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After 16 Years Without Trial, Guantánamo Inmates and Rights Groups Demand End to 'Unconscionable' Imprisonment

Challenging their detention, prisoners argue Trump's pledge to keep them there indefinitely is unconstitutional and based on his "suspicion of and antipathy toward Muslims"

The London Guantanamo Campaign staged a protest outside Britain's U.S. embassy, demanding the release of the 41 prisoners who remain at Guantanamo Bay. (Photo: @AishaManiar/Twitter)

Eleven Guantánamo Bay inmates filed a petition in a federal court on Thursday—the 16th anniversary of the arrival of the first prisoners who were captured in the United States' "War on Terror"—demanding their release from the prison.

The prisoners argued that President Donald Trump's pledge to keep them there indefinitely is unconstitutional and is based on his "suspicion of and antipathy toward Muslims."

Even if the court were to assume Petitioners were all captured in similar circumstances—and they were not—the limited purpose for which the laws of war may have authorized their detention at Guantánamo...has long since faded.—Guantánamo Bay inmates"Given President Donald Trump's proclamation against releasing any petitioners—driven by executive hubris and raw animus rather than by reason or deliberative national security concerns—these petitioners may never leave Guantánamo alive, absent judicial intervention," reads the petition.

The president has said that unlike former President Barack Obama, he has no plans to release any of the 41 prisoners in the facility, despite the Constitution's due process clause prohibiting indefinite detention. He has characterized all the inmates as "extremely dangerous people" despite the fact that some of them have been cleared for release and more than two dozen have never been charged with any crime.

The inmates note that even the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF), in which Congress granted the government the right to "use all necessary and appropriate force" to defeat the persons or groups behind the September 11, 2001 attacks, including imprisonment, does not support indefinite detainment:

Even if the court were to assume Petitioners were all captured in similar circumstances—and they were not—the limited purpose for which the laws of war may have authorized their detention at Guantánamo to prevent return to the battlefield, has long since faded more than 15 years after their capture. The conflict against the core Al Qaeda organization in connection with which they were captured has ended and been taken over by disparate battles involving new groups. The battlefields in which they were captured, if any, are no more, thus dissolving the only legitimate purpose of their detention.


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A number of human rights organizations joined in the call for the inmates' release, demanding that Guantánamo Bay be closed.

"It is shocking that 16 years after the Guantánamo prison was opened, the United States still maintains a center to detain prisoners indefinitely without charge or trial. Some of the 41 remaining detainees have been cleared for transfer for years," said Daphne Eviatar, director of security with human rights at Amnesty International USA, in a statement. "The laws of war never envisioned the sort of endless conflict the U.S. government is waging. The Guantánamo detainees must either be charged and transferred to the United States for fair trials, or sent home or to another country where they'll be safe. To continue to imprison these men, many of whom the U.S. also tortured, is unconscionable."

The civil rights group Reprieve, which represents some of the prisoners being held in the prison, added that even U.S. officials have acknowledged that inmates are being held there based on faulty intelligence and forced "confessions."

"The U.S. has had 16 years to build a case against these men, and yet 28 of 41 prisoners are held without charge or a trial of any kind—a shocking violation of America's founding principles," said Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, an attorney with the group. "If the president won't close Guantánamo, then the other branches of government must take action instead to finally restore the rule of law."

In London, human rights activists with the London Guantánamo campaign held a candlelight vigil outside the U.S. embassy in honor of the 41 men being held in the prison. The group noted that the continued operation of Guantánamo Bay sends a message from the U.S. about indefinite detention as an acceptable practice.

"The rights-violating practices surrounding Guantánamo are now a model for the detention and incarceration polices of the U.S. and other states," said Aisha Maniar in a statement. "Plans to expand immigration detention for undocumented migrants and the deplorable conditions in such facilities are connected to Guantánamo's origins and existence...It is the failure of the international community, and not just of the U.S., to act to close Guantánamo that has helped to legitimize this status quo."

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