For the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, and the first anniversary of Donald Trump’s inauguration, a cross-party group of British MPs have written to Donald Trump, and to Republican Senators John McCain and Bob Corker, the chairs of two influential Senate Committees (the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations), to urge action on Guantánamo after a year in which no prisoner has been released, despite five of the 41 men still held being approved for release, between 2010 and 2016, by high-level government processes established under President Obama. Throughout 2017, Donald Trump also made it clear that he has no interest in closing the prison, and would like to expand its use.
Almost as soon as Trump took office last January, a leaked draft executive order revealed that he wanted to keep Guantánamo open, wanted to send new prisoners there, and wanted to “suspend any existing transfer efforts pending a new review as to whether any such transfers are in the national security interests of the United States.” He also wanted to reinstate torture and the use of CIA “black sites.”
Trump’s enthusiasm for torture was immediately rebuffed by a wide range of critics, including many in his own administration and his eagerness to send new prisoners to Guantánamo has also not led to any new arrivals at the prison, for sound reasons that we hope remain flagged up throughout the rest of his presidency. Set up to be beyond the reach of the US courts, Guantánamo was never about justice or due process, but about using torture and abuse and then hiding it, and as the troubled history of the military commissions reveals, once prisoners have been tortured, it is difficult, if not impossible to bring them to justice. Trump’s advisers have undoubtedly also told him that US courts have a strong track record of successfully prosecuting those accused of terrorism.
When it comes to releasing prisoners, however, Donald Trump has done nothing. The role of Guantánamo envoy, established under Obama to deal with transfers from the prison — and to monitor transferred prisoners for security reasons — has been allowed to lapse, as we reported last April, and even last August Trump was still reportedly trying to work out how to expand the use of Guantánamo rather than accepting the need for its closure.
Tom Wilner and I, the co-founders of Close Guantánamo, met with British MPs to discuss Guantánamo in December, and are delighted that a cross-party group, all with experience of working towards the closure of Guantánamo, are seeking to establish communication with the administration from outside the US, picking up the baton of engagement and pressure that was exerted under both of Trump’s predecessors when it came to Guantánamo — George W. Bush, who opened Guantánamo, but who faced increased pressure from America’s allies throughout his presidency, and who ended up conceding that it should be closed, and Barack Obama, who promised to close it but never managed to do so, and who, in 2013, was subjected to serious international criticism when the prisoners, appalled at being abandoned, as Obama failed to release anyone after Congress raised cynical obstacles to the release of prisoners, embarked on a prison-wide hunger strike that attracted international criticism of his inaction.
We commend the MPs for the letter, and also for the Early Day Motion calling for the closure of Guantánamo and the release of prisoners approved for release, which was tabled by Chris Law MP on January 9, and has, to date, been signed by 38 MPs. If you’re in the UK, you can urge your MP to sign it by writing to them here.
Below is the text of the MPs’ letter:
The 16th anniversary of the opening of the Guantánamo Bay prison camp
To: Donald J. Trump, President of the United States
Senator John S. McCain, Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee
Senator Robert P. Corker Jr., Chairman, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
January 11 marks the 16th anniversary of the opening of the Guantánamo Bay prison camp. 41 men remain imprisoned there. Five were approved for release by high-level government review processes under President Obama but are still held. 26 others have never been charged with any wrongdoing but have no prospect of release through trial. The others, although charged, are languishing in a failed military commission system that has been unable to provide them with a fair trial.
The continued detention of these men without due process violates the most fundamental democratic values and undermines both the United States and its allies in their fight against international terrorism. As members of the Parliament of its oldest and closest ally, we call on the United States finally to close this prison. It has been open far too long.
Andrew Mitchell MP (Conservative, Sutton Coldfield)
Andy Slaughter MP (Labour, Hammersmith)
Tom Brake MP (Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington)
Chris Law MP (SNP, Dundee West)
Caroline Lucas MP (Green, Brighton Pavilion)
The MPs are all members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Guantánamo, established in 2016 as a follow-up to the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, which successfully sought the release from Guantánamo of UK resident Shaker Aamer in 2015.
Andrew Mitchell and Andy Slaughter were Vice Chairs of the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group. They visited Washington, D.C. in May 2015 to seek his release, with David Davis MP and Jeremy Corbyn MP. Tom Brake and Caroline Lucas were also members of the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, and Chris Law is the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Guantánamo.
I wrote the above article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.