Gitmo, 15 Years Later

Fifteen years ago today, the first detainees in the “War on Terror” arrived at the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Five months’ prior, the United States had suffered an unprecedented attack that left nearly 3,000 Americans dead and the nation stunned. In a time of fear and uncertainty, the U.S. government enacted policies that undermined American ideals and respect for human rights.

Those policies were wrong. And it’s long past time they came to an end.

President Obama knew this when he came into office on January 20th, 2009. Two days later, he issued executive order 13491, which banned torture, and executive order 13492, requiring the prison at Guantanamo to be closed within one year. Last summer, the Senate passed the McCain-Feinstein Anti-Torture Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act by a margin of 78-21, reinforcing the absolute prohibition on the use of torture by any U.S. departments or agencies. However, nearly eight years after Obama’s pledge to close the prison at Guantanamo, it remains open.

This is not to say that progress hasn’t been made. When President Obama took office, there were 242 detainees held at Guantanamo. Today, there are 55. Of those, 19 have been unanimously approved for transfer by six national security agencies. And Periodic Review Board hearings to assess the 26 detainees who have not yet been cleared continue to be scheduled. Reports indicate that there will be additional transfers before President Obama leaves office in a week and a half.

The need for transfers has never been more urgent. Opposed to closing the prison, President-elect Trump has promised to fill it with “some bad dudes.” His position is based largely on misrepresented recidivism statistics and outdated intelligence assessments, not on the opinions of many in the national security community.

Keeping Guantanamo open does not serve the interests of justice or security. Hundreds of terrorism suspects have been successfully prosecuted and convicted in federal courts since the military commissions at Guantanamo were convened. Only eight detainees at Guantanamo have been convicted in that time, and three of those convictions have been overturned, while one was partially overturned. Four hundred and forty-three convicted terrorists are held in U.S. federal prisons. Not one has escaped and not one of these communities has been targeted by terrorism.

In fact, Guantanamo makes us less safe. Representations of the prison have been used time and time again in recruitment propaganda from both ISIS and al Qaeda and our allies have refused to share crucial intelligence with us out of concern that those captured as a result may end up in the prison. It is also a massive waste of taxpayer money, costing around $8 million annually for each detainee—much more than if detainees were housed in comparable facilities within the United States.

President Obama is to be commended for his effort towards closing Guantanamo, but it looks likely that the prison will outlive his presidency. In the days he has left in office, we urge him to do everything in his power to transfer cleared detainees and to limit the ability of future administrations to increase the population. Guantanamo shouldn’t become a permanent part of our country.


Published on January 11, 2017


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