put a human being on the moon apparently cannot within any reasonable timeframe find its way to closing a prison its last two presidents have said does the country serious harm. Having set the detention facility up in a human rights vacuum, the USA’s shameful failure to close it stems from its continuing refusal to address the detentions as a human rights issue. The detainees remain prisoners of a US “global war” theory and domestic US politics.