In less than five months’ time, United States President Barack Obama hands over the reins of office to either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. And either of those two will be left with the lingering legacy of what to do with the prison gulag at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. It’s clear now — and officials in Washington are working on the premise — that the Obama administration has given up on its stated intention to close the detention centre after almost two terms of failure.
In January 2009, on his first day in the Oval Office, Obama had signed an executive order to close the prison that was established by George W. Bush in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and the US-led invasion of Afghanistan.
“Gitmo” had become synonymous with US abuses on detainees. Blindfolded and shackled men in orange jumpsuits were held in wire cages, questioned, tortured, pressed for any piece of useful intelligence by a myriad of dark and shadowy operatives and agencies. Human rights took a back seat to interrogators who used any and every means possible to learn about those who planned, plotted, carried out and took up arms in the name of Al Qaida.
And in their rush to glean information, legal rights were trampled upon, with detainees being held offshore, denied basic legal rights to bail, fair and due process while military and political minds cobbled together a judicial hearings process that might stand up to scrutiny and those who exercise jurisprudence.
The Obama administration has failed because it lacked the will of conscience and the political capital in Washington to force Republicans to agree to its closure.
There are still 80 men held in the camp and it costs US taxpayers $5.5 million (Dh20.2 million) a year to keep each one of those detainees behind bars. At its height, there were 800 held in the various camps — all picked up and held for years without charge, without justice and without any international body or organisations having meaningful oversight on the actions of the jailers.
There are still men in Guantanamo who continue to resist and oppose the regime that guards them. They are physically extracted from their cells, force fed twice a day — every day — in a cycle of abuse that borders on inhumane treatment. But at least those detainees do something.
The reality is that nothing has been done to shut the gulag — and that’s to the shame of the Obama administration.