By: Amine Ben Naceur, MPAC Senior Non-Resident Policy Fellow
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo detention center in the U.S. Navy base on the Cuban island. Since its opening in 2002, more than 800 detainees have entered the cells of the detention center known for its frequent human rights violations. Considered the last vestige of the War on Terror, U.S. authorities do not seem willing to close this obsolete detention center, even though the latest decisions of Congress and the Biden Administration go against the commitments made by the President during his campaign. In this context, MPAC reiterates its unconditional commitment to the closure of this institution, which further tarnishes the moral authority of our country on the international stage that has already been undermined by the previous administration.
Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on U.S. soil by a group of al Qaeda terrorists, the Guantanamo detention facility was created in 2002 by the George W. Bush Administration as a tool to support the War on Terror. In its design, the Guantanamo detention facility was created as a detention center for “warlords,” to prevent them from returning to fight U.S. forces in the battlefield until the war was over. Because of the indefinite detention and torture of prisoners, the Guantanamo detention facility is considered a major human rights violation by leading international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International. The detention center also violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to our Constitution. However, because of its special nature, the arrest and imprisonment of combatants accused of terrorism is carried out solely by the military, without a court of law and without oversight by any civilian authority, allowing the detention facility to bypass our constitution.
Concerned about the lack of respect for human rights at the infamous detention center, MPAC joined with other human rights organizations to highlight the abuses at Guantanamo. For MPAC, the lack of transparency in the absence of a court trial was immediately a red flag, and a great concern. In addition, MPAC has always believed that this prison damages the reputation of the United States around the world, fueling the propaganda used by groups hostile to our country. That is why MPAC has and continues to advocate for our government to close the detention center.
Since the opening of Guantanamo, MPAC has been an early presence in the national debate about Guantanamo Bay, and has been leading the movement to close Guantanamo. MPAC has also been present on the ground through its president, Salam Al-Marayati, who visited the detention center back in 2007 with a cohort of lawyers, civil society representatives, and journalists, as part of a delegation organized by the Pentagon. Over the past two decades, MPAC has organized a series of conferences bringing together human rights activists and security experts to inform the debate about the detention center and the importance of its closure. Among its latest initiatives, MPAC recently convened a panel discussion around the subject of the recent Golden Globe-winning film, The Mauritanian, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, and his defense attorney Nancy Hollander, who won her habeas corpus case procuring his release, to discuss the impact of the detention center, and why Guantanamo should be closed.
Today, 39 men are being held at the Guantanamo detention facility, almost all without charges or a court trial. Dozens of these detainees have already been cleared for release by the U.S. military and national security agencies. They are trapped in a political quagmire from which no administration has been able to extricate them due to the inability of Congress to reach a consensus on the issue of repatriating certain prisoners to the United States. Upon his election, President Barack Obama promised that he would close the detention facility, but he faced strong opposition from the U.S. Congress, which passed laws prohibiting Guantanamo detainees from being imprisoned in the United States. Under the Obama Administration, the number of detainees was reduced significantly from approximately 245 to 41. Despite these advances, in January 2018, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to keep the detention camp open indefinitely. The current administration, despite numerous statements from President Joe Biden reiterating his commitment to closing the detention center, has seen little progress or even pushback to close down the detention facility. Indeed, while the administration is planning on building a new courtroom for the Guantanamo detainees, Congress, in its Annual Defense Spending Bill, passed a law prohibiting the use of funds to close the military detention center.
The threat of terrorism remains, and the United States must continue its efforts to combat radical groups and ideologies threatening our citizens, on American soil or abroad, with the various tools our security institutions have developed. Nevertheless, with the withdrawal of our soldiers from Afghanistan marking the end of the ‘never-ending’ War on Terror, MPAC believes that Guantanamo is no longer fulfilling its primary task which was originally created to prevent the return of combatants arrested by the U.S. military on the battlefield. In that sense, MPAC calls on the U.S. government to close down the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility, and to work with our partner nations and international civil society organizations to release all detainees held in Guantanamo Bay without charges.