20 years of Guantanamo: what now?

Status: 11.01.2022 01:06 a.m.

For 20 years the US has been using the prison camp in Guantanamo to lock up its prisoners of war there. It is true that prison conditions have improved since the dark first years. But there is little to suggest that the camp will be closed soon.

By Julia Kastein, ARD Studio Washington

Carol Rosenberg stands at the ferry terminal of the US Navy base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The New York Times reporter was there when the first prisoners from Afghanistan arrived on the plane – in orange overalls and in chains. The timing was chosen carefully: exactly four months after the terrorist attacks of September 11th.

A lot of people were very pleased with these pictures and the idea that we would keep people in orange suits in cages. It was said: It was them, these are the worst of the worst. The message was: We have it.

Julia Kastein
ARD-Studio Washington

Mansoor Adayfi came to Guantanamo in February 2002. The then 18-year-old was apprehended in Afghanistan. The US government thought he was an al-Qaeda official. Yemeni says there was a mix-up. Adayfi was in Guantanamo for 14 years before he was deported to Serbia in 2016.

You’re just a number 4-4-1. They say: you are a terrorist. They tried to break us, to separate our mind from our body. Sleep deprivation, torture, sexual coercion. Guantanamo became an experimental laboratory.

Little progress with the remaining prisoners

As early as the Obama era, prison conditions improved considerably. Of the 780 prisoners, only 39 are still on site today. 13 of them could actually get out – the US government no longer considers them dangerous. But first a country has to be found that will accept them.

Attorney Clive Stafford-Smith represents four of these men: “One of them sometimes hums Hotel California from the Eagles to me. You can check out. But you cannot leave.”

The terror trials against 10 prisoners are also making little progress. Almost ten years ago, charges were brought against the alleged chief planner of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, in a special local tribunal. But the main trial against him has still not started. The problem: He and the other defendants were tortured in secret CIA prisons for years, says Stafford-Smith.

If they ever landed in a regular US court, there would be a good chance that the lawsuit against them will be dropped for outrageous government misconduct – which I guess includes torture.

Inmates are seen as prisoners of war

The US Congress has just again banned the use of taxpayers’ money to relocate prisoners to the US. Many Republicans are convinced that these men are staunch jihadists – and rightly prisoners of the war on terror. And that is not over yet, argues, for example, Charles Stimson, former Secretary of State in the US Department of Defense.

What is the name of a war in the history of Germany or the USA in which prisoners of war were released during a war? That makes no sense. You don’t arm your opponents while trying to defeat them at the same time. But that’s exactly what we’ve been doing since the beginning of this war.

A new courtroom is currently being built in Guantanamo itself – and a block of flats for the guards. “I saw nothing to suggest that the Biden government wants to close the camp,” says New York Times reporter Rosenberg. Guantanamo will probably still exist after she has long since retired.

20 years of Guantanamo – what now?

Julia Kastein, ARD Washington, January 11th, 2022 12:29 am


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