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Guantanamo at 21: Advocates renew calls for closing US prison | Human Rights News

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Since the chaotic withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in 2021, President Joe Biden and his aides have repeatedly expressed their sense of accomplishment that Washington is not at war for the first time in decades.

But the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, surrounded by Cuban ports, not far from the U.S. coast, still operates as a remnant of the so-called “war on terror” that began after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

Wednesday marked the 21st anniversary of the prison known as Gitmo. The occasion prompted renewed calls for the center to be closed. Detainees have recounted abuses within the facility, and critics say basic due process protections are denied there.

“The ‘War on Terror’ won’t end until Guantanamo is closed. So any claims that the war is over are false,” Lisa Hajar, a sociology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told Al Jazeera. .

Hajjar is the author of a book published last year titled The War in Court: Inside the Long Fight Against Torture. The enduring legacy of prisons, she said, was the denial of humanity to detainees in the name of national security interests by the U.S. government, an “ostensibly liberal political democracy.” said.

“Without Fees…Without Humanity”

Former Guantánamo detainee Mansour Adeifi said the detention facility’s legacy has deteriorated with each passing year.

“It symbolizes oppression, injustice, lawlessness, abuse of power and indefinite detention,” he told Al Jazeera.

Adaifi said he spent 14 years in prison, where he endured torture, humiliation and abuse. A native of Yemen, he said he was kidnapped in Afghanistan and handed over to US forces when he was 18.

Adaifi said it was regrettable that rights violations in Guantanamo were perpetrated by a powerful country that preaches democracy and freedom.

“They are still in prison for 21 years with no rights, no prosecution, no trial and no humanity,” he said.

The facility once held nearly 800 inmates and now houses 35 prisoners, all Muslim men. Most of them have never been charged and 20 of them have been released.

About 160 international human rights groups sent letters to Biden on Wednesday, urging him to close the facility.

“Guantanamo continues to inflict escalating serious harm to the elderly and increasingly ill men who are indefinitely detained there, most of whom have not been charged and no one has been given a fair trial. It has also devastated their families and communities,” the letter said.

Groups, including Oxfam America and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, also argued that prisons stirred up “prejudice, stereotypes and stigma”. ,” the group said.

The nonprofit rights group American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in a petition to Biden, described prisons as “a global symbol of injustice, abuse and disregard for the rule of law.”

“Guantanamo continues to impose a tremendous cost on both our values ​​and our resources. It is a long time ago that this shameful episode in American history has come to an end,” the statement said. said.

As a candidate, Biden said he would support the closure of Guantanamo. Democratic predecessor Barack Obama issued an executive order on his second day in office calling for Guantánamo to be closed within a year, but failed to do so amid political opposition. rice field.

Hajar, a professor at the University of California, said there is no influential constituency in US politics advocating closing prisons. Many US politicians have distanced themselves from the “war on terrorism” and its consequences as the country faces domestic and international crises, she said.

Hajjar also pointed out that the media has barely covered prisons in recent years. She argued that proper coverage of Guantánamo would require an acknowledgment that it was a “national disgrace” and an examination of what had gone wrong since its creation. The social problem is difficult to explain, he added.

“So the mainstream media isn’t really interested in covering it,” she said.


Located on a US military base in Cuba, the prison operates under a separate legal system led by a military commission that does not guarantee the same rights as traditional US courts. The ACLU has questioned whether detainees will be able to receive a fair hearing before a commission, given the “loose standard of evidence”.

The group also advocates that detainees should seek reparations for torture suffered by detainees, whether in prisons themselves or in secret facilities run by the Central Intelligence Agency known as “black sites”. He points out that the system cannot be used.

In a petition to the White House on Wednesday, Amnesty International USA called the prison “a long-standing and glaring stain on the United States’ human rights record.”

Former detainee Adaifi said justice for those imprisoned at Guantánamo begins with closing the facility. He also called for an apology and accountability for the crimes committed there.

In 2016, a U.S. review board found Adayfi fit for release, although he had never been charged with a crime.

The former Guantánamo inmate now creates art inspired by his experiences. He detailed his story in his memoir Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantanamo.

After his release, Adaifi was sent by the US government to Serbia, where he remains to this day. But his struggle continues. He told Al Jazeera that most former Guantánamo detainees live “in limbo” with no legal status in the host country, unable to work, travel, or engage in normal social relationships with others. He said he couldn’t even have one.

“It’s really hard. When you’re released from Guantánamo, there’s no rehabilitation program that will help you get on with their life.” [with] family, friends and a stable job. Uncertainty is one of his worst emotions,” he said.

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