On Guantanamo Bay's 14 Year Anniversary, It's Time To Close
It was exactly 14 years ago today, on January 11th, 2004, that the United States deemed Guantanamo Bay a detention camp for high-profile terrorists and terror suspects. A little over two years had passed since the tragic events of 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan, and less than a year passed since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The facility was to be used for detaining extraordinarily dangerous people, for interrogations, and to prosecute these detainees for war crimes.
What actually happened over the past 14 years could best be described as a blow to our reputation as a nation of justice and integrity. The techniques used against those trapped within its walls included torture, waterboarding, starvation, and other psychological traumatizing acts. Over the years, almost 800 men have passed through the prison gates. Today, on the 14th anniversary, that number stands at 103 still imprisoned.
The most recent prisoner to leave, Muhammed Abd Al Rahman Awn Al-Shamrani, was sent back to Saudi Arabia Monday morning on the prison’s anniversary, after spending 14 years inside. Like many of the hundreds of prisoners who’ve been detained there, Mr. Al-Shamrani was held without any formal charges—a move originally approved by the Bush administration. His transfer came a week after the U.S. transferred three more detainees out, and is part of an ongoing plan to reduce the population in the prison to 90 by the end of January.
This acceleration of transfers can be traced back to President Obama’s promise in his 2008 State of the Union address to finally shut down the prison, after years of abuse and mismanagement. It was a promise that has haunted his seven years in the White House, due to fierce opposition by politicians in Congress. Obama’s argument has been that the prison’s reputation is so bad that it’s become a recruitment tool in propaganda for terrorist groups like Al Qaeda.
On Sunday, January 10th, on the eve of the anniversary, a statement was made that gave hope to those who have waited years for justice to overrule politics. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough appeared on Fox News to discuss the facility, and Obama’s longstanding promise to close the prison by the end of his term.
“He feels an obligation to the next president. He will fix this so that they don’t have to be confronted with the same set of challenges,” Mr. McDonough said.
Of the 103 prisoners left inside the facility, 44 have already been approved for transfer, if security conditions can be met. According to McDonough, Obama will soon present Congress with a detailed plan to close the prison. If that plan is rejected, there is a strong possibility that Obama could use his executive authority to close the facility.
Whatever happens, it’s clear that the facility has become nothing more than a reminder of the egregious human rights violations that occurred over its 14-year history. As Obama prepares to present his final State of the Union address on Tuesday, January 12th, we hope that this will be the year that the prison shuts its doors for good.
Images via The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post