Time for Washington to shut down Guantanamo

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An American flag flies at Hospital Cay on May 5, 2012 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba: the Biden administration wants to close the prison on the military base. POOL GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP

For nearly two decades, the American gulag at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has been synonymous with egregious abuse of power and open disregard for fundamental rights.

Put into use after the 9/11 events to house so-called high-value prisoners and circumvent the safeguards of the American legal system, Guantanamo has delivered anything but justice, instead becoming a grim symbol of the extralegal methods even established democracies can resort to.

While Barack Obama during his time in the White House did make efforts to shut down the facility, Donald Trump reversed these small gains and kept the penitentiary open.

Now, as Joe Biden settles into Washington, there are voices from within his administration saying that the new leader is reviewing efforts to close down the detention centre. Of course these efforts will meet stiff resistance by the Republicans, as was the case during the Obama presidency. But if Biden is serious about upholding the human rights agenda, he needs to shut down Guantanamo without delay.

The fact is that some inmates have been held in the facility without conviction or charge for nearly 20 years. This is an affront to the basic demands of justice. Take septuagenarian prisoner Saifullah Paracha, who says he was abducted by the CIA in Bangkok. He claims he was implicated on the basis of testimony extracted after torture.

On the other hand, Ahmed Rabbani, who says he was captured from Karachi, was reportedly tortured for 540 days in Afghanistan before being shifted to Guantanamo, where he has been held without charge. These are only a few stories; a number of horrific tales of torture and violence have been documented from this notorious facility.

While the US promises ‘liberty and justice for all’, clearly, the detainees of Guantanamo are excluded. No legal system on Earth can justify keeping people in detention for decades without framing charges. ‘Black sites’, gulags and torture used as an instrument of policy are some of the unsavoury by-products of the ‘war on terror’, and America needs to come to terms with this dark chapter of its recent past. Governments all across the world have used these brutal methods to forward their aims. However, those that claim to be the champions of human rights should either abandon such methods or stop making such claims.