Less than two weeks before President-elect Joe Biden is set to take office, human rights advocates marked the 19th anniversary of the opening of the U.S. military prison at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Station in Cuba with impassioned demands for the next U.S. leader to prioritize urgently closing what has long been called a "dark stain" on the nation.
For nearly two decades of the seemingly endless so-called War on Terror—under three presidents—the U.S. government has indefinitely detained scores of men at Gitmo without trial or access to due process. The torture and detention conditions of the prisoners have drawn fierce criticism from around the world. Forty men remain detained at the prison.
An Amnesty International petition declares that "the treatment and imprisonment in Guantánamo are glaring human rights violations that the Biden administration must end now."
The human rights group circulated the petition and a video on Twitter Monday:
Today marks 19 years since #Guantánamo opened, and 40 Muslim men remain there today. We’re calling on USA President-Elect Joe Biden to close it immediately https://t.co/SnjFi23Rwg pic.twitter.com/EUa2Di2OhJ
— Amnesty International (@amnesty) January 11, 2021
During his eight years in office, former President Barack Obama, for whom Biden served as vice president, ultimately failed to deliver on his campaign promise to close the detention camp, established in 2002 under former President George W. Bush.
As a candidate, President Donald Trump vowed to keep Gitmo open and "load it up with some bad dudes." In January 2018, he signed an executive order to revoke an Obama order calling for the prison's closure. As HuffPost reported at the time:
Trump's move is more of a political statement than a practical change... Obama's 2009 executive order to close the prison, which he warned was a recruiting ground for terrorist groups at the expense of taxpayers, faced strong opposition in Congress that prevented him from transferring detainees to the United States.
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The Obama administration managed to transfer nearly 200 inmates from the facility.
Since Trump's order, "no new detainees have come in and one has been transferred out," Amnesty pointed out Monday. "Biden has an opportunity to roll back this harmful policy and close the detention center."
In a statement Monday, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), also called on the incoming Biden administration to close detention center. The organization represents six men who are still imprisoned there: Sufyian Barhoumi, Sharqawi Al Hajj, Mohammed al Qahtani, Abdul Razak Ali, Guled Hassan Duran, and Majid Khan.
"Today marks the beginning of the 20th shameful year of Muslim men being unlawfully imprisoned at Guantánamo," said the CCR, which organized a virtual vigil on Monday. "Even in a national landscape of brutal and extreme incarceration, the detentions of the men at Guantánamo—all of whom face life imprisonment without charge or fair trial—are unprecedented and yet largely invisible by now."
— The CCR (@theCCR) January 11, 2021
The group explained that for all Gitmo detainees, "including our six clients—one of whom has been cleared for release for years, another of whom the United States openly acknowledged it tortured, and yet another who cut his wrists out of desperation about his fate—Guantánamo is an active site of trauma and despair. Yet, despite all that our clients have endured, they dare to hope for a life beyond Guantánamo, and we must fight for that. As the country transitions to a new administration, it is more vital than ever that closing Guantánamo once again becomes a policy priority.
"President Biden can and must take immediate action on the prison: appoint senior officials to carry out the mandate of closure release the men the government has not charged by now, starting with the six men already cleared for transfer; abandon the military commissions system; and bring existing cases of men who have been charged to federal court," the CCR concluded. "Biden must reaffirm his commitment to closure and take the necessary action to accomplish it before we have to mark the 20th anniversary next year."