Thu. Jan 27th, 2022

During a recent protest outside the White House calling for the closure of the US military prison at the Guantánamo Bay naval base on the island of Cuba, a teenager approached a colleague to ask what the protest was about. He told her he had never heard of the detention facility.

It’s been 20 years and four presidential administrations since Guantánamo opened, but to those who have been born since, his terrifying stories sound more like the plot of a fictional horror film than reality. It is a shameful legacy that we simply cannot pass on to future generations.

Guantánamo, which opened in response to the September 11 attacks, detained nearly 780 Muslim men and boys. Before they were detained, many were abducted, disappeared and brutally tortured in secret American prisons or by so-called allies in the “war on terror”. In Guantánamo they were tortured, very few were charged with crimes, and no one was given a fair trial. Kafkaesque military commissions set up to try them have proved ineffective and unfair, denying defendants an impartial arbitrator and access to critical evidence. Meanwhile, families of 9/11 victims have been waiting in vain for justice.

Amnesty International and many others around the world have stubbornly campaigned since its inception to close the prison. President Joe Biden, like President Barack Obama before him, promised to close it, but has so far failed to do so.

The Biden administration transferred one detainee from the facility in July, but has not yet relocated the special envoy to the Department of Foreign Affairs dedicated to closing the jail. On the contrary, the administration recently announced plans to build a new courtroom at Guantánamo to continue the work by the military commissions – the opposite of a blueprint to close the place.

It is not just about the closure of Guantánamo. It is also about holding accountable for the offenses committed within its configuration. Last year, testimonies from a number of former detainees, including Majid Khan, Abu Zubayda and Mohamedou Ould Slahi, describing their abuse at the US-controlled “black sites” abroad and in Guantanamo, were made public. Abu Zubaydah’s story was told in a PBS documentary called, The Forever Prisoner, the torture inflicted on Slahi, who is now a best-selling author and human rights defender, is portrayed in the film, The Mauritanian, while Khan for ‘ a sentencing jury told about how to endure stress. positions, beats, forced feeding using tubes lined with hot sauce, and sodomy with a garden hose.

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled in civil cases against Italy, Lithuania, Macedonia, Poland and Romania for their complicity in the torture and forced disappearance of people in the context of the US extradition and secret detention programs, but there has never been any significant liability for the United States. From those who authorized torture at the highest levels of government to those who carried out the illegal “reinforced interrogation techniques”, no one was ever held responsible for the crimes committed. It should begin with the declassification and full release of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on CIA torture.

Thirty-nine men live in Guantánamo. Thirteen are still in indefinite detention, despite being approved for transfer – some more than a decade ago. Twelve face charges in the military commissions, while the other 14 live in hellish limbo: not yet released for a transfer, but never charged with a crime. Their fate is a remnant of the overriding principles that have prevailed at Guantánamo since its inception – cruelty and arbitrariness.

The US government needs to act quickly to correct this mistake. It must commit itself to the resolution of each detainee’s case by their transfer and release without further delay and in accordance with international law. Or if there is sufficient admissible evidence to prosecute internationally recognizable criminal offenses, this must be done through a fair court decision before a regularly constituted federal court without appealing the death penalty.

Guantánamo remains an indelible stain on American history, a chapter that the US government must now close and never repeat. President Biden owes it to all of us – those who Guantánamo has experienced or watched with horror over the years, and new and future generations who are now just learning from it – to shut it down once and for all.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial views.

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