Guantanamo at 21: Advocates renew calls to close US prison | Human Rights News

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Since the withdrawal of United States forces from Afghanistan in 2021, President Joe Biden and his top aides have repeatedly expressed a sense of achievement that Washington is not fighting for. ‘ first time in decades.

But close to US shores, located in the harbor of Cuba, the Guantanamo Bay detention facility still functions 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 – an event that prompted renewed calls to close the facility. Detainees are abused inside the facility and critics have said they have been denied basic due process protections there.

“The ‘war on terror’ will not end until Guantanamo is closed. So any claim that the war is over is false,” Lisa Hajjar, professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told Al Jazeera.

Hajjar is the author of the book titled The War in Court: Inside the Long Fight Against Torture, which was published last year. She said the prison’s lasting legacy is that the US government – “ostensibly a liberal political democracy” – denies the humanity of detainees in the name of national security interests.

‘No charges…no humanity’

Mansoor Adayfi, a former Guantanamo detainee, said the legacy of the detention facility worsens with each passing year.

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

Adayfi spent 14 years in prison, where he said he suffered torture, humiliation and abuse. Originally from Yemen, he explained that he was kidnapped in Afghanistan and handed over to US forces when he was 18. He was accused of being an al-Qaeda recruiter. much older but has maintained his innocence.

Adayfi said it was unfortunate that the rights violations at Guantanamo are being done by a powerful country that preaches democracy and freedom.

“They are still keeping men in prison for 21 years without rights, without charges, without trial, even without humanity,” he said.

The facility once housed nearly 800 detainees but now holds 35 inmates – all Muslim men – most of whom have never been charged with a crime, including 20 cleared for release.

On Wednesday, nearly 160 international rights groups sent a letter to Biden urging him to close the facility.

“Guantanamo continues to wreak ever-increasing havoc on the aging and increasingly ill men who continue to be held there indefinitely, the vast – some unindicted and none of them received a fair trial. It has also destroyed their families and communities,” the letter said.

The groups, which include Oxfam America and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, also claimed that the prison harbors “bigotry, stereotyping and stigma”. By exposing these social divisions, Guantanamo “risks facilitating additional rights violations”, the groups said.

In a petition to Biden, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a non-profit rights group, described the prison as “a global symbol of injustice, abuse and disregard for the rule of law”.

“Guantanamo continues to place a heavy toll on both our values ​​and our resources. This shameful episode in American history is long overdue,” the statement said.

As a candidate, Biden said he supports closing Guantanamo – a move that his Democratic predecessor, former President Barack Obama, failed to do amid political opposition, despite issuing an executive order -on his second day in office calling for the closing of Guantanamo within a year.

Hajjar, a professor at the University of California, said there is no influential constituency in US politics that advocates closing the prison. With the country facing domestic and international crises, many US politicians have distanced themselves from the “war on terror” and its consequences, she said.

Hajjar also pointed out that the media has not given much coverage to the prison in recent years. Covering Guantanamo properly, she said, would require acknowledging that it was a “national disgrace” and examining what had gone wrong since its establishment. She said that the legal issues related to the prison are complicated to explain.

“So because of that, there’s not a lot of taste in the mainstream media to cover it,” she said.

‘uncertainty’

The prison, which is based at a US military base in Cuba, operates in an alternative legal system led by military commissions that do not guarantee the same rights as traditional US courts. The ACLU has questioned whether detainees can get fair hearings before the commissions, given their “easier standards of evidence”.

The group has also stated that detainees cannot use the legal system there to seek compensation for any torture they have suffered, whether in the prison itself or in secret facilities. are run by the Central Intelligence Agency, known as “black sites”.

In a petition to the White House on Wednesday, Amnesty International USA called the prison a “bright, long blemish on the human rights record of the United States”.

Adayfi, a former detainee, said that justice for those imprisoned in Guantanamo begins with closing the facility. He also called for an apology and accountability from US officials for crimes committed there.

In 2016, a US review board deemed Adayfi fit for release, although he was never charged with a crime.

The former Guantanamo detainee now creates art inspired by his experiences. He explained his story in the memoir, Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantanamo.

After his release, Adayfi was sent by the US government to Serbia, where he remains today. But his struggles continue. He told Al Jazeera that most former Guantanamo detainees live “in limbo” without legal status in their host countries, unable to work, travel or even have normal social relationships. have with others.

“It’s very difficult. When you are released from Guantanamo, there is no type of rehabilitation program to help you move on with your life – [with] family, friends, steady work. Uncertainty is one of the worst emotions,” Adayfi said.

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