Guantánamo: Not Gone, But Largely Forgotten

As people often say these days – there’s just too much news around at the moment. Even the shortest of recent news lists is already bulging – Theresa May’s reshuffle, crisis in the NHS, mudslides in California, airstrikes and a huge new military offensive in Syria, protests (and subsequent crackdown) in Iran, protests in Tunisia, the Myanmar army finally admitting to killings. And of course, Trump, Trump and more Trump. All of which means this week will likely see little or no significant news coverage of Guantánamo Bay. Yes, Guantánamo. That great relic of the Bush-Cheney “war on terror” years.

It’s still, somewhat astonishingly, very much open, and this week marks the 16-year point since the first orange-jumpsuited detainees were taken there (20 on 11 January 2002, 30 more on 14 January, 220 by early February). More than a decade-and-a-half later, after hundreds have come and gone, Guantánamo still holds 41 detainees, some of whom are facing indefinite detention without charge or trial.

It’s the US Government’s intention to hold a group of 26 “forever prisoners” until either the “war” against al-Qa’ida is over (whenever that may be), or until the detainees themselves actually die. Once headline news, Guantánamo coverage these days is more or less confined to the specialists. Single-minded journalists like the Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg, or the estimable campaigner-author Andy Worthington.

It deserves greater exposure. Lest it be forgotten, Guantánamo was supposed to be a grand  exercise in bringing “bad men” to justice after the 9/11 attacks. It was a sort of centrepiece of the Bush administration’s counter-terrorism effort. Instead, it’s turned into a grotesque travesty of justice. Multiple allegations of torture. Force-feeding. Countless individual humiliations. Legal representation and family access thwarted or delayed. Farcically-poor “military commissions”, rather than proper trials. And a never-ending series of mishaps, legal challenges and delay.

Across the last 16 years – from those early Donald Rumsfeld press conferences to recent controversy over the botched military commission proceedings against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – it’s been glaringly obvious that Guantánamo has been an object lesson in how not to do justice. In its haplessness and interminability, it’s been an insult to the victims of 9/11 and other terrorist attacks. And in its abusiveness and illegality, it’s been a gruelling ordeal for its hundreds of detainees. Even the US guards there have suffered.

Having previously blogged numerous times on Guantánamo and the CIA’s secret detention and torture programme (here, here, here, here, here and here for example), I didn’t think I’d still be doing it in 2018. In fact, I’d like not to be blogging on Guantánamo this time next year. But this half-forgotten-though-very-much-still-in-existence legal aberration shows every sign of staggering on year after year.

Guantánamo undoubtedly deserves a lot more attention than the odd blog from people like me. But if it’s not in the news at least a blog like this can be passed around online. Please share this blog widely.