[pjw] NEWS: Guantanamo prison lingers, an unresolved legacy of 9/11 (AP 9/9)

Peace and Justice Works pjw at pjw.info
Sun Sep 12 16:01:57 EDT 2021

I just ran across this article from Thursday about the future of the 
prison in Guantanamo Bay. I didn't realize that the defense bill removed 
the prohibition on moving inmates to US soil. I also knew that Biden was 
talking about waiting until next year to close the prison but see here 
that there is no money in the budget to keep running it next year-- and 
the fiscal year starts in October, if that's what they mean.

This article touches on the fact that the people are held as "enemy 
combatants" but not that there's no such thing under international law, 
nor that with combat (allegedly) ended in Afghanistan, at least those not 
facing charges need to be released.

In any case, this article left me feeling slightly more optimistic.
dan handelman
peace and justice works iraq affinity group

Guantanamo prison lingers, an unresolved legacy of 9/11
   By BEN FOX,   Associated Press, September 9, 2021

     NAVAL STATION GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba (AP) - President Joe Biden turned
     the page on one legacy of 9/11 by ending the war in Afghanistan. But he
     has yet to do much about another: the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

     The White House says it intends to shutter the prison on the U.S. base
     in Cuba, which opened in January 2002 and where most of the 39 men
     still held have never been charged with a crime. How or when the
     administration will carry out that plan remains unclear, though early
     moves to free one prisoner and place five others on a list of those
     eligible for release have generated optimism among some eager to see it
     close, including prisoners.

     "The fact that Biden, at least, is saying the right things has given
     people hope," said Clive Stafford Smith, a lawyer who was recently
     making his 40th trip to Guantanamo Bay, seeing prisoners he hadn't been
     able to visit since the start of the pandemic. "Hope is a dangerous
     thing because it's easily crushed. But at the same time, at least, they
     have hope and that?s good."

     As he did with Afghanistan, Biden faces a complex task in closing
     Guantanamo. It was a pledge that President Barack Obama famously made,
     and then failed to carry out. Closure was abandoned as a goal
     altogether under President Donald Trump, who vowed once to "load it up
     with some bad dudes" but mostly just ignored the place.

     The challenge now, as then, remains: What should the U.S. government do
     with the men at Guantanamo it isn't ready to release?

     Among them are Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, a onetime senior al-Qaida figure
     considered the architect of the 9/11 attacks. He faces a trial by
     military commission with four co-defendants that -- amid legal and
     logistical challenges, personnel issues and the pandemic -- has been
     bogged down in the pretrial stage at a specially built high-security
     courtroom for more than 9 years. There is no start in sight.

     Mohammad and his co-defendants were in court this week for the first
     time since the start of the pandemic for a hearing on the
     qualifications of a new judge, Air Force Col. Matthew McCall, to
     preside over the sprawling death penalty case. It was the 42nd round of
     pretrial hearings since the arraignment in May 2012.

     With the passage of time comes new problems. The oldest prisoner, a
     Pakistani cleared for release in May but who remains at Guantanamo, is
     74 and has heart disease and other ailments. A number of other men have
     significant physical and mental health issues as well that will need to
     be addressed if "indefinite" detention goes on much longer. Since
     Guantanamo opened, nine prisoners have died -- two from natural
     causes, and seven in apparent suicides.

     "People are getting older, sicker, more and more desperate," said
     Pardiss Kebriaei, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights
     who represents a Yemeni prisoner who was recently cleared but remains

     It's not surprising, really, that no one made long-term plans for the
     detention center. It was a makeshift project from the start.

     Following the invasion of Afghanistan, in reaction to the Sept. 11,
     2001, attacks, the U.S. wanted a place to hold the hundreds of
     prisoners from dozens of countries swept up by American forces, many
     handed over, as it turned out later, in exchange for bounties
     regardless of whether they had a connection to al-Qaida or the Taliban.

