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Guantanamo, twenty years later

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How many people are still being held at Guantanamo?

Of the 780 men and adolescents imprisoned at Guantanamo since 2002, only 39 remain today.

Among them, 13, who have never been charged with any crime, can be released, said the Detention Review Commission, which regularly reviews detainees’ cases. But it is still necessary to negotiate agreements with their country of origin or with another loan to welcome them.

A dozen others are indicted or are likely to be tried by a military tribunal, including the Pakistani Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks, and other senior al-Qaeda officers.

Two inmates have been sentenced and are currently serving their sentences.

Finally, about fifteen prisoners have not been the subject of any formal accusation, but the Americans consider them too dangerous to be able to release them.

Why is it so difficult to shut down Guantanamo?

President Barack Obama, who succeeded George Bush in 2009, has loudly stated his intention to close the prison which he says undermines American national security and tarnishes the image of the United States in the world. However, he encountered several obstacles.

Detainees surrounded by soldiers at Guantanamo prison.

675 prisoners were held at Guantanamo at the height of the “war on terror”.

Photo: Reuters

By incarcerating detainees at Guantanamo without offering them judicial guarantees of any kind and by giving them a status they invented, that of illegal combatants, the Americans created a lawless area, explains Julia Grignon, associate professor and co-director of the Clinic for International Criminal and Humanitarian Law at the Faculty of Law of Laval University.

When you decide to ignore the law and then want to get back to a situation that complies with the law, it’s very complicated.

A quote from Julia Grignon, associate professor at the Faculty of Law of Laval University

Mr. Obama had two options, explains Ms. Grignon: deport the prisoners to their country of origin or try them in the United States. But both options were complicated.

Indeed, international law prohibits the return of detainees to countries that do not respect human rights where they could endure persecution, such as Saudi Arabia or Syria. If Obama wanted to comply with the law, he couldn’t send them back to their own country, specifies Julia Grignon.

The other solution, that is to admit these people on the American territory so that they undergo a fair trial there, was unacceptable in the eyes of a large number of Americans, still reeling from September 11. Congress is fundamentally hostile to it and in 2010 passed a law prohibiting federal funds from being spent to transfer prisoners from Guantanamo to the United States.

President Obama has therefore instead pursued bilateral agreements with certain countries to receive these prisoners. Some 59 states accepted and 197 detainees were repatriated or transferred between 2009 and 2016.

What are Guantanamo supporters saying?

For them, it is out of the question to close the prison.

rockstars in the extremist Islamist world, posing an even greater threat to America and the world “,” text “:” If we release these detainees […] they will become rockstars in the extremist Islamist world, posing an even greater threat to America and the world “}}”>If we release these detainees […] they will become rockstars in the extremist Islamist world, posing an even greater threat to America and the worldFlorida Representative Mike Waltz wrote on Twitter.

Along with eight other representatives, ex-combatants like himself, Waltz signed a letter to new Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who said upon his confirmation in January 2021 that it was time to put end at Guantanamo.

Lloyd Austin speaks before a crowd.

Former General Lloyd Austin before the US Senate upon confirmation as Secretary of Defense.

Photo: Associated Press / Jim Lo Scalzo

Opponents of the shutdown fear that if detainees are sent to US jails they will challenge their imprisonment and eventually be released.

There is no acceptable reason to bring terrorists to our homeland and risk their release because of legal technicality.

A quote from Extract from letter to Lloyd Austin

Other opponents of the shutdown point out, based on congressional reports, that a number of prisoners released in third countries subsequently joined the ranks of terrorist groups.

Former President Donald Trump was a supporter of Guantanamo, which he wanted to keep open. Under his mandate, one detainee was nevertheless transferred to Saudi Arabia to serve his sentence.

What is President Biden’s position?

President Joe Biden, thoughtful.

The White House spokeswoman said in February 2021 that Joe Biden wanted to close Guantanamo before the end of his term.

Photo: Getty Images / Ian Forsyth

He is very cautious, believes Julien Tourreille, researcher at the Observatory on the United States of the Raoul-Dandurand Chair at the University of Quebec in Montreal. While Barack Obama has repeatedly affirmed his desire to close the prison, Joe Biden has not spoken publicly on the subject. His approach is to stay under the radar, believes the researcher.

Joe Biden certainly does not want to engage in a losing political battle. There isn’t enough political capital in his administration to embark on big promises to shut down Guantanamo.

A quote from Julien Tourreille, researcher at the Raoul-Dandurand Chair at UQAM

The most likely is therefore that it will continue the policy of finding agreements with third countries to receive detainees released from Guantanamo. Each transfer is negotiated individually, which explains the length of the process.

On the other hand, it is on the question of costs that there could be an opening, estimates Mr. Tourreille.

It costs 540 million US dollars (685 million Canadian dollars) per year to keep Guantanamo open, or 13.8 million per prisoner. In a high-security prison in the United States, it’s more like $ 78,000 per year (CA $ 100,000).

Maybe one day it will be the financial argument that will close Guantanamo, concludes M. Tourreille.

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