21st anniversary of Guantanamo: Nearly 160 rights groups demand closure

On the 21st anniversary of Guantanamo, nearly 160 international rights groups sent a letter to President Biden urging him to close the prison.

The letter, signed by groups including Oxfam America and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the facility – also known as “Gitmo” – “is the iconic example of the abandonment of the rule of law.”

Nearly 800 Muslim men and boys have been held at Guantánamo since 2002, most without charge or trial. Thirty-five remain there today.

“Guantánamo embodies the fact that the United States government has long viewed communities of color – citizens and non-citizens alike – as a security threat, to devastating consequences,” said the letter.  

“The approach Guantánamo exemplifies continues to fuel and justify bigotry, stereotyping, and stigma. Guantánamo entrenches racial divisions and racism more broadly, and risks facilitating additional rights violations.” it added.

The anniversary has prompted renewed calls for the US to close the prison, which is estimated to cost $540 million per year, making it the most expensive detention facility in the world.

21 years – and counting

Since George W Bush’s administration opened Guantanamo in the wake of September 11, many US presidents have signalled their intention to close it.  

Barack Obama promised to close the facility, citing America’s international prestige, but failed to do so.  

President Biden also signalled his intentions to close it but signing the National Defense Authorization Act has made it more challenging for the president to deliver on that promise.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump campaigned to keep it open, vetoing any attempt to release prisoners during his presidency.  

In a petition to Biden, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a nonprofit rights group, described the prison as a “global symbol of injustice, abuse and disregard for the rule of law”.

“Guantanamo continues to impose enormous costs to both our values and our resources. It is long past time for this shameful episode in American history to be brought to a close,” the statement said.

Last year, a report from the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute and Human Rights Watch, outlined how Guantanamo trampled on the rights of victims and suspects and jeopardised human rights protections.

It recommended the US to undertake significant counterterrorism reforms, including closing Guantanamo and holding abusers to account.  

The report added that for many people outside the US, memories of the US government’s “brutal treatment of detained Muslims remain potent.”

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