Tue. Oct 19th, 2021

Moath al-Alwi was captured by Pakistani forces near the border with Afghanistan in December 2001 and surrendered to the US military.

A Yemeni citizen, al-Alwi, said he flees for safety, not a fighter, when he was abducted and sold to the U.S. military, which transported him around the world to a tropical prison camp at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in January 2002.

In the nearly 20 years since then, the infamous military prison in Guantanamo has become a symbol of the United States. human rights violations. Many prisoners – mostly Muslim men – have been tortured or detained for years and even decades without charges, trials or basic legal rights.

One of a few dozen remaining prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, al-Alwi, has never been charged with any crime but remains in prison. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2019 rejected his petition without comment.

With the departure of US troops from Afghanistan, rights activists see an opportunity for President Joe Biden to fulfill his 2020 political promise to close the prison. Others say the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, some of whose new leaders are former Guantanamo detainees, creates a new obstacle.

Hundreds of detainees from the American war in Afghanistan were transported to Guantanamo, where they were detained indefinitely outside the conventions of the laws of war. [File: Joe Raedle/Getty Images]

Why is the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay still open?

“The fact that the prison remains open 20 years later is due to American partisan politics and unfortunately the prisoners there are hostages to politics,” said Ramzi Kassem, a professor at the City University of New York School of Law, who al-Alwi and another detainee are still being held without charge in Guantanamo.

At the end of the George W. Bush presidency in 2008, there was a broad public consensus in the US that Guantanamo should be closed.

President Barack Obama has said he would close the jail, but has drawn sharp criticism from Republicans and fails to keep his promises after the US Congress began in 2011 to impose limits on the transfer of detainees.

President Donald Trump, who took over at the White House in 2016, opposed expulsions from Guantanamo and said he would “burden it with bad guys”. In his four years in office, Trump has released only one person.

“It is a dual lack of political will to close Guantanamo and do what is good from a policy point of view. “Administrations of both parties did not do the necessary,” Kassem told Al Jazeera.

Prisoners sit together in Guantanamo Bay detention facility in 2009, which US President Barack Obama tried to shut down due to Republican political heat in Congress [File: Brennan Linsley/Pool via Reuters]

Who is still being held in Guantanamo?

A relatively small number of 39 men are still being held in Guantanamo. These include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the al-Qaeda attacks on the US on September 11, and four co-conspirators being tried by military commissions.

Ten of the detainees are not on trial and have been approved by US agencies for release, but are still being held. Among them are Saifullah Paracha, a Pakistani man who at 74 years old is the oldest prisoner in Guantanamo and who has never been charged with a crime.

Ten men are still facing military commissions. One is nearing the end of a military sentence and is due to be released in February. Others are detained indefinitely without trial.

Who was released from Guantanamo?

By the end of 2008, the Bush administration had transferred about 540 detainees from Guantanamo, and by the beginning of 2017, the Obama administration had transferred nearly 200 out of the facility.

Among the challenges facing U.S. authorities in relocating Guantanamo detainees is obtaining agreements that guarantee humane treatment of their homelands, or cause a third country to agree to resettle them and prevent them from returning to hostility. against the USA.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Slovakia and Albania were among the largest recipients of nationals from other countries.

In 2014, five Taliban prisoners were transferred to Qatar in exchange for the release of US soldier Bowe Bergdahl, who was held captive in Afghanistan and Pakistan for five years after leaving the US military. Four of the five are now members of the new Taliban government in Afghanistan.

Two men have been released since Obama left office in January 2017. Both have been returned to their homelands.

After more than 15 years in Guantanamo, Ahmed al-Darbi was returned to Saudi Arabia in 2018 to continue serving a prison sentence for a bomb attack in 2002 on an oil tanker off the coast of Yemen.

On July 19, the Biden administration releases its first prisoner, Abdul Latif Nasser, a Moroccan, four years after obtaining permission for transfer in 2016. For 19 years, Nasser was never charged with any crime.

The Biden administration transferred Abdul Latif Nasser from Guantanamo Bay and sent the Moroccan man home years after he was recommended by a judging panel in July 2016 for dismissal. [File: Shelby Sullivan-Bennis via AP]

What are the military commissions in Guantanamo?

The military commissions are tribunals organized outside the framework of U.S. and international law by the U.S. Department of Defense to file charges against Guantanamo detainees.

U.S. constitutional protection of due process does not apply, enabling the government to maintain secret evidence of torture and detain prisoners indefinitely.

“The commissions were set up to evade the normal rules that could restrict the operation of an ordinary civil or military court, and specifically the ban on the use of tainted evidence,” Kassem said.

Prisoners must use the advocates assigned to them. They may not see all the evidence against them. Only two-thirds of a jury should be convicted, and even in acquittal, release is not guaranteed.

Activists wearing prison trousers and black hoods protested in the White House against torture in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in 2020 and called for its closure. [File: Mike Theiler/Reuters]

How were prisoners tortured by the US?

Many of the Guantanamo detainees were first detained by blacks in the CIA or elsewhere by the U.S. military and tortured before being transferred to Guantanamo.

The records are largely still secret and attorneys representing inmates must enter into a confidentiality agreement that prevents them from publicly describing the torture their clients suffered.

In June, a military judge for the first time publicly agreed that information obtained through torture in a military case against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi accused of planning the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 in which 17 American sailors were killed.

“Military commissions have been set up from the outset to cover up the fact that men, especially former CIA detainees, have been tortured and to cover up the abuse in secret,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the National Civil Liberties National Security Project. . Union.

The US government has acknowledged that torture has taken place in a number of cases, including the Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian man captured by the US in Pakistan and tortured for years in a series of secret CIA prisons, as set out in a U.S. Senate Report.

Another is Mohammed al-Qahtani, A Saudi whose military charges have been rejected because he was tortured in Guantanamo, but who remains incarcerated despite mental illness.

What steps can Biden take to close Guantanamo Bay?

Human rights advocates and detainees advocates say the Biden administration will be increasingly under pressure to bring Guantánamo to an end.

“It would be unsustainable for the Biden administration to argue that the US involvement in Afghanistan has ended, but that it still has the power to detain men indefinitely in Guantanamo,” said J Wells Dixon. a senior advocate at the Center for Constitutional Rights. In New York.

“You can not have it in both respects,” said Dixon, who represented a number of Guantanamo detainees, including Majid Shoukat Khan, a Pakistani who endured CIA torture and later pleaded guilty to being a courier for Al-Qaeda.

The White House announced in February that it was conducting an internal review of how to close Guantanamo. According to lawyers, an important step in waiving the military tribunals and allowing the U.S. Department of Justice to reach a plea agreement with the 11/9 suspects and other accused of crimes.

Biden could ask Congress to repeal its ban on Guantanamo Bay imprisonment.

Biden is considering appointing a special envoy to the US State Department for the closure of Guantanamo, a position created by Obama but eliminated during the Trump administration.

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