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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

15th anniversary passes of Guantanamo Bay prison with no sign of closure in sight

On January 11, 2002 Guantanamo Bay detention center opened its cells to retain terror suspects. The facility became infamous for torture and indefinite detention without any charges being laid in many cases.

The facility was first opened under president George Bush in 2002 after the 9/11 attacks in September of 2001. At the time of its establishment its purpose was described as follows: "... Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the prison camp was established to detain extraordinarily dangerous people, to interrogate detainees in an optimal setting, and to prosecute detainees for war crimes. In practice, the site has long been used for indefinite detention without trial."
During his 2008 presidential campaign Obama said of Guantanamo that it was "a sad chapter of American history" and promised to close down the prison next year. Obama repeated his promise on 60 Minutes and the ABC program This Week after he was elected. From the very start, Obama tried to close the base but was always stymied mostly by the U.S. Congress that passed motions that forbade him from transferring any Guantanamo prisoners to U.S. soil. In January of 2009 he issued a request to suspend the operations of the military commission for 120 days and shut down the facility within the year. Of course, it never closed then nor in subsequent years.
Over the years the facility has held up to 800 prisoners who in some cases were tortured, with the overwhelming majority never having been charged. The euphemistically named "enhanced techniques" included water-boarding and being stripped naked and being confined in dark cells for long periods. A November 2016 study, by the Afghan Analysts network, found that many prisoners were retained on the basis of scant evidence. The group claimed that the eight longest-serving prisoners were being held on the basis of unsubstantiated accusations. Nine prisoners have died in custody, seven from apparent suicides. Over the years many prisoners have been cleared for release and Obama has been attempting to release all he can before his term is up on January 20th. Only 55 prisoners now remain and of those 19 have been cleared for release, five of them as long ago as 2009. The facility has housed at least fifteen children including Omar Khadr who was picked up in Afghanistan in 2002. Khadr is now back in Canada. He is a Canadian citizen. He returned to Canada in September of 2012 where he will serve out his sentence.
Omar Khadr is shown in an undated handout photo from the Bowden Institution in Innisfail  Alta.
Omar Khadr is shown in an undated handout photo from the Bowden Institution in Innisfail, Alta.
Bowden Institution
Mohammed el Gharani was 14 when sent to Guantanamo. He was accused of fighting for the Taliban and being a member of a London-based Al-Qaeda cell. It turns out that Gharani has never been to the U.K. or to Afghanistan. He was finally released in 2009 after seven years in prison. There are many cases where supposed evidence turns out to be incorrect. Mustafa al-Shamiri has spent 14 years in Guantanamo. In a case of mistaken identity he was taken to be a senior Al-Qaeda trainer in Afghanistan. He was finally cleared for release more than a year ago but is still being held.
In July 2002 U.S. military forces raided a compound in Logar province Afghanistan. They were looking for a suspected fighter who went by the alias Abdul Bari who had ties to an Al-Qaeda bomb maker. They did find an Abdul Bari whose real name was Abdul Zaric with Bari just being his nickname. When captured the U.S. forces claimed he possessed unknown substances including a white powder, that were initially thought to be chemical or biological agents. He did work as a translator for the Taliban government to support his family. According to a 2015 report the substances in his possession were salt, sugar and petroleum jelly.
A Guantanamo detainee wears an orange jump suit at the Guantanamo Naval Base on January 17  2002
A Guantanamo detainee wears an orange jump suit at the Guantanamo Naval Base on January 17, 2002
Roberto Schmidt, AFP/File
President-elect Donald Trump has said that there should be no further releases from Guantanamo. He says they are extremely dangerous people who should not be allowed back on the battlefield. Trump has vowed to keep the prison open and load it up with some 'bad hombres'. The other day Obama announced the transfer of four detainees to Saudi Arabia perhaps the last to be released before September 20. Even if every detainee cleared for transfer is released there would still be about forty held at the prison.
There is a deep uncertainty among Guantanamo inmates as to what will happen in the future as Donald Trump becomes president. Pardiss Kebriaei, lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Right, that represents the prisoners said: “There is a great deal of anxiety and fear.”


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