Dec 07, 2021
Human rights defenders on Tuesday renewed demands for President Joe Biden to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as the Senate Judiciary Committee convened a hearing at which experts and advocates testified about the damage that Gitmo does to detainees, the nation's standing in the world, and the elusive pursuit of justice for victims of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks and their families.
"Each day that Guantanamo remains open is a stain on the moral fiber of America."
Lamenting that two-third of the remaining 39 Guantanamo prisoners--there have been approximately 780 men and boys held at the facility since 2002--have not been charged with any crime, Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) asked, "How can that possibly be justice?"
"The story of Guantanamo is the story of a nation that lost its way," said Durbin, to the protestations of observers who noted that indefinite detention and torture have been part of the U.S. narrative for centuries. "It is a story of justice delayed and denied again and again--not only for detainees but also for the victims of 9/11 and their loved ones."
"There is no end in sight for these military commissions," he added, referring to the legal apparatus for prosecuting Gitmo detainees that was described as "rigged" by one of several U.S. military prosecutors who quit in protest. "We can and we must do better."
\u201cWATCH LIVE: The Committee holds a hearing entitled \u201cClosing Guantanamo: Ending 20 Years of Injustice.\u201d This prison has been a stain on our international reputation and does nothing to bring justice for the victims of 9/11. It's time to #CloseGuantanamo https://t.co/szFErl4Tdz\u201d— Senate Judiciary Committee (@Senate Judiciary Committee) 1638889246
Last week, Durbin announced that he had introduced an amendment to the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act that, if passed, would close Guantanamo "once and for all."
Michael Lehnert, the retired U.S. Marine Corps general who was Gitmo's first commander and who later became an outspoken advocate for its closure, testified Tuesday that the Biden administration should appoint an official tasked with shutting down the prison.
"Make someone in the White House currently responsible for closure and give them a finite period of time to make it happen," Lehnert told the senators. "I was given 96 hours to open it. Ninety-six days to close it seems reasonable."
\u201cWith the Senate holding a hearing on Guant\u00e1namo today for the first time in 6 years, it\u2019s important to remember that President Biden has the power to finally close the prison responsibly. Here\u2019s how. #CloseGuantanamo\u201d— The CCR (@The CCR) 1638894480
The Center for Victims of Torture tweeted: "Guantanamo is a centerpiece of the forever wars. It is a shameful symbol of racial injustice, torture, and violations of the Constitution and international law. It's time to finally #CloseGuantanamo."
"Each day that Guantanamo remains open is a stain on the moral fiber of America," the group asserted, adding that at a cost of $540 million per year, Gitmo is "the most expensive prison on Earth."
The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), a Quaker advocacy group, stressed ahead of the hearing that "President Biden has the power to finally end this chapter of injustice" and urged "no more inaction."
The Biden administration--which has signalled its intention to close Guantanamo--did not send a representative to Tuesday's hearing.
\u201cIt's really astounding that the Biden administration couldn't be bothered to send anyone to testify at this Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing.\u201d— Daphne Eviatar (@Daphne Eviatar) 1638890573
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which has represented Guantanamo prisoners in two U.S. Supreme Court cases as well as numerous other Gitmo detainees, said in a statement that "today... our co-counsel Katya Jestin testified about our client, Majid Khan, and the lessons learned from his case about how to resolve the failed military commissions... and close the prison."
"She discussed the negotiated resolution of Khan's case and the completion of his military commission sentence in February 2022, after which he will need to be transferred from Guantanamo," the group related. "She also addressed Khan's torture in CIA detention, which included waterboarding and rape, echoing both Khan's own statement last month and remarks by committee Chair Sen. Durbin."
"While Mr. Khan is unique in having had the opportunity to tell his story publicly, he is not alone," CCR's statement continued. "A total of 26 survivors of the CIA's torture and detention program, including our client Sharqawi Al Hajj, are imprisoned at Guantanamo. Like more than two-thirds of the 39 men still held there, Mr. Al Hajj is not charged with a crime, and he is one of several suffering life-threatening health problems--a result, in part, of his torture."
"It is long past time to end indefinite detention without charge and close Guantanamo."
"Another of our clients, Sufyian Barhoumi, is one of the 13 men still languishing at Guantanamo even though they have been cleared for transfer," the group added. "While it might be easy to assume the remaining men are the most difficult cases who cannot be sent anywhere, that is far from true. It is a failure of will that keeps them at Guantanamo."
"Although President Biden says he wants to close the prison, he has transferred only one man in 11 months," the statement noted. "The Biden administration must use the power and authority it has to move forward critical pieces of a closure plan... It is long past time to end indefinite detention without charge and close Guantanamo."
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