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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Dr. Timothy Leary

I already had one. That's why I write all the crazy stuff here.

Aaron

You're disgracing Dr. Leary's name.

Anonymous

Too late, I think.

Dr. Timothy Leary

I have already had a lobotomy, that's why I write kooky comments here.

Anonymous

All Americans should be concerned about this - this affects us also! Once you pervert and contort the Justice System it affects the entire legal system in America. Recent statistics by the Brennan Center reported most domestic terrorism in the United States is perpetrated by extreme right-wing Christians - not those of the Islamic faith.

Before 9/11, the legal term "SUSPECT" meant "doubt" - not certainty and not one convicted of any crime. Under the governance of the Fourth Amendment - it means that there is strong circumstantial evidence indicating "probable cause" that this person likely committed a specific past crime.

After 9/11, we started using an even less legitimate term "PERSON OF INTEREST" - meaning more doubt and less evidence. This watered down version plus the unconstitutional "Bush Preemption Doctrine" essentially placed fishing expeditions on steroids. Since this is such a loose standard, targeted citizens are primarily stalked and harassed by police since there is no hard evidence. This loose system also incentivizes officials to fabricate evidence (similar to Cointelpro "color of law" crimes from the 1950's and supposedly ended in the 1970's).

The DOJ, Homeland Security, police chiefs and other officials then exploited this unconstitutional system as a justification to troll Facebook and social media - in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Today you can be blacklisted for life for non-crimes and non-wrong doing!

If you didn't catch that - we mission-creeped from Afghanistan to Charlottesville without passing a constitutional amendment. This is illegal under the Bill of Rights.

If you think that is bad, it gets worse - we now have "secret laws" and American citizens have even been tortured as merely "PERSONS OF INTEREST" - all the newspapers reported it. Congress also authorized covert actions "anywhere" in the entire world - without any checks & balances by a real court (Article III Court).

Not a fan of racists, especially in places like Charlottesville, but these extra-judicial policies should scare all of us. Historically African-Americans and other minority groups are usually harmed the most by these type of unAmerican practices. You don't have to break the law to get targeted by these Cointelpro style tactics!

There are no SUSPECTS at Guantanamo, they are all PERSONS OF INTEREST - there was never any hard evidence on at least 86% of the detainees. Most detainees were never even near a real battlefield. This has destroyed America's once great Justice System.

Anonymous

Some great quotes from real constitutional crime fighters:

"An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere" by the Christian minister Martin Luther King, Jr.

"We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home" by the Father of Modern Journalism, Edward R. Murrow

Anonymous

this is flawed info. The author states that Obama signed executive order to close the prison on both his 3rd day in office and then again says it was on his 1st day in office. Poorly written pieces of this nature are dangerous. Shame on the author and whoever allowed this to be put out into the world.

Anonymous

Trump is not only embracing the inhumanity at Guantanamo he's expanding it, according to a recent report on public radio. Adding new cages and preparing for new victims. Why are we allowing this horror and paying for it?

Anonymous

the writer hit these issues dead-on (pardon the pun)

Anonymous

huh

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