What to Do About Guantánamo?

The Guantánamo Review Task Force Final Report

January 22, 2010, publicly released May 28, 2010
Joanne Mariner/HRW/Contact Press Images
Camp Justice at Guantánamo Bay on the day of President Obama’s inauguration, January 20, 2009


How do the people who work for the US government at Guantánamo Bay Naval Base celebrate Christmas? This is what it looked like to Jessica Baen, a paralegal working with the Center for Constitutional Rights, in 2007:

Swathed in fake cotton-ball snow stand no less than fifteen synthetic Chrismas trees. Each tree has its own theme, collectively representing every facet of Guantánamo life, except, of course, for one. McDonald’s and Subway each have their own tree, which sport take-away boxes and paper cups as ornaments. The Guantánamo Youth Center has a tree, as do the Guantánamo Police and Fire Departments, with yellow police-tape garlands. The contractors have a tree festooned with electrical wire and toy trucks, with a hard-hat perched on top. There’s a “third-party national” tree decorated with foreign flags, representing the migrant laborers and refugees who provide Guantánamo with most of its civilian labor, and a “GTMO Latino Families—new generation” tree, with smiling photos of the new generation….

But wait, something’s missing. No barbed-wire garlands, no orange? Given the rather literal interpretations favored by the tree designers, it’s all too easy to envision the one tree they thought it best to omit.

Missing, of course, was what the island symbolizes for the rest of the world: a monument to lawlessness, a prison erected for detaining, interrogating, and brutalizing suspected terrorists without having to account for their status, condition, or treatment to anyone—not to the detainees themselves, their families, their countries of origin, the courts, or the American people. As originally conceived by the Bush administration, Guantánamo was a hole into which suspects would for all practical purposes disappear, never to be heard from again.

President Bush himself ultimately recognized that the image of Guantánamo was disastrous for American foreign policy, and admitted that he would have liked to close the prison there. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the only Cabinet official to serve in both the Bush and Obama administrations, agrees. President Obama, on his second day in office, vowed to close the prison within one year. Yet more than a year and a half later, Guantánamo remains open, with no end in sight. One hundred seventy-six men remain imprisoned there, without trial and in most cases without criminal charges. Many if not most have been the victims of torture and cruel and degrading treatment at US hands. Some six hundred have been released, many because there was not sufficient evidence to justify their detention in the first place. Yet not a single inmate has received an apology, or an accounting, or justice for his brutal mistreatment.

The Guantánamo Lawyers: Inside a Prison Outside the Law, a collective account by the lawyers who have volunteered to represent the island’s prisoners, provides an…

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