Originally intended to be an “island outside the law” where terrorism suspects could be detained without process and interrogated without restraint, the prison and military commissions at Guantánamo Bay are catastrophic failures. At home and around the world, Guantánamo has become a symbol of injustice, abuse, and disregard for the rule of law. 

Since the prison camp opened in 2002, almost 800 men have passed through its cells. In addition to unlawful detention, many were subjected to torture and other brutal treatment. Today, 41 men remain, nearly all held without charge or trial. Dozens of these detainees have already been cleared for release by the U.S. military and national security agencies. Although President Barack Obama increased his efforts to transfer some of these men, they continued to be stuck in a quagmire in which no arm of government is willing to end the violation of their rights — and Guantánamo’s blight on our nation’s reputation and security.  

Guantánamo’s military commissions, which violate fair trial requirements, are fundamentally broken. Federal courts are well equipped to prosecute terrorism suspects and handle sensitive national security evidence while protecting defendants’ rights. If there is reliable evidence, detainees should be prosecuted in our tried and true criminal justice system. If there is not enough reliable evidence for criminal prosecution, there is certainly not enough to justify locking someone up—possibly forever.

The ACLU fights in courts and advocates with Congress and the executive branch to secure the release of detainees who have never been charged with a crime; to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay; and to end Guantánamo’s flawed military commissions. 

It is long past time for this shameful episode in American history to be brought to a close.

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