The prison camp at Guantanamo bay in Cuba that houses so-called ‘enemy combatants’ has been an atrocity, with those taken into custody in the so-called ‘War on Terror’ being housed there and subject to torture and the denial of basic human rights such as being held indefinitely under appalling conditions and without prospect of a trial, or force-feeding hunger strikers. Calling them ‘enemy combatants’ instead of ‘prisoners of war’ is the fig-leaf used by the US government to violate the Geneva Conventions .The US likes the fact that the ambiguous status of the prison territory enables it to skirt US law in the way it treats detainees. enabling substantial abuses.
Barack Obama came into office vowing to close the camp but failed to do so during his eight years in office. Now two dozen Democratic senators have called on the Biden administration to close the camp. Given his announcement that he will pull out US troops from Afghanistan, there is some hope that Biden will do so.
“As a symbol of lawlessness and human rights abuses, the detention facility continues to harm U.S. national security by serving as a propaganda tool for America’s enemies and continues to hinder counterterrorism efforts and cooperation with allies,” declares the letter (pdf), spearheaded by Senate Majority Whip and Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) as well as Appropriations Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).
“For nearly two decades, the offshore prison has damaged America’s reputation, fueled anti-Muslim bigotry, and weakened the United States’ ability to counter terrorism and fight for human rights and the rule of law around the world,” the letter continues. “In addition to the $540 million in wasted taxpayer dollars each year to maintain and operate the facility, the prison also comes at the price of justice for the victims of 9/11 and their families, who are still waiting for trials to begin.”
“After years of indefinite detention without charge or trial; a history of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; and multiple attempts at a thoroughly failed and discredited military commission process, it is past time to close Guantбnamo’s detention facility and end indefinite detention,” the lawmakers emphasize, adding that “with sufficient political will and swift action, your administration can finish the job.”
There are currently 40 detainees being held there without trial. Radiolab had an exhaustive six-part series profiling the case of one detainee Abdul Latif Nasser who was brought there in 2002 and has been held without trial since then. The story explores how a nerdy, science-focused adolescent boy from a middle class Moroccan family ended up in this torture camp. In 2016 Latif had been approved for release by the board that evaluates their cases. This approval came at the end of the Obama administration but after Trump won the 2016 election, the process had to be completed before the inauguration because Trump would never allow his release. Latif’s lawyer launched a Hail Mary habeas corpus appeal and all that the Obama justice department had to do in its waning days was to not challenge the appeal and Latif would have been allowed to leave after being held for nearly two decades. But even though Latif had been cleared to leave, the Obama administration objected anyway and as a result, Trump came into office with Latif still in custody. Trump of course vowed to never release anyone and promised to even add to the number so that was the end of that. What will happen to Latif and the others being held is now in the hands of the Biden administration.
Biden should go even further than closing that torture camp and give back control of the land to Cuba. The US was granted a permanent lease to the 45-square. mile parcel of land along the southwest coast of the island in a 1903 treaty that some argue was obtained under duress and is invalid under modern interpretations of international law. Of course the US ignores international laws when it goes against its wishes. But keeping hold of Guantanamo Bay is a brazen act of American imperialism.
The US should also end the sanctions on Cuba that are a holdover of the Cold War and the result of Cuba refusing to succumb to US hegemonic demands, and treat Cuba as just another nation and normalize relations. This will infuriate the aging Cuban expatriate community who dream of overthrowing the Cuban government but in purely narrow partisan political terms it should not not matter to Biden since they were a solidly Republican voting bloc anyway.
Shutting down Guantanamo Bay prison, handing the land back to Cuba, and normalizing relations with that country are things that are long, long overdue and the fact that this situation still exists is a testament to the power of the right wing political establishment that views any such move as a sign of US weakness that can be exploited for partisan advantage.