12 Years a Detainee
Tomorrow, January 11th, marks the 12th anniversary of the first arrival of detainees at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. At that juncture, the United States was still reeling from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001; for over a decade Guantanamo (Gitmo), has been a black mark on the reputation of the United States around the world.
Why? Because at Guantanamo, men who have been captured by the U.S. government are held, often without a trial, awaiting their fate. Many detainees participate in hunger strikes, protesting the conditions of the detention center, and their treatment. In December, the Department of Defense announced that it would no longer release the number of prisoners striking – a problematic development as those figures are important as a representation of what is happening at the center in Cuba.
On his second full day in office, President Obama issued an executive order calling on his new Administration and on Congress to close GITMO. One of the most important steps towards the eventual closure of the detention center is the transfer and repatriation of detainees. The last few months of 2013 saw many transfers – the population decreased from 166 in June to 155 by the end of December. The last of the Uigher population at Guantanamo were transferred to Slovakia in the last few days of 2013. The Uighers are an oppressed population in China, thus many were concerned about repatriating the former detainees.
On Thursday, the first Periodic Review Board concluded their evaluation of detainee, Mahmud Mujahid who, once deemed too dangerous to release, was reevaluated and cleared for release. Mujahid has been a detainee for 12 years.
Although decreasing the detainee population at Guantanamo is crucial to its closure, it is important to keep in mind that when former detainees are transferred, they must be transferred to a nation where their safety will not be threatened.
As we reflect on the past twelve years, we hope that going forward the legal issues related to Guantanamo are resolved.