On the 14th anniversary of the opening of controversial indefinite detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and on the eve of his final State of the Union address, President Obama announced a new plan to shut down the prison and transfer its remaining inmates to secure locations in the U.S. and abroad.
The details of the plan are not yet public, but chief of staff Denis McDonough said Sunday that a plan would soon be presented to Congress. If they reject it, as they have for the past seven years, the president vowed to take action on his own. McDonough would not say, however, that president would close the prison by executive action, and instead alluded only to “steps to take.”
Military experts and human rights groups say it’s more urgent than ever to shut down the military prison given its role in terrorist recruitment overseas.
Ever since U.S. officials were revealed to have tortured prisoners at Guantanamo using waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and other interrogation methods, terrorist groups including the Taliban and Al-Qaeda have referenced the prison in their propaganda campaigns.
“Inhumane treatment of prisoners is crime against humanity which should never be overlooked and neither should its perpetrators be helped in its cover up,” a pro-Taliban site recently proclaimed, specifically referencing a hunger strike Guantanamo prisoners organized in protest of their continued detention.
Al Qaeda’s English-language magazine Inspire has also repeated used Guantanamo as a recruiting tool, writing in several issues about the prisoners there, saying in one installment that the prison “exposed the West for what it really is” and “showed the world the American understanding of human rights.”
In the last year, ISIS has filmed themselves executing their own prisoners, dressing them in orange jumpsuits specifically to reference Guantanamo detainees.
U.S. military officials have warned that Guantanamo’s continued existing is inspiring people to commit acts of jihad, and to torture Western soldiers and journalists captured overseas.
The recently revealed story of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was held as a prisoner of war by the Taliban and Pakistan’s Haqqani network for five years, supports this claim.
Bergdahl told film director Mark Boal, who later shared the recorded conversation with the podcast Serial, that he was subjected to several forms of torture, including sensory deprivation and slow cuts with a razor blade. As he was being tortured, his captors repeatedly referenced the U.S. treatment of Muslim detainees. Bergdahl was also forced to make propaganda videos for his terrorist captors in which he said that unlike prisoners of the United States, which has tortured Muslim captives “in Bagram, in Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib,” he was being treated fairly.
President Obama has called on Congress in nearly every one of his State of the Union addresses to close the Guantanamo Bay prison and end its ban on the transfer of detainees to U.S. soil, and is widely expected to do so again tomorrow night.
Some of the candidates vying to replace him in the White House, however, would like to go in the other direction and resume the “enhanced interrogation” torture tactics President Obama banned in 2009. In November, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump vowed to bring back the use of waterboarding, saying, “It works. And if it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway for what they do to us.” Former HP CEO and current presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina also endorsed waterboarding, despite a 2014 Senate Report finding that the interrogations produced almost no useful intelligence, while inflicting “significant damage to America’s standing in the world.”