TWENTY years after the opening of one of the most controversial prisons in the world, Guantanamo Bay remains an affront to American ideals of democracy and human rights. This week, five more detainees were approved for release. The three men from Yemen, one from Somalia and the fifth from Kenya have collectively spent 85 years in the prison without so much as being charged. After all this time, following a review, US authorities deem these men no longer pose a threat to their country. It is a sorry reflection of the justice system that of the 39 detainees at Gitmo, only 10 are ready to stand trial, and even their cases are still at the preliminary proceedings stage. Nine detainees are in limbo, as they have neither been charged nor ordered to be released. Some of them have serious mental health problems, which further complicates their cases as it makes it hard to prepare a case for release or arrange a post-prison life for them.
Though other prisoners’ release orders have been issued, including that of Pakistani inmate Saifullah Paracha, the release itself is often delayed as the US administration engages with countries to determine whether they will accept them. In some cases, such as that of the inmates from Yemen and Somalia, their homelands are so torn by war that repatriating them is not possible. As a result, there are fears they will continue to linger in this prison, notorious as a black hole where rights, dignity and justice cease to exist. The prison should have shut down years ago, when president Obama pledged it would, with the cases transferred to civil courts. Instead it has outlasted the war in Afghanistan, and remains a dark reminder of the US’ excesses, a ‘justification’ for torture and a prolonged misery for inmates who have the right to fair trial. The US has a lot to answer for, especially why, despite two presidents committing to shutting down the prison, it still exists.
Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2022