It has been two years since President Obama announced 2015 as “the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantánamo Bay.” While there has been much commemoration in Obama’s final days in office, it is clear that this unfulfilled promise will tarnish his plaque in the hall of presidential history.
On January 11, 2002, the first suspects for the 9/11 attacks were brought from Afghanistan to the obscure U.S. naval base leased from Cuba. Since that point, American citizens and the internationally community condemn the U.S. backed facility that disregards the human rights standards America elsewhere has fiercely fought to promote.
This week marks the 15th anniversary of these detainments at what we now call Guantánamo bay or Gitmo. Over the past 15 years, the detention facility has experienced much adjustment. Largely due to his first presidential campaign promises, President Obama is credited for the tremendous number of Gitmo prisoner releases and transfers. Since the prison’s grand opening on January 11, 2002, the number of detainees has plummeted from 779 to 55 still held within the high security cells as of January 5, 2017. Most of the released prisoners held over the Bush and Obama administrations had their cases heard by the Periodic Review Board and won their days in court. Of the remaining 55 men, 19 have been evaluated by a high-level government review process and are listed for recommended release. 26 men are being held indefinitely under the Obama administration without charge or trial.
As Inauguration Day draws near, the cloud of questions surrounding President Elect Donald Trump grows increasingly thicker as he climbs to the highest office in the land. With Guantánamo Bay left unresolved, despite Executive Order 3492 ordering the closure of the detention facilities, Obama has left a loaded gun on the desk of the Oval office for incoming President Trump.
Thomas B. Wilner (co-founder of Close Guantánamo) argues that the Obama administration failure to terminate the Gitmo facilities will result in the opportunity for Trump to detain foreigners indefinitely, evading the constitutional rights that prisoners held on American soil would receive, U.S. citizen or not. The only right granted to Gitmo prisoners is habeas corpus, the right to be brought before a court in order to validate the reason(s) for detention.
Although Trump is renowned for his spontaneity, his Twitter account offers some clue as to what direction his administration will take. On January 3, Trump tweeted that, “There should be no further releases from Gitmo. These are extremely dangerous people and should not be allowed back onto the battlefield.” With this in mind, we embark into a spectrum of Trump’s options.
Although he has threatened to “load it up with some bad dudes,” Trump is highly likely to maintain a relatively status quo. Of the 55 prisoners still held at Gitmo, about 46 are declared “too dangerous to transfer.” The remaining 9 detainees with any possibility of trial and release or transfer will provide little incentive for a fight against the status quo. Guantánamo’s “unreleasables” should prepare for the long haul. They might as well get comfy in their cells.
The Pacific Counsel’s on International Policy GTMO Task Force offers another suggestion for the incoming administration: speed up the justice process. The task force is concerned that “these chronic delays—the inefficiency, the expense, the uncertainty over something as basic as a trial date—are undermining the legitimacy of the Military Commission process, and beyond that, our nation’s credibility on the world stage.” To justly and visibly expedite future Guantánamo trials for the “bad dudes,” the task force suggests putting federal judges in charge. These judges would have the ability to preside over the trials and participate in the usual pretrial matters remotely by means of secure video link in lieu of making long and costly trips for routine events at the base.
While far-fetched, Trump’s ambitious goal to “load up” Guantánamo’s facilities with new prisoners, most likely for coercive interrogation, is not out of the question. Currently, the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan can detain and adjudicate people who are arrested on their territories. Should the Trump administration decide to keep U.S. troops in both countries and/or change or otherwise break the detention agreements, the result could generate future terrorist and terror risk as defined under the 2001 AUMF. The possibility of Trump digging up these agreements would most like occur in the case of violence or surges in mismanaging detainees, especially those involved with U.S. attacks or tampering with U.S. interests.
While it has fallen out of the limelight of national news, Guantánamo is a pressing issue that will most likely be transferred over to Trump’s list of to dos. The new administration has a gleaming arsenal of ways to deal with the detention facility at Guantánamo and its inhabitants. Ignoring the issue should not be one of them.
Photo by The National Guard.