As Senate Holds Guantánamo Hearing, Biden Urged to ‘Finally End This Chapter of Injustice’

"Guantánamo is a centerpiece of the forever wars. It is a shameful symbol of racial injustice, torture, and violations of the Constitution and international law."

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Human rights defenders on Tuesday renewed demands for President Joe Biden to close the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba as the Senate Judiciary Committee convened a hearing at which experts and advocates testified about the damage that Gitmo does to detainees, the nation’s standing in the world, and the elusive pursuit of justice for victims of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks and their families.

Lamenting that two-third of the remaining 39 Guantánamo prisoners – there have been approximately 780 men and boys held at the facility since 2002 – have not been charged with any crime, Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) asked, “How can that possibly be justice?”

“The story of Guantánamo is the story of a nation that lost its way,” said Durbin, to the protestations of observers who noted that indefinite detention and torture have been part of the US narrative for centuries. “It is a story of justice delayed and denied again and again – not only for detainees but also for the victims of 9/11 and their loved ones.”

“There is no end in sight for these military commissions,” he added, referring to the legal apparatus for prosecuting Gitmo detainees that was described as “rigged” by one of several US military prosecutors who quit in protest. “We can and we must do better.”

Last week, Durbin announced that he had introduced an amendment to the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act that, if passed, would close Guantánamo “once and for all.”

Michael Lehnert, the retired US Marine Corps general who was Gitmo’s first commander and who later became an outspoken advocate for its closure, testified Tuesday that the Biden administration should appoint an official tasked with shutting down the prison.

“Make someone in the White House currently responsible for closure and give them a finite period of time to make it happen,” Lehnert told the senators. “I was given 96 hours to open it. Ninety-six days to close it seems reasonable.”

The Center for Victims of Torture tweeted: “Guantánamo is a centerpiece of the forever wars. It is a shameful symbol of racial injustice, torture, and violations of the Constitution and international law. It’s time to finally #CloseGuantanamo.”

“Each day that Guantánamo remains open is a stain on the moral fiber of America,” the group asserted, adding that at a cost of $540 million per year, Gitmo is “the most expensive prison on Earth.”

The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), a Quaker advocacy group, stressed ahead of the hearing that “President Biden has the power to finally end this chapter of injustice” and urged “no more inaction.”

The Biden administration – which has signaled its intention to close Guantánamo – did not send a representative to Tuesday’s hearing.

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which has represented Guantánamo prisoners in two U.S. Supreme Court cases as well as numerous other Gitmo detainees, said in a statement that “today… our co-counsel Katya Jestin testified about our client, Majid Khan, and the lessons learned from his case about how to resolve the failed military commissions… and close the prison.”

“She discussed the negotiated resolution of Khan’s case and the completion of his military commission sentence in February 2022, after which he will need to be transferred from Guantánamo,” the group related. “She also addressed Khan’s torture in CIA detention, which included waterboarding and rape, echoing both Khan’s own statement last month and remarks by committee Chair Sen. Durbin.”

"While Mr. Khan is unique in having had the opportunity to tell his story publicly, he is not alone," CCR’s statement continued. "A total of 26 survivors of the CIA’s torture and detention program, including our client Sharqawi Al Hajj, are imprisoned at Guantánamo. Like more than two-thirds of the 39 men still held there, Mr. Al Hajj is not charged with a crime, and he is one of several suffering life-threatening health problems – a result, in part, of his torture."

"Another of our clients, Sufyian Barhoumi, is one of the 13 men still languishing at Guantánamo even though they have been cleared for transfer," the group added. "While it might be easy to assume the remaining men are the most difficult cases who cannot be sent anywhere, that is far from true. It is a failure of will that keeps them at Guantánamo."

"Although President Biden says he wants to close the prison, he has transferred only one man in 11 months," the statement noted. "The Biden administration must use the power and authority it has to move forward critical pieces of a closure plan… It is long past time to end indefinite detention without charge and close Guantánamo."

Brett Wilkins is is staff writer for Common Dreams. Based in San Francisco, his work covers issues of social justice, human rights and war and peace. This originally appeared at CommonDreams and is reprinted with the author’s permission.