Ten years, two presidents, and five national election cycles after the first foreign detainees arrived at the US prison facility it seems the only sure-fire way for inmates to leave Guantanamo is in a body bag.
The last two prisoners to leave the U.S. detention center at Guantánamo Bay were dead. On February 1, Awal Gul, a 48-year-old Afghan, collapsed in the shower and died of an apparent heart attack after working out on an exercise machine. Then, at dawn one morning in May, Haji Nassim, a 37-year-old man also from Afghanistan, was found hanging from bed linen in a prison camp recreation yard.
In both cases, the Pentagon conducted swift autopsies and the U.S. military sent the bodies back to Afghanistan for traditional Muslim burials. These voyages were something the Pentagon had not planned for either man: Each was an “indefinite detainee,” categorized by the Obama administration’s 2009 Guantánamo Review Task Force as someone against whom the United States had no evidence to convict of a war crime but had concluded was too dangerous to let go. Today, this category of detainees makes up 46 of the last 171 captives held at Guantánamo.
In fact, even a higher number had been slated for release:
On paper, at least, the Obama administration would be set to release almost half the current captives at Guantánamo. The 2009 Task Force Review concluded that about 80 of the 171 detainees now held at Guantánamo could be let go if their home country was stable enough to help resettle them or if a foreign country could safely give them a new start.
But Congress has made it nearly impossible to transfer captives anywhere. Legislation passed since Obama took office has created a series of roadblocks that mean that only a federal court order or a national security waiver issued by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta could trump Congress and permit the release of a detainee to another country.
And the story of the United States violating detainee's rights and international law does not end at the gates of Guantanamo. As Human Rights Watch describes:
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.
And have used the 10th anniversary of the facility to rebuke the continued violations at Guantanamo and abroad:
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.