Washington, DC, United States – On the 20th anniversary of Guantanamo Bay, advocates say the U.S. military detention facility represents two decades of injustice – and should be closed.
Founded at a U.S. military base in Cuba in 2002 by the administration of President George W Bush, the prison was intended to deprive prisoners of the post-9/11 “war on terror” of the constitutional rights they would enjoy on American soil.
Its location – in an American-owned Caribbean island enclave – has clouded the waters over the applicability of international law and war rules on the treatment of prisoners. And over the years, the prison earn a reputation as a place of abuse and injustice outside the rule of law.
US President Joe Biden has promised to close the facility, but reports this the construction of a new, secret courtroom in Guantanamo has raised concerns that the administration may not be serious about closing it. There has been only one transfer from jail in the past year.
The facility, which once housed nearly 800 inmates, now holds 39 inmates, with 13 already released for transfer. Most were detained without formal charges.
Here, Al Jazeera talks to human and civil rights advocates about Guantanamo’s legacy:
Mansoor Adayfi, former prisoner: ’20 years of injustice, torture, ill-treatment ‘
Mansoor Adayfi speaks from personal experience when he says Guantanamo represents “20 years of injustice, torture, ill-treatment, lawlessness and oppression”.
Adayfi has spent more than 14 years in prison, where he says he has endured torture, humiliation and abuse. Adayfi, a native of Yemen, was conducting research in Afghanistan when – at the age of 18 – he was abducted by Afghan fighters and handed over to the CIA on allegations that he was a much older recruiter for al-Qaeda.
Adayfi maintained his innocence throughout the trial, which he described as dehumanizing, and was released in 2016 in Serbia, where he continues to plead for the closure of Guantanamo and to ensure justice for the detainees.
“Guantanamo is one of the greatest human rights violations of the 21st century,” Adayfi, who last year released a memoir entitled Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantanamo, told Al Jazeera in a telephone interview. “And it is also [abusive] to the American legal system, to the American people. “Guantanamo did not achieve any justice for anyone – not for the 9/11 victims, not for the Americans, not for the prisoners.”
For his own experience with torture and wrongful detention, Adayfi said the road to justice would begin with the closure of Guantanamo and the end of secrecy surrounding abuses and legal proceedings that took place there.
“Justice means recovery, means recognition, means to apologize,” he said.
Hina Shamsi, ACLU: Guantanamo a ‘symbol of American injustice’
Hina Shamsi, director of the National Security Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and a prominent critic of the civil rights violations that accompanied the “war on terror, the Guantanamo Bay prison called a “legal, moral and ethical failure”.
“This is a worldwide symbol of American injustice, torture and contempt for the rule of law,” Shamsi told Al Jazeera in an email, adding that Biden should be held accountable for his campaign promise to close Guantánamo.
“Prisoners who are detained indefinitely without charge must be transferred, starting with those who have been released for transfer for years. “The Biden administration must resolve the broken and unconstitutional military commissions by pursuing plea agreements that will be responsible for the torture of defendants by our government, while providing a degree of transparency and justice, as demanded by 9/11 family members.” she said.
“If President Biden is serious about upholding human rights, racial equality and justice, he must act by finally closing Guantanamo.”
Daphne Eviatar, Amnesty International USA: Guantanamo’s legacy is ‘Islamophobia and impunity for torture’
Daphne Eviatar, director of the Security with Human Rights program at Amnesty International USA, said the fact that Guantanamo has been open for 20 years is “itself a very disturbing legacy”.
“Until the United States is ready to close the prison, transfer detainees to places where their human rights will be respected, and acknowledge and compensate for the abuses that took place at Guantanamo Bay, the legacy of the American prison at Guantanamo Bay will continue to be one of blatant man real violations, racism and Islamophobia and impunity for torture, ”Eviatar said in an email to Al Jazeera.
Eviatar said the way forward to close the jail was “clear” and “not particularly difficult” – the release of prisoners released for release, the trial of those charged with “internationally recognizable crimes” in regularly compounded U.S. federal courts, and the transfer of prisoners who have not been charged against other countries where they would not face violations of law.
“President Biden has no excuse not to take that path,” she said.
Yumna Rizvi, Center for Victims of Torture: ‘Hypocrisy and Arrogance’
Yumna Rizvi, policy analyst at the Center for Victims of Torture, an advocacy group for torture survivors, including Guantanamo detainees, said the prison’s legacy was “dark and ghostly”.
“Many of the Muslim men detained behind bars have been subjected to unspeakable human rights violations by the United States and have suffered irreparable damage,” Rizvi said in an email to Al Jazeera.
“Guantanamo emphasizes the hypocrisy and arrogance of the United States, which has deliberately turned its back on the rule of law, and created a hoax system where impunity, injustice and contempt for human rights prevail.”
Robert McCaw, CAIR: A jail designed to deny Muslim suspects their rights
Robert McCaw, director of government affairs at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a civil rights group, said the jail stressed the anti-Muslim prejudice of U.S. government policy in the post-9/11 era.
“The highest security prison held by the US government is in Guantánamo. “It is designed to house only Muslims who are detained without charge on suspicion of supporting terrorism,” McCaw told Al Jazeera.
“The psychological impact of such a prison designed to detain Muslims indefinitely and deny them their rights shows the status of Muslims in the American legal system, and how far the government is willing to go to convert Muslims into To treat U.S. detention, “McCaw said. “And so, as long as this prison remains, it is not just a stain on our country’s human rights record, but a testament to the different treatment that Muslim suspects have in the American legal system.”