Guantanamo Voices

GuantanamOBAMA Policy Roundup
January 19, 2009, 1:07 pm
Filed under: gitmo policy | Tags: , , ,

Oh my God. Barack Obama becomes America’s president in under 24 hours from now. Judging from the news coverage, the entire nation seems to be going batshit crazy in anticipation of his inauguration, but I’m more interested in what’s going to happen AFTER the big day — Obama promised to issue an executive order to close Gitmo on his first day in office, but there’s been a lot of discussion that the US is “stuck with Guantanamo.”

So what exactly will Obama have to do in order to close Guantanamo?

Reform Detention Policy:

Okay, first of all, big point: Guantanamo Bay is the best known prison established during the War on Terror, but it’s not the only one. The U.S. is also detaining suspected “enemy combatants” at prisons all over the world. People know about some of these detention centers (like ones in Bagram, Kandahar and Abu Ghraib) but the CIA also runs an unknown number of secret prisons. Since the people being imprisoned in those secret prisons aren’t acknowledged by the US military, they’re called “ghost detainees.” So according to groups like hte ACLU and Center for Constitutional Rights, closing Guantanamo is only the tip of the iceberg. Obama must reform the U.S.’s overall detention policy and either close military prisons all over the world or go through due process for the detainees held there.

Address Use of Torture:

In a major break with the Bush administration’s defense of waterboarding, Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder publicly announced that waterboarding is a form of torture and should not be used by the US military. This means that in the coming year, Obama’s team will have to investigate the military’s use of this and other “enhanced interrogation” techniques. It’s not clear whether evidence gained from detainees under torture is admissible in court. One detainee who was waterboarded, Khalid Sheik Mohammed is being tried in January, so the courts will need to resolve that issue soon.

Review Cases of All Detainees

In the last three months, military courts have determined that nearly 10 percent of Guantanamo’s remaining population were not actually enemy combatants and should be released to freedom. These 24 men were part of a dwindling group of 245 detainees that Dick Cheney affirmed were definitely the “worst of the worst… now what’s left, that is the hardcore.” In order to get the detention system in working legally, Obama’s team will have to put all the men currently in US custody on trial.

Since former Guantanamo guard Chris Arendt ended his tour of duty at Guantanamo in 2004, about 500 of the detainees he guarded have been determined not to have been enemy combatants after all and released. “As things unravel, the job I was told to do becomes much more insidious every day. Every time a detainee is released without charges is proof that the United States was wrongfully imprisoning these people,” says Arendt, “It makes me feel sick in a really fundamental sense.”

Return Freed Detainees to Safe Places

A handful of the guys in Guantanamo have already been declared safe to release, but if they’re returned to their home countries, they’ll definitely be tortured. Specifically, seventeen men who were rebels in China before they wound up in Guantanamo will never be able to go home safely again. The U.S. needs to find places to resettle these wrongfully imprisoned men. This might mean pressuring European countries to grant asylum for ex-detainees — though the only country that has so far agreed to that idea is that bastion of democratic liberties, Albania.