The Obama administration’s special envoy for Guantanamo closure expressed concern that the Trump administration might fail to continue to continue the carefully negotiated monitoring and information sharing policies for recently released detainees, during a Center on National Security event held this week at Fordham Law.
Ambassador Lee Wolosky helped secure the release of 75 detainees during his 18 months as special envoy—releases predicated on agreed security measures with the detainees’ repatriated countries that include information exchanges on who the men associate with, what mosques they’re visiting, and any other factors of concern. Wolosky resigned on Jan. 20, and since then his position has remained unfilled.
“All of that governmental infrastructure appears to be torn down, and no one is watching the shop,” Wolosky said during the Feb. 14 event titled “Revisiting Guantanamo Bay.” “And if something bad were to happen, it’s going to be on the Trump administration.”
Events analyzing Guantanamo have become Center on National Security staples over the past decade, a fact that Director Karen Greenberg, who wrote a book on Guantanamo titled The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First 100 Days, told the audience she would not have predicted. President Barack Obama failed to deliver on his 2008 campaign promise to close the notorious prison facility, but did reduce the prisoner count from 242 to a present-day 41 individuals held in detention.
Obama’s successor, President Donald Trump, promised during his campaign that he would fill Guantanamo with “bad dudes,” but has not released any specifics on how he will do so. Trump’s indication that he is willing to keep Guantanamo open and expand it has raised substantial questions on what happens to the five detainees cleared for release, the continuance of the camp’s parole board, and what access, if any, journalists will have to tour the facility.
Guantanamo’s two buildings currently hold 41 detainees—26 of whom are classified as “forever” detainees. Ten are involved in the military commissions process, including the 9/11 defendants.
One of the detainees facing the death penalty is Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri, whom the government alleges participated in the 2000 terrorist attack on the U.S.S. Cole that killed 17 U.S. Navy sailors. Al-Nashiri was subjected to a four-year campaign of physical, psychological, and sexual torture at CIA black sites that has made it impossible to try his case for 15 years, said Michel Paradis ’04, a senior attorney for the Military Commissions Defense Organization at the U.S. Department of Defense.
“They tortured him so brutally, and with such little to show for it, that they’re afraid to take his case to a normal court,” Paradis said of Al-Nashiri. “They’ve put him in a Kafkaesque trial with no obvious resolution in sight.”
Military commissions cost $150 million annually for three trials involving a total of six or seven defendants, Paradis said. He accused military commissions of “delegitimizing the American justice system,” noting they make the judiciary seem dispensable, encourage secrecy, and reward the government for making up the law as it goes.
The U.S. failure to hold a military commission trial of alleged 9/11 conspirators ensures the war on terrorism will be endless, Paradis added.
Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, described Guantanamo as “a legal, moral, strategic, political, and financial liability,” and noted that its name, and the torture it represents, is “anathema around the world.” The Trump administration’s lack of an end game with Guantanamo, other than to increase its detainee count, makes it susceptible to committing the same mistakes that happened under President George W. Bush—namely, indefinitely imprisoning hundreds of people without charge or the prospect of release, Shamsi said.
“We’re at risk of dehumanizing what goes on at Guantanamo, and why it’s a moral quagmire, both with respect to people we do this to—the people we hold in indefinite detention without trial—and the ways it turns around and harms institutions and people we care about, including our courts and our inability to have a fair system,” Shamsi continued.
For all the uncertainty swirling outside Guantanamo, the mood inside among detainees and staff appears calm, said Miami Herald reporter Carol Rosenberg, who toured the facility earlier this week. The detainees have “chockablock” food and are compliant. However, detainees who arrived at Guantanamo almost 15 years ago are “terrified” about the possibility of sharing cell blocks with today’s brutal ISIS jihadis, Rosenberg said.
At present, there are no current preparations happening to bring in new detainees, Rosenberg said. The price per detainee is unknown, but Rosenberg estimated that, by dividing the cost of operations and number of detainees, each detainee costs over $10 million per year. Neither cost, nor human rights violations, nor judiciary damage have motivated Americans to call en masse for Guantanamo’s closure.
“Fundamentally, I don’t think people care about what goes on down there, which is disappointing,” Rosenberg said.