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Demonstrators demand the release of Guantanamo Bay prisoners

Demonstrators wearing orange jumpsuits and hoods over their heads rally to demand closure of the detention camp at the U.S. Naval Station in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, outside the White House on January 11, 2019.‬ (Photo: Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images)

20 Years After Start of 'War on Terror', Groups Demand Closure of Gitmo 'Once and For All'

"President Biden has the authority and power to permanently close Guantánamo Bay, turning it from a living symbol of torture and injustice to a historical warning to future generations."

Kenny Stancil

On the 20th anniversary of the official launch of the so-called "Global War on Terror," a coalition of progressive advocacy groups on Monday demanded that U.S. President Joe Biden finally shut down the military prison at Guantánamo Bay Naval Base, where more than three dozen people are still being detained indefinitely in violation of their human rights.

"It's long past time for the Biden administration to close Guantánamo prison and end indefinite detention once and for all."
—Carolyn Fiddler, Daily Kos

Former Guantánamo prisoner Mansoor Adayfi and campaigners from MPower Change, Justice for Muslims Collective, Daily Kos, Amnesty International, and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) are set to hold an online event and in-person rally in front of the White House at 3:00 pm ET to deliver a petition signed by over 300,000 individuals calling for an immediate and permanent closure of Gitmo.

Since the offshore detention camp opened in January 2002, 780 men and boys, all of them Muslim, have been imprisoned at Gitmo, according to CCR. As of September 2021, 39 men—including 27 inmates with no criminal charges, 10 of whom have been cleared for release—remain incarcerated without access to a fair trial, most of them languishing behind bars for more than a decade at a prison notorious for its role in the CIA's post-9/11 torture program.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in February that the administration's "goal and intention" is to close Gitmo. Despite pressure from human rights advocates and former detainees as well as two dozen members of the U.S. Senate Democratic Caucus, however, Biden "has failed to urgently act toward that goal," the coalition said Monday in a joint statement.

"Every day that Guantánamo remains open is another day added to the unprecedented and cruel, decades-long detention without charge or fair trial" of Gitmo prisoners, said Aliya Hussain, advocacy program manager at CCR.

Sijal Nasralla, campaign director at MPower Change, emphasized that "President Biden has the authority and power to permanently close Guantánamo Bay, turning it from a living symbol of torture and injustice to a historical warning to future generations."

"President Biden should keep his promise," Nasralla added. "He should close Guantánamo. Twenty years of institutionalized Islamophobic violence is twenty years too long."

Echoing Nasralla's criticism, Maha Hilal, co-director of the Justice for Muslims Collective, noted that "in the post 9/11 War on Terror, Guantánamo has always been an emblematic example of how institutionalized Islamophobia has been manifested."

"It is outrageous that the prison remains open, that prisoners continue to be abused, and that those released are abandoned by the U.S. government," Hilal continued. "Biden must close Guantánamo immediately in addition to addressing the horrific aftermath of the prison and the lives that have been destroyed by it. The U.S. must be held accountable and this is one way to move forward toward this goal."

"Twenty years of institutionalized Islamophobic violence is twenty years too long."
—Sijal Nasralla, MPower Change

Others pointed out that activists have been engaged in an effort to close the detention center since it first opened nearly 20 years ago, with no plans to stop until Gitmo's doors are permanently shuttered.

"Its continued existence," said Alli Jarrar of Amnesty International, "is a perpetuation of human rights abuses, a reminder of torture and indefinite detention, and it is an international embarrassment for the United States."

Daily Kos communications director Carolyn Fiddler argued that Gitmo is a reflection of some of the disastrous effects of former U.S. President George W. Bush's declaration on September 20, 2001 of the Global War on Terror.

After 20 years, "Guantánamo remains part of the nation's decades-long legacy of mass incarceration and U.S. militarism," said Fiddler.

While nine prisoners have died at Guantánamo—one more than the eight convicted by the military commissions system—zero senior U.S. government officials have been held accountable, according to CCR. In addition, the organization noted, it is "the most expensive prison in the world," sucking up an estimated $540 million in public money per year.

Gitmo's casualties and costs are part of the enormously destructive consequences of the U.S.-led Global War on Terror. Recent studies estimate that the U.S. government has spent more than $21 trillion on militarism at home and abroad since 9/11, as the Pentagon waged wars that have killed at least 929,000 people.

"It's long past time for the Biden administration to close Guantánamo prison and end indefinite detention once and for all," Fiddler said. "Closing this facility is an essential step towards justice, accountability, and reconciliation."

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