A vast number of Guantanamo Bay’s inmates were genuine terrorists. Some were not. However, this is not the point. The point is that it is fundamentally wrong to deny someone justice, to deny someone their right to a fair trial — regardless of whether they are a terrorist or any other type of criminal. I fail to see how anyone can justify keeping the prison open given this blatant breach of human rights.
At the end of last month, President Trump reversed an Obama-era directive to close the notorious prison, indicating his stance on the issue. American official policy is now to keep the detention centre open indefinitely. Should I really be surprised?
‘Terrorists are not merely criminals; they are unlawful enemy combatants … When they are captured overseas, they should be treated like the terrorists they are’.
What Mr Trump has failed to acknowledge is that a considerable number of Guantanamo‘s inmates had been ‘sold’ to the Americans, either via Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency, or else from Afghan warlords who received bounties. In fact, nearly 85 per cent of detentions originate from foreign partners with their own interests in round-ups. During the Obama administration, the number of detainees was reduced from 245 to 41. Of those remaining — who are all imprisoned indefinitely — only seven have actually been convicted.
It seems that Guantanamo Bay is part of Trump’s tireless campaign to protect his citizens’ right to security. But what about the right of Guantanamo’s detainees to a fair trial? What about their right to be innocent until proven guilty? What about upholding their right not to be tortured?
I acknowledge that Guantanamo Bay was instituted in a climate of fear and uncertainty — it was part of America’s knee-jerk reaction to the horrific events of September 11, 2001. That does not make the Bush administration’s decision by any means justified, but it does shed light on the reasoning behind it.
Trump, meanwhile, has no such defence. Now, revelations of countless wrongful arrests, rampant corruption, and even minors having been sent to Guantanamo have all provided more grounds for the closure of the prison. Yet he still maintains this weak, rather pathetic argument that terrorists are not ‘merely criminals’.
You are right, Mr Trump, a number of these terrorists were not criminals. Some of them, like Mohamed el Gharani were children. He spent several years in Guantanamo Bay, accused of involvement in a 1998 al-Qaeda plot despite having been twelve years old at the time and living with his parents in Saudi Arabia. Some of them, like Shaker Aamer, were fathers and husbands. He was detained for fourteen years before being released without charge. Some of them, like Mustafa al-Aziz al-Shamiri, were victims of mistaken identity. He was imprisoned for thirteen years.
I have not drawn attention to these examples to illustrate that most of Guantanamo’s inmates are innocent. Because that is not the case; many of the detainees were ruthless terrorists, among them the architects of 9/11. What I am suggesting is that these terrorists — however dreadful their crimes — deserve the basic human right to a fair trial, in order to avoid anomalies like the cases I have pointed out.
It is not clear whether Trump’s announcement of his commitment to keeping Guantanamo open is merely part of his petty determination to reverse everything that the Obama administration achieved, or whether he genuinely believes Guantanamo Bay is an adequate way of dealing with the terror crisis.
But regardless, whichever way you look at it, the concept of Guantanamo Bay is fundamentally hypocritical. The USA claim to be an international paradigm of liberal democracy, committed to defending and upholding freedom, human rights and the American Constitution. Yet how can they possibly expect to maintain this image if they sanction the continued existence of Guantanamo Bay?
Ultimately, Guantanamo Bay is symptomatic of a wider problem. And the US Government’s justification for it typifies the American Manichean attitude towards the terrorism question more generally. Guantanamo Bay (and it is worth noting its geographical isolation) is detached from American consciousness. The bare facts are subconsciously denied — which are that Guantanamo Bay is a prison whose inmates are not subject to the Geneva Conventions, that there have been numerous cases of torture, and that ultimately its operations are a major breach of human rights.
Of course, Islamic terrorism is a very real problem, but it is evident that America — and in particular, the Trump administration — use it as a false justification, a cover almost, for fostering a popular inward-looking attitude, curtailing immigration and keeping the West and the Middle East as polarised as possible. The terrorism crisis has been magnified and distorted into something which it isn’t, and Guantanamo Bay is a part of this.
The sort of abstract language Trump has been using in relation to the issue is indicative of this. What are ‘unlawful enemy combatants’? By making such a distinction between ‘terrorists’ and ‘criminals’, Trump is detaching people from the reality of the situation and creating a climate of fear much more intense than is warranted.
If Trump, and by extension the United States, sanction the arbitrary arrests of suspected enemies of the state overseas, who’s to say where this will stop? Trump — and America generally — seem to think that they can act as they please. Most of us (I would hope) would agree that on principle, Guantanamo Bay is morally wrong, a step too far, ‘a symbol of injustice’ as Lord Goldsmith branded it. Yet Guantanamo Bay is due to be kept open indefinitely. It can’t be justified. But no one can do anything to stop it.