Building on recent demands from advocacy groups and ex-detainees, 111 organizations on Tuesday collectively called on President Joe Biden to close the Guantánamo Bay offshore prison, end indefinite military detention, recognize the harmful effects of post-9/11 practices, and chart a new course for U.S. national security policy.
“Guantánamo—designed specifically to evade legal
constraints, and where Bush administration officials incubated
torture—is the iconic example of the post-9/11 abandonment of the rule
The latest message to Biden on Gitmo came in the form of a letter spearheaded by the Center for Victims of Torture and Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents six of the 40 men still imprisoned at the detention facility that has existed under four administrations, having opened under former President George W. Bush.
In a statement Tuesday, Scott Roehm, Washington director at the Center for Victims of Torture, noted that Biden has long backed closing down the Guantánamo Bay prison—which former President Barack Obama, under whom Biden was vice president, promised but failed to do during his eight years in office.
“If the president is determined to close the prison, he can, and in relatively short order,” Roehm said. “Unless and until he does, Guantánamo’s corrosive impact—both literally and for what it represents—will continue to deepen and spread.”
As PBS NewsHour noted last month, Biden Defense Secretary Gen. LLoyd Austin also “said he would follow through on President Obama’s efforts to close Guantanamo Bay.”
For over 19 years, the U.S. has drawn global condemnation for mistreating Gitmo prisoners who have been tortured and held without trial. After prosecutors filed charges against three longtime detainees last month, Amnesty International reiterated its demands that Biden end military commissions and close down the facility.
The human rights group’s U.S. arm was among the 111 groups that signed on to the new letter to Biden, which declares that “it is long past time for both a sea change in the United States’ approach to national and human security, and a meaningful reckoning with the full scope of damage that the post-9/11 approach has caused.”
“Closing Guantánamo and ending indefinite detention of those held there is a necessary step towards those ends,” the letter continues. “We urge you to act without delay, and in a just manner that considers the harm done to the men who have been imprisoned without charge or fair trials for nearly 20 years.”
The letter details parts of the prison’s widely denounced history:
Among a broad range of human rights violations perpetrated against predominantly Muslim communities, Guantánamo—designed specifically to evade legal constraints, and where Bush administration officials incubated torture—is the iconic example of the post-9/11 abandonment of the rule of law. Nearly 800 Muslim men and boys were held at Guantánamo after 2002, all but a handful without charge or trial. Forty remain, at the astronomical cost of $540 million per year, making Guantánamo the most expensive prison in the world.
Guantánamo embodies the fact that, for nearly two decades following the September 11, 2001 attacks, the United States government has viewed communities of color—citizens and non-citizens alike—through a security threat lens, to devastating consequences. This is not a problem of the past. Guantánamo continues to cause escalating and profound damage to the men who still languish there, and the approach it exemplifies continues to fuel and justify bigotry, stereotyping, and stigma. Guantánamo entrenches racial divisions and racism more broadly, and risks facilitating additional rights violations.
Biden’s predecessor, former President Donald Trump, vowed as a candidate that he would keep Gitmo open and “load it up with some bad dudes.”
Trump also “proposed sending undocumented immigrants to Guantanamo to be held as ‘enemy combatants,'” the letter notes. “He further built upon the discriminatory animus, policies, and practices that Guantánamo represents through his odious Muslim Ban, each iteration of which was explicitly promulgated under the false pretense of protecting the nation from terrorism. And the Trump administration’s militarized federal response to protests against the extrajudicial killings of George Floyd and other Black people was fueled by the war-based post-9/11 security architecture and mindset that Guantánamo epitomizes.”
Signatories to the letter include the ACLU, CodePink, MoveOn, Peace Action, Physicians for Human Rights, Reprieve U.S., Veterans for Peace, and Win Without War.
Aliya Hussain of the Center for Constitutional Rights said, “That so many groups are calling for an end to the indefinite detention of Muslim men without charge or fair trial at Guantánamo, and see it as part of a broader movement to uphold human rights, demand accountability for U.S.-sanctioned torture and violence, and fundamentally change the flawed criminal legal system, is significant.”
“There is wide-ranging public support for President Biden to close Guantánamo,” Hussain added. “He must take bold and decisive action, and we will hold him accountable until he does.”
The letter comes after former Gitmo prisoners who have all authored books about what they endured published an open letter to Biden last week in the New York Review of Books which said in part: “Considering the violence that has happened at Guantánamo, we are sure that after more than nineteen years, you agree that imprisoning people indefinitely without trial while subjecting them to torture, cruelty and degrading treatment, with no meaningful access to families or proper legal systems, is the height of injustice. That is why imprisonment at Guantánamo must end.”