Trump Embraces the Original Sin of Guantánamo

Moments before his State of the Union speech last night, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to keep open the military prison at Guantánamo Bay. The order describes the prison's operations as “legal, safe, humane, and conducted consistent with United States and international law.” This does more than undo Barack Obama’s order to close the prison, signed on his third day in office. It also rewrites the plain, sordid facts of its history.

The moral and legal stain of Guantánamo started with the fact of its existence. The Bush administration opened the prison in 2002 because it wrongly believed that its location outside U.S. borders would allow it to operate without any legal constraints. It became a laboratory for the torture methods associated with that administration’s so-called war on terror and for improvised judicial proceedings that violate basic principles of due process and justice. While the prison was largely emptied by the Bush and Obama administrations, 41 men remain. Five have been cleared for release. Twenty-eight have never been charged with a crime.

Learn more: Guantanamo by the Numbers

Trump vowed in his speech to send future captives to the prison, a decade after the last detainee arrived there. Almost 800 men have been through Guantánamo. While the Bush administration initially insisted it sent only the most violent terrorists to the prison — the “worst of the worst,” according to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld — this claim quickly proved false. The vast majority of detainees had been sold to U.S. forces for bounty by Pakistani and Afghan officials, militia, and warlords. After many of these men underwent brutal torture, most were ultimately found to pose no risk to the United States. The Bush administration would go on to release more than 500 detainees. Obama, who signed an executive order to close the prison on his first day of office, would release close to 200. (He failed to close the prison, in part because of congressional restrictions designed primarily to score political points.)

The torture of detainees at Guantánamo was not an aberration. It was policy, approved at the highest levels of the Bush administration, and a prime motivation for opening the prison in the first place. Detainees were subjected to many of the methods the military and CIA used in Abu Ghraib and secret prisons around the world — including beatings, sleep deprivation, stress positions, extreme temperatures, and prolonged isolation. The abuse was so severe that it spurred complaints by FBI agents who witnessed it. In a 2004 email later obtained by the ACLU, an agent described detainees chained in stress positions in extreme temperatures, left for up to 24 hours without food and water, urinating and defecating on themselves. One detainee was described as “almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night.”

Tell Congress to Close Guantánamo

The Guantánamo military commissions, created to try the suspects of the 9/11 attacks, suffered from the same foundational flaw as the prison itself: the assumption they could function outside the bounds of the law. The commissions were initially designed to allow the military to use evidence obtained by torture and abuse, which would be inadmissible in federal courts. While Congress passed some reforms — initially spurred by a Supreme Court decision — the commissions continue to be plagued by secrecy, persistent unfairness, and scandals caused by the government itself. The government has spied on confidential attorney-client conversations. Death penalty trials carry on without death penalty lawyers. The prosecution seeks to prevent defense lawyers from investigating their own clients’ torture.

To date, eight men have been convicted by the commissions at Guantánamo, and the trial of the 9/11 suspects has not begun. Four of those eight convictions were overturned on appeal. Meanwhile, since 9/11, over 500 terrorism cases have been prosecuted in U.S. federal courts.

On all fronts, the cost of keeping Guantánamo open is staggering. American taxpayers spend some half a billion dollars annually to keep the prison running — that’s roughly $11 million per detainee. But the human cost is incalculable. Men were disappeared, brutalized, denied contact with their families and access to courts. America’s reputation has suffered, perhaps irreparably.

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The original sin of Guantánamo won’t be properly addressed until the prison is closed. Tragically, Trump has chosen instead to embrace the lawlessness that it represents.

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Anonymous

Not a Trump fan but it's worth noting that Robert Mueller was aware that his agents witnessed torture of innocent human beings and simly advised his agents to walk away - abandoning innocent people to interrogators.

There is no "terrorism-exemption" to following the supreme wartime charter -the U.S. Constitution.

Torture, Guantanamo and warrantless spying were "felony" crimes back then. It also violated legally-binding international treaties supported and enacted by Ronald Reagan.

One consequence of not prosecuting and disbarring Bush's DOJ torture attorneys is that we now have a Special Counsel judging others that knowingly participated in felonies and war crimes. Reagan would have wanted the key players in the Bush DOJ and Bush FBI to be criminally prosecuted.

Pachuban Picasso

Obama left Gitmo open for 8 years (less 3 days). Perhaps the headline to this piece should have read: ACLU, Whiny and Ineffective, Like a Democrat

Anonymous

Interesting comment about Mueller, and inspiring, as far as Trump's ultimate fate is concerned. Sounds like Trump is up against a hard nosed man who will not have any mercy. The PERFECT person for taking Cheeto down!

Anonymous

The constutional "rule of law" means that nobody is above the law or Constitution. Americans used to actually use that line to distinguish us against the Russians.

We were supposed to be far superior to the communists, dictators and despots since we were governed by laws. Since 9/11 we have become more like those pesky "evil doers" Ronald Reagan railed against.

Anonymous

Pachuban Picasso - Try READING the article. You'll find that Obama could not close Gitmo because of Congress, which blocked him. Congress, filled with chicken-shits who seem to think that a terrorist cannot be held securely in a federal or military prison stateside. (You should already know this, it has been well documented during Obama's two terms that Congress blocked him. Perhaps you've been watching to much Faux News Network.)

Dr. Timothy Leary

One way or another prisons are always a problem. Perhaps we should just close them all. Any law breakers will then be either euthanized or lobotomized.

Dr. Timothy Leary

We should give all the detainees in Guantanamo a lobotomy. Of course all the wussies here in America including President Donald Duck himself would oppose it.

Dr. Dr. Anonymo...

Just because the previous person has Dr. in his self asserted title, doesn't mean he talks sense. There were many like him who were hanged after WW2 for war-crimes and the world is a worse place because they have computers and are allowed online.

Dr. Timothy Leary

Should we put Dr.Dr. Anonymous on the wussie list ?

Anonymous

How about we give you the lobotomy. .

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