Advocates Urge Biden to Act on President Obama’s Promises to Close the Controversial Facility
Rowaida Abdelaziz / Huffington Post
“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,” read a letter from the Center for Constitutional Rights, American Civil Liberties Union, The Center for Victims of Torture, Amnesty International, and dozens of others shared exclusively with HuffPost.
The controversial camp, which was established by former President George W. Bush in 2002 following the Sept. 11 attacks and initially meant to detain terrorism suspects, has morphed into a human rights black site. Since its opening, nearly 800 men and boys have passed through its cells, where many were subjected to torture and held without charge or trial.
Biden had previously pledged to follow through on former President Barack Obama’s efforts to close the facility, which currently houses approximately 40 individuals. About 1,500 troops also serve in Cuba alongside 6,000 residents of the surrounding area.
But the administration hasn’t offered any further details or timeline. And closing the camp is both politically and logistically tricky.
The administration would need to figure out what to do with the remaining captives –– several of whom have already been cleared for release and others who have been indefinitely detained without trial. Another difficulty is the COVID-19 pandemic, which delayed the military commission proceedings for the men accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks, which were originally scheduled to begin last month.
Last week, the Pentagon announced it would pause its plan to vaccinate those held at Guantanamo Bay after backlash from critics and members of the Republican Party. A group of former prisoners who at one point were detained at Guantanamo Bay also penned a separate letter to Biden on Friday echoing the calls for him to close down the facility.
The Department of Defense did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment about the administration’s plans for the facility.
Running the facility has cost over $540 million in one year ― almost $13 million per prisoner ― according to a 2019 report, making it the world’s most expensive detention facility. But it’s remained open through multiple presidencies. In 2018, former President Donald Trump signed an executive order to keep the prison open after pledging during his campaign to “load it up with some bad dudes.”
Gitmo has been dubbed as the “legal equivalent of outer space” where no laws are intended to apply. Former detainees and media reports have detailed horror stories of torture and abuse that took place there, including food and sleep deprivation, beatings, waterboarding and sexual humiliation.
Scott Roehm, the Washington director at The Center for Victims of Torture, described the facility as a representation of the United States’ “destructive approach to national security.”
“It’s a cancer that for two decades has metastasized throughout US domestic and foreign policy and Guantanamo is the tumor that needs to be excised as a first step towards curing the rest,” Roehm said. “That’s why you see so many groups working on so many different issues and representing such a diverse set of communities, coming together to push the president to finally close the prison.
Mohamedou Salahi, a Mauritanian citizen who spent more than 14 years in detention at Guantanamo Bay, was among those subjected to repeated brutal and severe torture including being “beaten, sexually throttled, put in extreme isolation, shackled to the floor, stripped naked and put under strobe lights while being blasted with heavy metal music,” according to a Justice Department investigation.
I had no chance to defend myself inside Guantanamo Bay or make public appearances to challenge the narrative. — Mohamedou Salahi
“Guantanamo Bay is simply a violation of human rights, of human dignity and need to stop these exceptions that people from my part of the world, i.e., Africa and the Middle East, don’t have the right for human life,” Salahi told HuffPost over the phone from Mauritania.
“I can’t stand this anymore and I don’t want [Gitmo to exist] anymore and I’m ready to use my profile, my money, my standing, and everything that is legal to enjoy those same rights,” he added.
He was never charged with an offense during his time at Gitmo. One year after releasing his 2015 memoir, “Guantánamo Diary,” Salahi was released to Mauritania.
“I had no chance to defend myself inside Guantanamo Bay or make public appearances to challenge the narrative,” he said.
Salahi considers himself lucky. He was able to earn some money from his memoir and is currently working on his second book. (His memoir was adapted into a film starring Jodie Foster and Benedict Cumberbatch set to premiere this month.)
Still, he faces challenges trying to rebuild a life after Gitmo. He’s unable to travel to Germany where his wife and 2-year-old son reside. He wants to ensure that no one else suffers his same fate. He is hopeful that Biden will be more successful than his predecessors and permanently shut down Gitmo.
“The accountability for the torture program and Guantanamo is still unresolved and that is still something we’re fighting for and have continued to,” said Aliya Hussain, advocacy program manager at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “Each administration since then has played some role in sort of upholding that.”
Over 700 men have been released over the years, but the trauma, physical and psychological impacts as well as the stigma of being held at Gitmo continues to haunt those men, said Hussain. She noted that many of those held have little to no access to rehabilitation services and are struggling to resume a normal life.
