Next week, January 11, will mark ten years since the US government opened the prison facility in Guantanamo Bay on the island nation of Cuba. As this solemn anniversary approaches familiar and not-so-familiar voices are expressing their outrage that the prison continues to operate. From a former prison commander to the activists and journalists who have long fought for the prison's closure, the message is the same: close Guantanamo now.
The Daily Beast carried this headline today:
Terry Carrico, Ex-Guantánamo Prison Commander, Says Facility Should Close
Ten years ago, Army Colonel Terry Carrico watched a C-141 land at Guantánamo Bay Naval Station in Cuba. He had planned for the moment carefully, and he knew very well what the cargo was: 20 detainees sent from Afghanistan. Carrico was the first camp commander of what would become the world’s most famous terrorism prison, and this was its opening day.
[...]Carrico also says plainly that he believes it is wrong to keep people indefinitely without trial based on secret evidence. He argues that people captured in the war on terror should be arrested and tried in courts of law, not locked up at places like Guantánamo. “It goes against the way I was trained and what I believe,” he tells The Daily Beast, “to hold someone indefinitely with lack of evidence or proof.”
UPDATE: 9:20 PM ET 1/6/2012: In response to Carrico's comments to The Daily Beast, Frida Berrigan, an organizer for Witness Against Torture, says she hopes "that Mr. Carrico will join us across from the White House on Wednesday, January 11th for a huge rally and demonstration to shut down Guantanamo, calling for accountability and justice." There is more information online at www.witnesstorture.org
Though created under the Bush administration and despite promises from a candidate Obama to close the facility, David Cole argues in The Nation that "Guantánamo is a deeper problem today than it ever was." He continues:
No longer a temporary exception, it has become a permanent fixture in our national firmament. And although at one time we could blame President George W. Bush’s unilateral assertions of unchecked executive power for the abuses there, the continuing problem that is Guantánamo today is shared by all three government branches, and ultimately by all Americans. With President Obama’s signing of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on New Year’s Eve, the prison is sure to be with us—and its prisoners sure to continue in their legal limbo—for the indefinite future.
Human Rights Watch also released a statement marking the 10 year milestone and highlighting the plight of those who languish without charge and without hope for release:
A variety of factors have prevented the release of those slated for transfer including inaction on the part of the Obama and Bush administrations, a moratorium placed on transfers to Yemen following the attempted bombing by a Yemeni of a US airliner on December 25, 2009, and restrictions placed by Congress on transfers from Guantanamo in December 2010. Fifty-six of the 89 detainees slated for transfer are from Yemen.
Ongoing US violations of detainee rights are not limited to Guantanamo. Nearly 3,000 people now held by US forces in Afghanistan have not been afforded the basic rights that even captured enemy fighters are due in a civil war, such as being informed by a judge of the basis for their detention or allowed access to counsel. And individuals apprehended outside of Afghanistan currently detained there, should never have been brought to the country at all.
Human Rights Watch opposes the prolonged indefinite detention without trial of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. The practice violates US obligations under international law. Human Rights Watch has strongly urged the US government to either promptly prosecute the remaining Guantanamo detainees according to international fair trial standards, or safely repatriate them to home or third countries. We have also called for investigations of US officials implicated in torture of terrorism suspects and for adequate compensation for detainees who were mistreated. Human Rights Watch will continue to press for compliance with these obligations. Failure to do so does enormous damage to the rule of law both in the US and abroad.
Meanwhile in London, activists on Saturday will hold a rally calling for Guantanamo to be closed and prisoners either tried or released. Aisha Maniar, from the London Guantánamo Campaign (LGC), said:
Ten years of Guantánamo Bay are ten years of wasted opportunities to close down this notorious symbol of lawlessness and injustice in our time.
President Obama has completed his U-turn on earlier pledges to close Guantánamo and end the discredited military commissions with his recent signing into law of the National Defense Authorization Act, perpetuating the regime of arbitrary detention without charge or trial.
The United States and its allies must share responsibility for the closure of Guantánamo Bay: the UK government must step up its efforts to secure the return of British resident Shaker Aamer and also offer a safe home to former British resident Ahmed Belbacha. Other European Union states must also step up their efforts to help close Guantánamo Bay and take concrete action to put an end to this “shame”.
We will nonetheless keep up the pressure on governments to take firm action and to seek justice for the prisoners held at Guantánamo.
Actions like this in London mirror the work of human rights campaigners in the US who have marked past anniversaries with actions in the halls of the US Congress, before the White House, and on the steps of the Supreme Court. One such group, Witness Against Torture, has been perhaps the most vocal and determined in their efforts, and are in the middle of a ten day campaign holding activities throughout Washington, DC in order "to call attention to the terrible injustice that is Guantanamo and Bagram and secret prisons throughout the world." Their efforts will culminate in a “Ten Years Too Many” mass mobilization on Wednesday, January 11 at Lafayette Park across from the White House organized by a coalition of groups, including Amnesty International and National Religious Campaign Against Torture.