Why the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay isn’t closing anytime soon

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President Joe Biden’s administration has pledged to permanently shut down the detention center for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, but given continued opposition from Congress, the prison is likely to remain. open for the foreseeable future.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Biden intends to shut down the detention center before he leaves office.

“He remains absolutely committed to shutting down Guantanamo Bay – something he has said repeatedly in the past as vice president, running for office, et cetera,” Psaki told reporters on Tuesday at a briefing. press release at the White House.

But nearly a year after the start of Biden’s administration, government officials have not said anything about exactly how the Guantanamo Bay detention center could be closed, where prisoners currently held there would be transferred. and how US officials might prosecute terror suspects when the current approach of using military commissions blocked legal proceedings.

For nearly 100 years, the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base was primarily known as the United States Army’s main outpost in the Caribbean. Many Americans were only aware of his existence as “Gitmo” because of the 1992 film. “A few good men.”

That changed after the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and suddenly found itself capturing fighters they didn’t want to recognize as prisoners of war.

“I think most people would agree that Al Qaeda is a terrorist organization,” said the then defense secretary. Donald Rumsfeld told reporters on January 22, 2002. “It’s not a country. And giving a status under a Geneva Convention to a terrorist organization that is not a country is something that I think some of the lawyers, who have not given up on their law studies, like me … ‘worry as a precedent. “

Over the years, Gitmo has become a detention center for captured prisoners around the world, and now that the Taliban have taken over Afghanistan, the prison has survived its original purpose.

In this photo released on January 18, 2002 by the Department of Defense, Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees in orange coveralls sit in a waiting area under US military police surveillance at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba during treatment at the temporary detention center on January 11, 2002. (AFP PHOTO / US NAVY / Shane T. McCoy)

The first 20 Afghan prisoners arrived at the detention center in January 2002. The then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Guantanamo Bay could be the “the least worst place” to detain detainees from the global war on terror. This temporary solution has proven to be permanent.

Almost 800 people have been held at the prison since it opened in 2002, but hundreds of these prisoners have been transferred to third countries since then.

Currently, 39 detainees are being held at Guantanamo Bay, said Army Lt. Col. Cesar Santiago, a Pentagon spokesman.

One detainee, Abdul Latif Nasir, has been transferred to Morocco since Biden took office in January, Santiago said.

A total of eight detainees at Guantanamo Bay have been sentenced by military commissions, but only two men are still serving prison terms, Santiago said. Two other detainees had their sentences canceled, one was released on parole and three were transferred to other countries.

Santiago said the Defense Ministry “fully supports” efforts to close the detention center and referred other matters to the National Security Council, which is considering the matter.

Of the detainees remaining at Guantanamo Bay, 13 may be transferred to a third country, Santiago said. The american government must reach an agreement with third countries before they can transfer detainees there, and it can be especially difficult with countries like war-torn Yemen, according to NBC News.

Former President Barack Obama signed a decree of 22 January 2009 who called for the prison to be closed within a year, but these efforts were crippled by divisions within its administration and met intense resistance of Congress, which ultimately barred one of the detainees from being transferred to the United States.

The United States captured Guantanamo Bay in 1898 during the Spanish-American War. Since 1903, the US government has leased 45 square miles of Guantanamo Bay for the naval station. This lease became permanent in 1934, and the presence of the US military in Cuba survived the Communist Revolution of 1959.

Guantanamo Bay prison survived the war in Afghanistan and it's getting nowhere
GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA – MAY 09: (IMAGE REVIEWED BY THE US ARMY BEFORE TRANSMISSION) An inmate stands in front of his cell door as a member of the US military walks by to Camp 4 inside Camp Delta on May 9, 2006 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (Photo by Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

As the Guantanamo Bay detention center is located on the sovereign territory of Cuba, the prisoners held there were initially unable to challenge the legality of their detention. That changed when the Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that inmates could file habeas corpus applications.

Earlier this month, House of Representatives and Senate negotiators reached agreement on the latest defense policy bill, which extends ban on transferring prisoners from Guantanamo to the United States until the end of 2022.

The ban on transferring detainees to the United States is simply a continuation of the status quo for the Guantanamo Bay detention center, said Brian Finucane, senior adviser to the International crisis group, an independent research and advocacy group that works to prevent wars and shape peace.

The bigger problem is that the Biden administration has not made closing the prison a priority, Finucane said.

“They put it on the back burner,” Finucane said. “They don’t seem to have a plan to shut down the facility. They don’t seem to have a plan to fix the mess of the military commission.

The Biden administration must determine which detainees can be prosecuted in federal courts and which can be transferred to a third country, where they could end up being released, he said.

However, when then Attorney General Eric Holder announced in November 2009 that he had accused senior 9/11 planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other Guantanamo detainees. would be tried in New York, the Department of Justice has encountered a political storm. The five men were eventually referred to military commissions in April 2011, when then-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg opposed at the trial in Lower Manhattan.

A decade later, military proceedings against Mohammed are still ongoing.

“Today we are left with the military commission process. It drags on and the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks still hasn’t faced a jury for their alleged actions, ”Finucane said.

Guantanamo Bay prison survived the war in Afghanistan and it's getting nowhere
GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA – MARCH 30: (IMAGE REVIEWED BY THE US ARMY PRIOR TO TRANSMISSION) US Navy guards escort an inmate after a “life skills” course held for prisoners at Camp 6 of the Detention Center of Guantanamo Bay March 30, 2010 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (Photo by John Moore / Getty Images)

It is unclear how much progress the Biden administration has made towards closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center since February 12, when Psaki told reporters the National Security Council would conduct a “solid” interagency review involving officials. Defense, State and Justice Ministries are looking into the matter.

On the same day, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin supported the Biden administration’s efforts to close the detention center.

“He fully expects to be a partner in the interagency process and to discuss as it evolves,” Kirby said during a press briefing at the Pentagon on Feb. 12.

Currently, 39 detainees are held at Guantanamo Bay, of which 13 can be transferred to a third country, said Army Lt. Col. Cesar Santiago, spokesman for the Pentagon.

One detainee, Abdul Latif Nasir, has been transferred to Morocco since Biden took office in January, Santiago said.

Santiago said the Defense Ministry “fully supports” efforts to close the detention center and referred other matters to the National Security Council, which is considering the matter.

A national security spokesperson, who requested anonymity under rules established by the White House, said the Biden administration remains focused on how to responsibly reduce the number of detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay and possibly close the jail, but he didn’t provide full details on how or when that would be done.

Still, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), complained to a hearing Tuesday on the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention center that the Biden administration had not provided the Senate Judiciary Committee with any witnesses to discuss the plan to close the prison.

“I’m not sure there is a plan,” Grassley said. “Setting a goal – a political goal – without a plan only invites disaster. “

At the moment, it appears the Biden administration is unwilling to work with lawmakers to tackle the issues surrounding the prison shutdown, Finucane said.

“Gitmo is politically charged and it’s more of a political problem than a practical one to solve,” Finucane said. “But there is no indication at this point that the Biden administration is even interested in investing political capital and trying to resolve it and trying to convince members of Congress that: this is the way forward; we have a plan to hold accountable the individuals allegedly responsible for September 11; and here’s how we’re going to do it.

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