Yesterday, January 11, the Guantánamo Bay prison celebrated’ its 12th birthday. Not that champagne bottles were opened at the White House or at the infamous detention camp because Guantánamo Bay has morphed into an albatross around US President Barack Obama’s neck since his promise to close it down in 2008, but the fact that this blemish on US justice and human rights record still remains open is a ‘celebration’ of the Obama administration wanton disregard for human rights.
The US has so far spent $4.7bn on the facility, nearly 800 men have been imprisoned, and many have lost over a decade of their lives, their sanity, health, dignity and everything that would have made the remainder of their lives meaningful. The fact that most of the detainees are innocent and should never have been there (and this according Major General Michael Lehnert, Guantánamo’s first commander) shows the depth of the injustice Washington is presiding over and explains why the world will never look at America in the same way again. Obama transferred out eleven men since the summer, but they should have been released long ago having been proven innocent.
There have been persistent calls from the media and several quarters to close Gitmo but Obama has been slower than a snail in moving forward on the issue. At the 12th birthday yesterday, one more voice joined the international chorus for its closure -- Major General Michael Lehnert, the first commanding general of the base. Lehnert said that while there were compelling operational reasons to stand up Guantánamo prison early in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US squandered international goodwill and lost opportunities by failing to adhere to the Geneva Conventions and to its own rule of law. “Those decisions turned Guantánamo into a liability,” he said.
The base still holds 155 prisoners, of whom 76 have been cleared for release. The prevailing sentiment is that the facility will be finally closed down, but even a single day’s delay is considered a crime. The Human Rights First said Washington has a legal obligation to find lawful dispositions for all law of war detainees when the war in Afghanistan ends this year.
Even the closure will not erase the human rights violations the US has committed – the waterboarding, beatings, extreme temperatures, and making a detainee believe his family was in danger of death. In the past 12 years, all the information leaked out suggests that every detainee has been tortured. Washington must give compensation to detainees who have been proved innocent and must give guarantees to the world that another Guantanamo will not be repeated•