Trump's Bigotry Has Inspired a New Push to Close Guantanamo, 16 Years After Its Opening

Sixteen years after it opened, 41 men remain in detention at Guantanamo Bay, the majority of whom have not been charged with a crime. On January 11, a group of lawyers took direct action on behalf of some of the men, pushing back against the president's policies of bigotry and hate.

According to a press release from the Center for Constitutional Rights: “The filing argues that continued detention is unconstitutional because any legitimate rationale for initially detaining these men has long since expired; detention now, 16 years into Guantánamo’s operation, is based only on Trump’s raw antipathy towards Guantánamo prisoners—all foreign-born Muslim men—and Muslims more broadly.”

During a press conference Thursday to announce the filing, CCR legal director Baher Azmy emphasized that Trump's presidency has marked an abrupt departure from previous administrations. Azmy said Trump’s Guantanamo policy is not “based on any deliberative or tailored national security concerns, nor is it connected to any lawful basis to detain under the laws of war or congressional authorization. It is detention for detentions sake and is driven by executive hubris and animus, much like the Muslim bans and transgender military bans the courts have consistently struck down.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights, along with Reprieve and other lawyers filed together on behalf of 11 detainees. The men “have all been detained between ten and sixteen years without charge or trial, and for much of that time, in subhuman conditions,” according to the filing. In addition, “Two have been cleared for release and nine have been designated for continuing law-of-war detention.”

Azmy said during the conference that three amicus briefs were expected next week. According to the CCR website, the filing states that the continued detention fails to comply with both the Constitution and post 9/11 decisions on force, hence the lawyers call for “the court to intervene on behalf of the men who have been deemed ‘forever prisoners.’”

Over the course of its existence, Guantanamo Bay has housed approximately 780 people. According to the New York Times, 730 detainees were transferred out, 532 during George W. Bush’s administration. Despite committing to close the prison, President Obama failed to do so, leaving the Trump administration to determine the future of those housed there.

On the campaign trail, Trump vowed to keep Guantanamo open. Earlier this year, he tweeted the following:

Just this past November, Trump called for the suspect in a New York terrorist attack to be sent to the infamous detention center.

Thursday’s filing emphasized Trump’s policy diversion on Guantanamo, and according to the CCR press release “argues that Trump’s proclamation against releasing anyone from Guantánamo, regardless of their circumstances, which has borne out for the first full year of the Trump presidency, is arbitrary and unlawful and amounts to “perpetual detention for detention’s sake.”

Attorney Thomas Durkin, who is on a team representing prisoner Abdul Latif Nasser, had this to say about the Trump administration's handling of the prison:

“We have no policy whatsoever… with respect to Guantanamo. No one is doing anything and it appears, which is the basis of our pleadings today, no one intends to do anything, which is a simple political posture pure and simple. … This is a political decision to appeal to the raw base, animus people who put the president in office, that makes it look like he’s going to be tough on terror, which is part of the whole problem with Guantanamo from the beginning.”

Trump has also stated his support for the use of torture, including waterboarding. Though practices often referred to as “enhanced interrogation techniques” were supposedly stopped in 2009, allegations as recent as December 2017 attest that these practices continue to this day. CCR senior staff attorney Pardiss Kebriaei emphasized that prisoners are subjected to psychological and physical abuse, and that some were previously tortured before they arrived at Guantanamo. This includes her client Sharqawi Al Hajj, who is one of the petitioners in the filing. 

“Continuing, still indefinite detention after all this time is unprecedented and experimental,” Kebriaei said in a press release. “Another three or seven years under President Trump may mean a death sentence for men like Sharqawi Al Hajj, who is in poor health and damaged by past torture.”

Activists also rallied in Washington, D.C. to call for the closure of Guantanamo.

Keeping Guantanamo Bay open cost approximately $445 million in the 2015 fiscal year.

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