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Wednesday, 12 January 2022 07:13

20 years on, Biden must close Guantánamo once and for all

At a recent demonstration outside the White House calling for the closure of the US military prison at the Guantánamo Bay naval base on the island of Cuba, a teenager approached a colleague to ask what the protest was all about. He told her he had never heard of the detention facility.

It has been 20 years and four presidential administrations since Guantánamo opened, but for those born since then, its terrifying stories sound more like the plot of a fictitious horror film than reality. It is a disgraceful legacy we simply cannot pass on to future generations.

Opened in response to the September 11 attacks, Guantánamo has held almost 780 Muslim men and boys. Before they were detained, many were abducted, disappeared and brutally tortured in secret US-run prisons or by so-called allies in the “war on terror”. In Guantánamo, they were tortured, very few were charged with crimes, and none given a fair trial. Kafkaesque military commissions set up to try them have proven ineffectual and unfair, denying defendants an impartial arbiter and access to critical evidence. Meanwhile, families of 9/11 victims have waited in vain for justice.

Amnesty International and many others around the world have doggedly campaigned to close the prison since its inception. President Joe Biden, like President Barack Obama before him, has promised to close it, but so far has failed to do so.
The Biden administration transferred one detainee out of the facility in July but has yet to reestablish the special envoy office in the Department of State dedicated to the prison’s closure. On the contrary, the administration has recently announced plans to build a new courtroom at Guantánamo to continue the work by the military commissions – the very opposite of a blueprint to shut the place down.

It is not just about closing Guantánamo. It is also about delivering accountability for the violations committed within its setting. Last year, testimonies from a number of former detainees, including Majid Khan, Abu Zubayda, and Mohamedou Ould Slahi, describing their abuse at US-operated “black sites” abroad and in Guantanamo, were made public. Abu Zubaydah’s story was told in a PBS documentary called, the Forever Prisoner, the torture inflicted upon Slahi, who is now a bestselling author and human rights defender, was portrayed in the film, The Mauritanian, while Khan told a sentencing jury about enduring stress positions, beatings, forced-feeding using tubes tipped with hot sauce, and sodomy with a garden hose.

 

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