ISSN 2330-717X

Guantanamo: 20 Years Later, Closure Of Prison Still Pending – OpEd

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The Center for Constitutional Rights and the Center for Justice and International Law – CEJIL addressed the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) today in a public hearing held to monitor the current state of the precautionary measures granted to protect detainees held at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base. 

Guantánamo Bay detention camp opened in January 2002. Since then, it has held nearly 800 prisoners, all Muslim men and boys from around the world. In March 2002, the Inter-American Commission issued precautionary measures to protect the men detained at Guantánamo Bay. Since 2013, the IACHR has called for the immediate closure of Guantánamo due to the indefinite detention of the prisoners and allegations of abuse and mistreatment.  

At the hearing, the Center for Constitutional Rights and CEJIL emphasized that the United States’ non-compliance with these precautionary measures for more than 20 years is unacceptable. Today, 36 men remain at Guantánamo. Of these, 21 are cleared for transfer and Center for Constitutional Rights client Majid Khan must also be transferred because he has already completed his sentence. Legally, they could and should be transferred immediately, yet they remain in indefinite detention. While the Biden administration has made efforts, the pace of transfers has been too slow, and prison closure will not be achieved before the end of President Biden’s current term in office at the current rate, they said. 

Furthermore, the organizations alerted the IACHR that despite the Biden administration’s stated commitments to closing the Guantánamo prison and respecting the rule of law and human rights, the U.S. Department of Justice continues to fight in court to detain men approved for transfer by all of the relevant agencies – including the Department of Justice – and to deny them constitutional due process rights. The organizations maintain this makes no sense and, indeed, reflects policy incoherence and, ultimately, failure. In addition, continued use of military commissions directly hinders the prison’s closure, as it cannot be closed without resolving the military commissions, they argued.

During the hearing, representatives of the U.S. State Department confirmed their commitment to the closure of Guantánamo and underscored the current administration’s efforts to conduct a thorough review to reduce the detainee population. They informed the IACHR of the recent appointment of Ambassador Tina Kaidanow as the U.S. Department of State Senior Representative for GuantánamoAffairs and discussed government policy on transfers, detention review, humane treatment, military commissions, and due process.

As representatives of men detained at Guantánamo, CEJIL and the Center for Constitutional Rightsurge the U.S. government to guarantee due process, end the use of military commissions, and close the Guantánamo detention center according to its international obligations. Further, the organizations requested that the Commission facilitate dialogue with OAS member states that are willing and able to accept men who are detained and require resettlement in a third country.

Following the hearing, Wells Dixon of the Center for Constitutional Rights said, “Today’s hearing underscored the urgent humanitarian need for strong U.S. allies to resettle individuals who no one thinks should continue to be held in a prison that everyone agrees should be closed.”

At the close of the hearing, Commissioner Stuardo Ralón invited the United States to create a plan for closure of the Guantánamo Bay detention center, given that such a plan “does not exist” currently. Twenty years after the opening of the prison, and more than a year after the conclusion of the conflict in Afghanistan, a concrete plan and timeline for closure is urgent. 

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