February 8, 2018
One of the revelations drawing criticism from President Trump’s January 30th State of the Union address was the announcement that he had signed an executive order requiring the Guantanamo Bay military prison to be kept open indefinitely. Signaling a departure from US policy for the past decade, new inmates will also be brought to Guantanamo, falling in line with Trump’s campaign promise to “load [the prison] up with some bad dudes”. “Terrorists who do things like place bombs in civilian hospitals are evil. When possible, we annihilate them,” explained Trump during the State of the Union. The prison currently holds 41 captives, with five already cleared for transfer by either Bush or Obama. Upon taking office, Trump suspended the release of those five, and refused to staff the department responsible for negotiating transfers. While Guantanamo has long been a target of international criticism over abuse of human rights the order insisted that the prison is “legal, safe, humane, and conducted consistent with United States and international law.”
This is not a situation most would have forecasted in 2008. The prison had been a blight on the legacy of outgoing President Bush, drawing criticism from around the world due to accusations of people being illegally detained and tortured, most famously through the process known as waterboarding. Amnesty International went as far as to call it the “gulag of our times”. The three leading contenders for the presidency, Obama, Clinton, and McCain, all supported its closing. Obama had gone as far as to say that “In the dark halls of Abu Ghraib and the detention cells of Guantanamo, we have compromised our most precious values,” and made the prison’s closure a focus of his campaign. In his first week in office, Obama signed Executive Order 13492, which required the detention center to be closed within a year, and for all detainees to be transferred or released. By the end of his Presidency, he reduced the number of detainees from hundreds to dozens, but the prison remained open. Legislators who supported its closing balked at the prospect of bringing detainees to American soil, and other nations weren’t any more receptive.
Part of the difficulty with dealing with the cases of these prisoners is that there isn’t much of a historical precedent. Currently, they aren’t being treated as civilians charged with criminal acts such as terrorism, but as prisoners of war. The problem is, the wars we are fighting now are not comparable to the wars of the 20th century, when these standards were set. Wars such as World War II and the Vietnam War generally had somewhat of a foreseeable end. We could hold German prisoners until Berlin fell, after which they were eventually repatriated. However, the War on Terror will most likely not reach this kind of resolution any time soon. We aren’t fighting a regime, we are fighting anti-American sentiment. On the campaign trail, when asked about waterboarding, Trump stated “I would bring back waterboarding, and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding,” and that “torture works… if it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway, for what they’re doing to us.” This kind of gleeful embrace of brutality, free of concern for either strategy or humanity, is the reason why anti-American sentiment is so rampant. As long as brute force is our one and only tactic for fighting terror, the War on Terror will never win, and those detainees will languish forever, whether they are guilty or not.
- Donate to Physicians for Human Rights (PHR): PHR is an independent group tasked with reporting and combating human rights violations through the lens of health and science. They have been longstanding vocal opponents of Guantanamo Bay. You can donate on their website here.
- Watch an Explanation of the Consequences of the War on Terror: The Intercept’s Mehdi Hasan narrates this video explaining how the invasion of Iraq and US ran prison camps such as Camp Bucca helped to create Isis. You can watch it here.
- Read an Article on the Dangers of Bringing Isis to Guantanamo: Here is an article by the Daily Beast on how bringing Isis members to Guantanamo would be a gift to the terrorist organization, strategically speaking.
- Learn More About Why Guantanamo Has Yet to be Closed: This article by the New York Times goes into depth on the long struggle to close the prison throughout the Obama presidency, and the varied actors and motivations involved.
This brief was compiled by Colin Shanley. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.