President Donald Trump on Tuesday doubled down on his embrace of the offshore prison at Guantánamo Bay by signing an executive order to not only keep it open but to possibly imprison more people there in the never-ending, ever-expanding war on terror.
"Instead of vowing to end a longstanding national disgrace once and for all, the president instead signed an order that will keep prisoners detained without charge or trial in Guantánamo Bay," said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA.
"We all must pledge—not one person more in Guantánamo, not in our names."
—Hina Shamsi, ACLUTrump signed the order just before delivering his State of the Union address, though the move was not unexpected, in part because of a leaked document earlier this month. But also, as the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) said in press statement, "Trump has made no secret of his intention to keep Guantánamo open, touting it as far back as the 2016 presidential campaign, despite both the Bush and Obama administrations' recognition that the prison should be closed for moral, national security, and diplomatic reasons."
Indeed, during the campaign trail, Trump promised to "load it up with some bad dudes."
Trump's new executive order, CCR said, is also "unsurprising given Trump's deep-seated racism, his well-documented antipathy toward all Muslims, and his endless puffing and posturing. The entire Trump White House is stacked with white supremacists who are blinded to reason by ignorance and bigotry," the rights group said.
Forty-one men still languish there—many for over a decade. Twenty-eight of the men have never been charged with a crime.
In his address Tuesday, Trump said that "When possible, we annihilate" terrorists but that he is now asking Congressional lawmakers "to ensure that, in the fight against ISIS and al-Qaeda, we continue to have all necessary power to detain terrorists, wherever we chase them down, wherever we find them. And in many cases, for them, it will now be Guantánamo Bay." [NPR notes that the comment was met with applause.]
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According to Katie Taylor, deputy director of human rights group Reprieve, "President Trump talks loudly about making America great, but with the stroke of a pen he has fundamentally undermined the American value of justice enshrined in the first line of the Constitution. Even Guantánamo's creator, George W. Bush, eventually recognized it was counter-productive and nothing more than a 'propaganda tool' for enemies of the U.S.."
Bush and former President Barack Obama, said Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Security Project, "tried to transfer people out responsibly, but Trump is reversing course. In trying to give new life to a prison that symbolizes America's descent into torture and unlawful indefinite detention, Trump will not make this country any safer."
"The notion that Guantánamo is worthwhile would be laughable if it wasn't so tragic," she added. "In addition to the incalculable human suffering, it costs taxpayers more than $445 million a year to detain the 41 men now there. "
That means that U.S. taxpeayer are spending about $11 million per detainee annually, explains Noa Yachot, senior editor at ACLU.
The rights groups say members of Congress must work to oppose the executive order and stop the flawed military tribunals and indefinite detentions of those still trapped at Gitmo.
On top of that, says Shamsi, "we all must pledge—not one person more in Guantánamo, not in our names."
"The original sin of Guantánamo won’t be properly addressed until the prison is closed. Tragically, Trump has chosen instead to embrace the lawlessness that it represents," writes Yachot.