Eleven years after 9/11, Guantánamo is a political prison

Andy Worthington writes: Eleven years since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the majority of the remaining 168 men in Guantánamo are not held because they constitute an active threat to the United States, but because of inertia, political opportunism and an institutional desire to hide evidence of torture by US forces, sanctioned at the highest levels of government. That they are still held, mostly without charge or trial, is a disgrace that continues to eat away at any notion that the US believes in justice.

It seems like an eternity since there was the briefest of hopes that George W. Bush’s “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo would be shut down. That was in January 2009, but although Barack Obama issued an executive order promising to close Guantánamo within a year, he soon reneged on that promise, failing to stand up to Republican critics, who seized on the fear of terrorism to attack him, and failing to stand up to members of his own party, who were also fearful of the power of black propaganda regarding Guantánamo and the alleged but unsubstantiated dangerousness of its inmates.

The President himself also became fearful when, in January 2010, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, which he himself had appointed, and which consisted of career officials and lawyers from government departments and the intelligence agencies, issued its report based on an analysis of the cases of the 240 prisoners inherited from George W. Bush (PDF). The Task Force recommended that, of the 240 men held when he came to power, only 36 could be prosecuted, but 48 others were regarded as being too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial.

The rest, the Task Force concluded, should be released, although they also advised that 30 of these 156 men — all Yemenis — should continue to be held in “conditional detention,” dependent on there being a perceived improvement in the security situation in Yemen.

There were severe problems with the Task Force’s recommendations, particularly regarding the 48 prisoners deemed to be too dangerous to release despite the lack of evidence against them, because detention without charge or trial is unacceptable under any circumstances. Also troubling, however, was the Task Force’s decision, without reference to Congress, to designate 30 men for “conditional detention,” as this was a detention category that they invented.

Nevertheless, it was reasonable to assume, when the Task Force’s report was issued, or at the latest in May 2010, when it was made public, that, fairly swiftly, 36 men would be put on trial, and 126 others would be released, allowing the status of the 48 others to be the focus of intense scrutiny.

That, of course, never happened. [Continue reading…]

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