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Guantanamo Bay - an expensive waste that takes away human dignity


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Sometimes it is good to reminisce. As US President Donald Trump continues his obsessive quest to reverse the decisions of the previous administration it is worth pointing out a similar routine was deployed by Barack Obama, with the 44th US President reversing many of President George W. Bush’s policies subsequent to his election in 2008.

It is a practice synonymous with bi-partisan politics. When a nation's political parties align so ably with the populations opposing opinions on divisive topics such as abortion, capital punishment, and same-sex marriage, it makes sense for laws to amend on these issues succeeding a change in government.

Yet progress on the matter of Guantanamo Bay has, for the most part, stifled. If President Trump wishes to reach out to the 48.2% of Americans who voted against him he could do a lot worse than backing its closure.

The Cuban prison, within the grounds of a US Naval base on land leased to the US government prior to the Communist Revolution, was opened by President George W. Bush to hold terrorism suspects captured overseas after the 11 September 2001 attacks. Guantanamo Bay inmates are detained indefinitely without trial.

Amnesty International has, and still does, label the detention centre as a major breach of human rights. After widespread allegations of severe torture, it was no surprise Obama’s promise of closing the prison during his campaign was well received by Democrats.

But the 44th President of the US. was unable to fully close the camp after strong Republican opposition led to Congress passing a new law prohibiting detainees from Guantanamo being imprisoned on US soil. The number of inmates did reduce from around 245 to 41 during Obama’s two terms yet the precedent had been set. The Republicans are generally for Guantanamo, the Democrats generally against it.

Trump seems to have taken this tradition to heart. Back, in 2016 the 71-year-old was met with huge cheers on his campaign trail when he claimed: “Don’t tell me it doesn’t work — torture works.” Last October, after Uzbeki immigrant Sayfullo Saipov plowed a pickup truck into people in Lower Manhattan on Halloween, killing eight of them, the president’s reflex was to “send him to Gitmo.”

For Trump to negate his previous pro-Guantanamo stance, he would be going against a significant proportion of his party. A CNN/ORC poll in March revalead 83% of Republicans are against a future closure of the prison up from 76% in August.

However Trump has done little to bridge the party lines, his views on climate change and immigration solely please those in red, the 45th US President seems to be governing only for those in his corner rather than the greater US. population.

Any hope of Trump siding with Amnesty International and dozens of other human rights charities were quashed when he asked Congress earlier this year for funds to upgrade the jail, having said during his election campaign that he wanted to "load it up with some bad dudes,” no new inmates have been added since 2008.

Guantanamo costs the US taxpayer approximately $445 million per year, more than $10 million per prisoner. The prison not only tramples on core American principles but also produced little intelligence while potentially endangering United States troops who might fall into enemy hands.

Civilian courts are vastly more effective in bringing terrorists to justice. Since Sept. 11, 2001, there have been 516 terrorist-related cases brought to US federal courts, according to the Center on National Security. A vast majority of these cases have been settled with plea agreements. Of the 109 cases that went to trial, every defendant was convicted.

Contrast that with Guantanamo’s record of military tribunals. Since opening in 2002, they have produced a mere eight convictions — and three of them were overturned on appeal.

The Republicans reputation for hard national security is blinding the party’s moral judgement, a stronger President, prepared to listen to opposing views could make waves by reaching out to the populations' conscience. Would it not be wonderful if Trump exposed Guantanamo's futile record, its destitute conditions. A headline of: “Trump makes America ‘Care Again’” would be a secure first step into rebuilding his currently tattered domestic and international reputation.     

Guantanamo Bay is expensive, it opens the US up to accusations of torture and Human Rights abuses all whilst being unjust and unfair in the eyes of the law.

Guantanamo inmate Khalid Qassim wrote in the Guardian three weeks ago: “After almost 16 years here, you think you’ve been through everything. But now it’s as though they’re sending us back to the old standard operating procedure – from the bad old days, when we first arrived here.”

The Yemeni citizen is currently on hunger strike in protest of his detention without charge: “They’ve recently told me: ‘If you lose some of your organs, it is your choice.’ We are like lab rats. I can see and feel the results of this experiment on myself.”

The prison’s conditions are so unfamiliar to the general American public, so incomparable it becomes difficult to fully understand Qassim’s struggles. The President has the power to change this via executive orders, for every day longer Guantanamo remains open, does he garnish more blood upon his hands? If Trump’s election was revolutionary, his views are disappointing.

Qassim concludes with: “I always ask the people in charge of the camp: why? If something would happen like this in another country, people would rightly ask, ‘Why do you put them there for 16 years without a trial?’”

Terror suspects deserve a fair trial regardless of the strength of accusations against them. Even if the evidence against certain detainees is overwhelming, by not holding a fair case the US stoops to a level more akin to extremists and terrorists themselves. 

The White House appears immune to criticism of its Human Rights breaches. It would take a braver man than Trump to simply listen.

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