     The administration of then President George W. Bush declared they were
     the "worst of the worst," and asserted it could hold the men overseas,
     without charge as unlawful enemy combatants, not entitled to the full
     protections of prisoners of war at the sleepy Navy outpost on the
     jagged southeastern coast of Cuba.

     A photo released by the Pentagon showed the first detainees, clad in
     orange jumpsuits, and kneeling in outdoor cages under the tropical sun.
     It was intended to show a message that "we are doing what we need to
     do" in a defiant message to the world, said Karen Greenberg, director
     of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law.

     "They regretted that decision very soon afterwards, within days if not
     weeks," said Greenberg, author of "The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo's
     First 100 Days."

     As reports emerged of brutal treatment, Guantanamo became a source of
     international outrage, undercutting the sympathy and support the U.S.
     drew after the 9/11 attacks.

     The U.S. would end up holding 779 prisoners at Guantanamo and spend
     hundreds of millions constructing and operating what today looks more
     or less like a small state prison, surrounded by razor wire and guard
     posts at the edge of the shimmering Caribbean Sea.

     Bush would ultimately let 532 prisoners out. Obama released 197. Trump
     released a single detainee, a Saudi who went back to his homeland after
     striking a plea deal in the problem-plagued military commissions.

     Few of those held could be charged with a crime because no evidence was
     collected when they were captured, or there wasn't any, or it was
     tainted beyond use when the detainees were subjected to what the CIA
     euphemistically called "enhanced interrogation." Of those who remain,
     10 are facing trial by military commission, with all still in the
     pretrial stage.

     Over the years, the population has steadily shrunk as the U.S. decided
     some men no longer posed a threat and weren't worth holding amid legal
     challenges. It has also at times been roiled by hunger strikes and
     rocked by clashes between prisoners and guards, sparked largely by
     frustration at being held indefinitely without charge under what the
     U.S. asserted was its right under the international laws of war.

     Guantanamo is smaller and quieter now. But Stafford Smith, a founder of
     the human rights organization Reprieve, says it's still oppressive.
     "It's not so much the physical conditions, it's the psychological
     conditions," he said. "Being told that you're in Hotel California and
     you can check out but you can never leave, that psychologically is
     immensely damaging to people."

     Obama, who issued an executive order shortly after taking office
     directing that Guantanamo be closed within a year, ran into political
     opposition when his administration announced it would move the military
     trials to federal courts. Congress eventually added language to the
     annual Pentagon authorization bill prohibiting the government from
     moving Guantanamo prisoners into the United States for any reason.

     In a sign that the political winds might be shifting, Congress recently
     stripped the prohibition on transferring Guantanamo Bay prisoners from
     the Pentagon authorization and eliminated funding for the detention
     center from next year's budget. It remains to be seen whether that
     will change, particularly after several former prisoners, released
     under both Bush and Obama, emerged as Taliban leaders in Afghanistan.

     The Biden administration, which didn't respond to requests for comment
     for this article, hasn't said much about its plans.

     "I don't have a timeline for you," press secretary Jen Psaki told
     reporters when asked in July about closing Guantanamo. "As you know,
     there's a process. There are different layers of the process. But that
     remains our goal, and we are considering all available avenues to
     responsibly transfer detainees and, of course, close Guantanamo Bay."

     Those who support closure are encouraged by the fact that the new
     administration has revived a review board process and has cleared five
     for release. (None were cleared under Trump). But they are concerned
     that Biden team has yet to name anyone at the State Department to lead
     an effort to secure agreements with other countries for the
     resettlement of prisoners, as was done under Obama.

     Many argue that the simplest solution would be to move the cases of the
     10 detainees facing trial by military commission to federal court in
     the U.S. and find a way to transfer or release the rest. Kebriaei, the
     attorney whose Yemeni client is awaiting release, said the
     administration just needs to focus on the issue.

     "There's a sense that it has to be done and very practically more of
     a possibility that it can be done," she said.


     Ben Fox writes about national security for The Associated Press in
     Washington. He has reported from Guantanamo Bay many times since 2005.

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