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This is Obama’s Guantánamo now. He has failed in his pledge to close the island prison from a lack of leadership and by bowing to political pressure. He should not have failed to say that innocent people have been imprisoned there for years, or failed to move quickly to charge people in federal courts. The transparency we were promised has been discarded.
Shortly after taking office President Obama signed an executive order promising to close Guantánamo within a year. Not only has he broken his promise by indefinitely delaying the closure of this notorious prison, but he has extended the worst aspects of the Guantánamo system by continuing indefinite detentions without charge or trial, employing illegitimate military commissions, and blocking accountability for torture.
After a temporary suspension upon taking office, President Obama has re-instituted discredited military commissions. Military commissions constitute a second-rate system of justice that seriously damages our democratic institutions and collective safety. They were designed to manufacture convictions by allowing men to be tried in secret, without the ability to confront their accusers, and based on evidence obtained by coercion or compulsory self-incrimination, including illegal interrogation methods. During the eight years that these commissions were employed, they were deemed unconstitutional, reformulated, and went through two statutes and four sets of rules. They still do not have any rules based on the current statue and continue to have fundamental problems that could result in their proceedings being determined to be illegal. They deservedly lack credibility in the U.S. and abroad, and their rulings will be delayed or overturned by many years of litigation. As an unfair system, they not only risk convicting the innocent, but also provide someone who is truly guilty with a valid complaint to challenge his conviction for years. This delays justice and doesn't help anyone. The United States has a long history of effectively and safely trying terrorism suspects as criminals in federal courts; there has never been any significant security breach, and there is no legitimate reason to turn away from federal courts now.
The Obama administration has not stopped grave psychological and physical abuses including torture at Guantánamo nor secured accountability for the well-documented torture authorized and committed by Bush administration officials. Not only do reports of systematic abuses—including forced tube-feedings and beatings by a team of military guards known as the Immediate Reaction Force—continue, but so does severe prolonged solitary confinement, a form of torture that leaves invisible psychological damage long after physical wounds heal. Under international standards for human rights, extended isolation is considered a form of torture and is banned. Also, as noted by the UN Committee against Torture, indefinite detention itself constitutes torture and is a violation of the UN Convention Against Torture. CCR published a report on abusive conditions of confinement at Guantánamo under Obama. Some of these abuses are ongoing and continue to violate U.S. and international human rights law.
The story of Guantanamo remains the story of the U.S. government rounding up close to 800 boys and men, labeling them “the worst of the worst,” and trying to throw them into an island-prison beyond the rule-of-law and without any rights to challenge their detention. The vast majority of these individuals should never have been picked up in the first place; they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, and many of them were fleeing U.S. bombs in Afghanistan when they were captured. Only 1 in 20 were captured by the U.S. military; most were captured by local civilians and authorities and sold to the U.S. in exchange for substantial bounty. Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, a senior State Department official between 2002-2005, has recently declared that the Bush administration knew that the majority of the men at Guantanamo were innocent, but did not release them because that could harm the government’s push for war.
CCR continues to demand that all the men imprisoned at Guantánamo be immediately charged in federal courts or released. There should be no third category of men held in indefinite detention, and there must be accountability for the crimes committed against the men at Guantánamo. Contrary to the Obama administration’s assertions, this is not looking backward, but the only way of securing justice and making sure that torture and other serious crimes do not continue into the future.
CCR has led the legal battle over Guantánamo for more than eight years – sending the first ever habeas attorney to the base and sending the first attorney to meet with a former CIA “ghost detainee” there. CCR has been responsible for organizing and coordinating more than 500 pro bono lawyers across the country to represent the men at Guantánamo, ensuring that nearly all have the option of legal representation. CCR represented the detainees with co-counsel in the most recent argument before the Supreme Court and is actively working to safely resettle Guantánamo’s refugees and prevent involuntary repatriations to countries where individuals face harm.