Despite the challenges and likely resistance from the GOP, advocates and legal organizations who signed on to Tuesday’s letter are hopeful that the Biden administration will finally shutter Gitmo’s doors and end its legacy for good.
“Vice President Biden was one of the most reliable and determined voices for closing Guantanamo and for upholding the prohibition on torture. And now he has the power to actually close the prison’s doors. He can do that. He just needs to follow through on the legacy that he’s had until now,” said Roehm.
Sign-on Letter Urging President Biden to Close Guantanamo
Center for Constitutional Rights
On February 2, 2021, 111 organizations joined a letter led by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Center for Victims of Torture to President Biden urging him to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. These diverse organizations work at both the local and national level and on a range of issues including immigrants’ rights, racial justice, and combating anti-Muslim discrimination.
President Joseph Biden
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear President Biden:
We are a diverse group of non-governmental organizations working at both the local and national level and on issues including immigrants’ rights, racial justice, and combating anti-Muslim discrimination. We write to urge you to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and to end indefinite military detention.
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 eight hundred 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.
For example, President Trump proposed sending undocumented immigrants to Guantanamo to be held as “enemy combatants.” 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.
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. 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 twenty years.
Please contact Aliya Hussain at the Center for Constitutional Rights (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Scott Roehm at the Center for Victims of Torture (email@example.com) with any questions or to discuss.
Action Center on Race & the Economy
Adalah Justice Project
Advocate Visitors with Immigrants in Detention
American Civil Liberties Union
American Friends Service Committee
American Friends Service Committee, Colorado
American Muslim Empowerment Network (AMEN)
Amnesty International USA
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus
Bellevue Program for Survivors of Torture
Birmingham Interfaith Human Rights Committee
Black LGBTQ+ Migrant Project
Borderlands for Equity
Bridges Faith Initiative
Capital District Coalition Against Islamophobia, Albany, NY
Center for Constitutional Rights
Center for Gender & Refugee Studies
Center for International Policy
Center for Victims of Torture
Central American Martyrs Center
Central Jersey Coalition Against Endless War
Centro de Trabajadores Unidos – IWP
Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America – CRLN
CLEAR project (Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility)
Cleveland Catholic Worker, Ohio
Cleveland Jobs with Justice
Coalition for Civil Freedoms
Defending Rights & Dissent
Demand Progress Education Fund
Denver Justice and Peace Committee
Detention Watch Network
Going Beyond Sustainability
Government Information Watch
Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters, USA-JPIC
Human Rights First
Immigrant Advocacy Project
Immigrant Defense Project
Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants
International Refugee Assistance Project
InterReligious Task Force on Central America (IRTF Cleveland)
Islamophobia Studies Center
Jews Against Anti-Muslim Racism
Justice for Muslims Collective
Kairos Community, NY
Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church
Louisiana Advocates for Immigrants in Detention
Muslim Justice League
Muslim Solidarity Committee
Muslim Solidarity Committee, Albany, NY
Muslims For Liberty
Muslims for Social Justice
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
National Immigrant Justice Center
National Immigration Project (NIPNLG)
National Network for Immigrant & Refugee Rights
National Religious Campaign Against Torture
Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA)
No More Guantanamos
North Carolina Stop Torture Now
Northern Illinois Justice for Our Neighbors
Oak Grove Church of God
Open Society Foundations
Pakistan Association of New York Capital District
Palestinian Rights Committee, Upper Hudson Peace Action
Peace Action: The New School
Peacemakers of Schoharie County, NY
Physicians for Human Rights
Project SALAM, Albany, NY
Provincial Council Clerics of St. Viator (Viatorians)
Reformed Church of Highland Park, NJ
Refugee Council USA
Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment
School of the Americas Watch (SOA Watch)
School of the Americas Watch, Illinois Chapter
Sept. 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
Southwest Asylum & Migration Institute (SAMI)
The Advocates for Human Rights
The Feminist Front (FF)
Tsuru for Solidarity
UC Davis Immigration Law Clinic
US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR)
USC Gould International Human Rights Clinic
Veterans For Peace
Veterans For Peace, Chapter 10
Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Inc.
Washington Office on Latin America
Win Without War
Witness Against Torture
Witness at the Border
Witness for Peace Southeast
Women Against War
Yemeni Alliance Committee
Yemeni American Merchants Association