The Men Locked in Guantanamo Deserve Justice, Not a Relocated Prison Cell for Indefinite Detention

Obama's plan to shutter the prison does not go far enough.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

President Barack Obama’s new proposal to close the notorious U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay has already attracted the predictable right-wing blowback, with 2016 hopeful Ted Cruz claiming the White House is planning to give the naval base “back to Cuba” (if only!) and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) immediately issuing a statement opposing the transfer of any of the men detained there to his state.

But the plan is also being met with concern from many human rights campaigners, who say a proposal to transfer people who have not been charged with a crime to supermax prisons on U.S. soil will not end the horrors of indefinite detention.

Submitted to Congress on Tuesday, Obama's plan hinges on relocating up to 60 men he says are “subject to military commissions” to undetermined supermax prisons in the United States. Obama’s plan calls for the U.S. to transfer the 35 men who have been cleared for release to other countries, but he did not state a specific timeframe.

But Omar Shakir, a Bertha fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), told AlterNet that the proposal does not, in fact, constitute a real plan to shutter the facility and address the injustices committed.

“The idea that some of these men now entering their 15th year of detention without charge might board a plane but not return to their families, instead going to a supermax prison in the United States to face detention without charge, is unconscionable,” he said. “I applaud Obama’s new commitment, but I worry that this plan, absent bold action, will not actually lead to ending the anguish and pain of so many men.”

The organization Witness Against Torture agrees. “Obama’s plan proposes to close the facility but not end the legal and moral abomination it represents,” the organization declared this week. “Indefinitely detaining men without charge or trial in the continental United States—in supermax prisons no less—is as unacceptable as indefinite detention at Guantanamo.”

The statement continued, “The president’s plan is silent on our nation’s accountability for the torture it has perpetrated at Guantanamo. That torture continues through force-feeding those prisoners who protest their detention by hunger striking.”

In addition to the 35 men already cleared for release, Obama is calling to “accelerate the periodic reviews of remaining detainees to determine whether their continued detention is necessary.”

In response, CCR released a statement urging that “the administration must ensure that every man still waiting for a PRB—unbelievably, as many as 33—is reviewed in time to have an actual chance at being transferred this year. We need to be clear: any detainees not reviewed before President Obama leaves office are not those the administration believes ‘too dangerous to release,’ but men whose status it hasn’t reviewed for over six years, since 2009, whom it simply didn’t get to in the PRB line.”

Obama’s proposal comes years after he issued an executive order calling for the “closure of Guantanamo detention facilities.”

However limited, the plan is sure to face stiff political resistance in an election cycle where candidate Marco Rubio is vowing to hunt so-called "terrorists" and give them a "one-way ticket to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba."

According to Shakir, the key factor that has gotten us this far and kept the prison in the public consciousness was the “hunger strike led by men in Guantanamo who put their bodies on the line for freedom. This was amplified and echoed by the incredible activists who continue to hold actions and demonstrations to amplify the voices of these men.”

Ghaleb Nasser Al-Bihani, a Yemeni client of Shakir, has been detained in Guantanamo without charge or trial for 14 years despite being cleared for transfer in 2014. More than two years ago he declared, "All I think about is the day my freedom will be given back to me, for it will be the day of my rebirth."

In November, human rights campaigners from Witness Against Torture, CodePink and other organizations gathered in Cuba near the base and held a Thanksgiving fast demanding the immediate release of the men held there and calling for the entire installation to close, citing the harms caused by global U.S. militarism. “We came all the way to Guantanamo, Cuba, to call for the closure of the American prison in which so many horrific human rights abuses have occurred," said CodePink organizer Nancy Mancias.

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, she coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.

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