On January 11, 2002, a hundred cells were built in just 96 hours in what is now the maximum security prison of the US military base in Guantánamo, in Cuba, to house the first prisoners sent from Afghanistan. Today, 20 years later, the 39 inmates remain at the mercy of possible abuses and there is no trial in sight for many of them, against whom no charges have even been brought.
Specifically, of the 39 men held at Guantánamo, 27 of them are in prison without criminal charges having been filed. In the case of the five suspects of the September 11 attacks in prison, the procedures have so many deficiencies that none of them have gone to trial.
Among the accused is Khalid Sheikh Mohamed, alleged mastermind of the attacks. It is already ten years of preliminary hearings for a trial that has not started.
At the other extreme, there are thirteen “low-value” prisoners. All of them have received the green light for their transfer, some years ago, such as Tawfiq al Bihani, a Yemeni detained in Iran in 2001 whose repatriation was recommended in 2010. Republican opposition in Congress, bureaucratic inertia and the rejection of other countries to host him have prevented his departure from Guantánamo.
The Guantánamo prison has housed a total of 780 third-country citizens, including minors, of whom 55 percent did not commit any type of hostile action against the United States or its allies, according to a study by the Faculty of Law of Seton Hall made from data from the Department of Defense itself. Of the total, only twelve charges have been filed and only two have been convicted in military trials.
The facilities have improved in these twenty years. From the 100 solitary confinement cells and five windowless interrogation rooms, there have been cell blocks with refrigerators and common pantries.
In the 20 years of operation of the prison, nine inmates have died, seven of them in apparent cases of suicide. This is the case of Yasir Talal al Zahrani, a Saudi teenager captured in 2002 in Afghanistan who was found dead in his cell four years later. His family insist that he did not commit suicide.
However, the center runs the risk of becoming a very rudimentary nursing home in the heart of the Caribbean and there are more and more deaths from natural causes. The Pentagon has requested $ 88 million to build a hospital for the terminally ill, as revealed by ‘The New York Times’ in April.
Human Rights organizations such as Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch have criticized an anniversary “that should not have been reached” and have warned that the very existence of the prison delegitimizes the United States and causes similar prisons to be replicated in other countries. .
“Illegal deliveries, secret arrests and torture have damaged the international human rights system,” Letta Tayler reproached from HRW.
“By committing these abuses with impunity, the United States has made it easier for countries like Russia, Egypt or China to criticize Washington and evade international condemnations of their own human rights violations,” she argued.
In addition, allies of the United States such as Iraq, Nigeria, Egypt or the forces of northeastern Syria “have replicated the Guantanamo model” with thousands of detainees in lamentable conditions for alleged terrorist crimes without charge or trial. Among those detained are members of civil society, relatives of suspects and minors who are themselves victims of the armed groups.
Three of the last four presidents of the United States have openly declared their intention to close Guantanamo, with the exception of Donald Trump, but opposition obstacles in Congress and the lack of clear will due to its high political cost have prevented them from fulfilling their obligations. promises.
Faced with all these obstacles, the director of the national security project of the American Civil Liberties Union, Hina Shamsi, has argued that it would be as simple as for the Administration to withdraw its opposition in habeas corpus cases and thus allow delivery to the courts. ordinary detainees.
“With court orders of transfer, it would not be necessary that there were notifications of the Congress”, has explained Shamsi in declarations to the British newspaper ‘The Guardian’. This would imply, among other commitments, plea agreements that would rule out the death penalty.
However, it would also spark a political storm that would fuel the Republican Party’s speech about President Joe Biden’s weakness in the face of America’s enemies. “It’s the kind of thorn you have to pluck out right away,” explained law professor Bernard Harcourt. “With the midterm elections in sight and then other presidential elections, there will be no less pressure. On the contrary. It will get worse,” he warned.
One of the most compelling political arguments is the cost of prison. In total, it is estimated that the prison costs 540 million dollars a year, that is, almost 14 million dollars per prisoner, far from the 80,000 dollars that an inmate costs in one of the maximum security prisons in the United States.
However, the strongest argument is that of the illegality of these arrests. “A generation of conflicts has passed and the Guantánamo prison is still open and every day that it remains open is an affront to our justice system and the rule of law,” warned Democratic Senator Dick Durbin in one of the sessions dedicated to Guantánamo. .