Closing Guantanamo Should Extend to the Release of Prisoners

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Why Closing Guantánamo Matters
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January 11 marks the 14th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo Bay prison. Since its opening in 2002, only eight of the original 780 detainees at the prison have been convicted of a crime by a military commission, and of the 103 detainees that remain at the camp, 59 have been classified as ineligible for release or transfer.

“The national shame of Guantanamo’s existence continues 14 years later. And this is a shame that threatens, more than ever, I think, to mar President Obama’s legacy as he leaves office, and the potential that he leaves office without closing Guantánamo,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project. And many are talking today about the importance of Obama’s promise to close Guantanamo – a promise he made in 2008 during his first election campaign.

The president announced a plan to shut down the controversial prison and transfer detainees to secure facilities in the US and abroad, reports Think Progress. “Military experts and human rights groups say it’s more urgent than ever to shut down the military prison given its role in terrorist recruitment overseas.”

Nevertheless, Obama’s continued plan to close the prison and relocate prisoners is nothing more than a political spectacle, as the 103 remaining inmates – who have yet to be tried and convicted of any crime – will remain unjustly incarcerated in a prison elsewhere. Is this what it means to close Guantanamo?

Last year in a report for the Guardian, Spencer Ackerman investigated a black site in Chicago and the links between Chicago detective Richard Zuley and an inmate at Guantanamo Bay. In the piece, Ackerman quoted criminologist and civil rights activist Tracy Siska saying “the real danger in allowing practices like Guantanamo […] is the fact that they always creep into other aspects.” But these structures have always existed within the US criminal justice system.

Detective Richard Zuley helped export brutal interrogation tactics notoriously used on “Chicago’s poor and non-white citizens” to Guantanamo Bay Prison where he signed off on a torture plan for a Mauritanian detainee named Mohamedou Slahi. Slahi has been detained since August 4, 2002 for allegedly being a member of al Qaeda, after being rendered to Jordan, transported to Bagram, Afghanistan, and his subsequent detention and treatment at Guantanamo where he remains.

Ackerman’s report for the Guardian details Zuley’s tactics, which included “prolonged shackling, family threats, demands on suspects to implicate themselves and others.” The account of torture within the Chicago police department taking place at its very own CIA-style black site at Homan Square was not surprising, considering the city’s history of police brutality and torture in the 1970s and 1980s.

These practices at Guantanamo, Chicago, and elsewhere at prisons across the country where indefinite detention, solitary confinement, and other brutal tactics exist are not just allowed; they are structural and necessary to the project of empire. Torture against black bodies has been a technology of dominance used by the United States since slavery. The expansion of these practices to Muslim men who are illegally detained at Guantanamo Bay is an extension of institutional racism and violence.

In order for Obama to hold to his campaign promise to close Guantanamo Bay and protect his legacy, he must not only close the physical prison, he must expedite the process to try and convict or release and offer reparations to all those who have been wrongfully imprisoned for the last 14 years.