It’s Time To Close Down Guantánamo Bay Military Detention Camp

Last Friday, 24 U.S. Senators penned a letter to President Biden, urging his administration to close down the military detention camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, calling the detention camp a “symbol of lawlessness and human rights abuses”. The detainees that have been imprisoned in Guantanamo have been confined for nearly two decades, subjected to torture, without trial or charge. The letter urges the Biden Administration to re-establish the Special Envoy for Guantánamo Closure to rebuild the appropriate infrastructure to resettle the 40 remaining detainees out of U.S. custody and ultimately close the detention center.

Also referred to as Gitmo, the detention camp is a United States military prison located in Guantánamo Bay Naval Base, on the coast of Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The military prison was established in 2002 by President George W. Bush as part of the War on Terror that followed the attacks of September 11, 2001. Due to the indefinite detention and torture of the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, the military camp is considered a major breach of human rights by major international organizations, including Amnesty International. The detention camp also violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of our Constitution.

President Barack Obama ran for office on a campaign promise that he would close the prison; however, he was met with strong bipartisan opposition from Congress, who passed legislation to prohibit detainees from Guantánamo being imprisoned in the United States. In January of 2018, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to keep the detention camp open indefinitely, and transferred a prisoner out shortly after. Earlier this year, the Biden administration declared its intention to shut down the detention camp, a move that was welcomed by the Muslim Public Affairs Council. As of January 2021, 731 of the 780 people detained were transferred, 40 remained imprisoned, and 9 died in custody.

After nearly two decades of imprisonment, detainees held at Guantánamo Bay have not been offered their day in court, which runs counter to the constitutional right to a speedy trial, as well as a gross violation of international law. The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of our Constitution each contain a due process clause, which acts as a safeguard from arbitrary denial of life, liberty, or property by the government outside the sanction of law. This constitutional protection guarantees that those who are charged with crimes must be granted the right of a fair trial, within a reasonable timeframe, otherwise they are released. The courts have allowed for the Guantánamo detainees to not receive due process using the argument that the prisoners are detained outside of the United States boundaries, however, many legal experts have stated that the omission of due process to Guantánamo detainees is unconstitutional. In addition to the due process laws, the clause ensures that confessions cannot be coerced. American military and intelligence officers have used illegal torture methods, including waterboarding, to force confessions out of Guantánamo detainees, which is a violation of American and international laws. The recently released film, The Mauritarian, which includes a standout performance by Benedict Cumberbatch and Jodie Foster, documents the experience of Mohamedou Ould Slahi who was illegally detained at Guantánamo Bay for 14 years. This Oscar-nominated film showcases the illegal methods used by our government in this military detention camp against the detainees.

The letter written by the U.S. Senators, including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, and many other leaders in the U.S. Senate, insists that the time is now to close down the detention camp because it “has damaged America’s reputation, fueled anti-Muslim bigotry, and weakened the United States’ ability to counter terrorism and fight for human rights and the rule of law around the world.” Calling the detention center a“propaganda tool used by America’s enemies and a danger to national security, they point out the hypocrisy of the United States calling out others’ human right violations. The Senators insist that now is the time to close down Guantánamo Bay Detention camp, so that the United States can fix its reputation around the world, following the damage committed to America’s reputation by the Trump Administration.

We, at the Muslim Public Affairs Council echo these sentiments, for we have been advocating for our government to close down the detention facility since the first emergence of these grotesque human right violations allegations. Our president, Salam Al-Marayati, visited the detention center back in 2007, during the Bush Administration, and he recalled that the detention camp “is killing the character of our nation.” The last four years of policy is testament to the damage our national character has endured; now is the time to close down Guantánamo Bay Detention camp, and end this dark chapter of our nation’s history.

If this week’s conviction of the police officer that murdered George Floyd revealed anything about what American’s demand, it’s that they yearn for a system that treats all equally, regardless of race or creed. Americans believe that no person is above the law, and that the law doesn’t allow for double standards. The second paragraph of our Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” We are the governed, and we do not consent our government to encroach on the inalienable rights of any human being. It’s time to remind ourselves, and the world, who the United States is, and what it was envisioned to be by our founders. It’s due time to close down the Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp.

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The Muslim Public Affairs Council improves public understanding and policies that impact American Muslims by engaging our government, media and communities.