Friday marked the one-year anniversary of President Obama signing an executive order to close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay. We were all cheered and encouraged by this bold move on the president’s second full day in office — it signaled he was ready to make a clean break from the Bush administration's unlawful and shameful detention policies.
But when the Obama administration finally does close Guantánamo, it's vital that the administration also puts an end to the policy of detaining prisoners without charge or trial. Indefinite detention is one of the practices that's made Gitmo a disgrace in the eyes of the rest of the world.
Late last year, we debuted a video that included interviews with five former Guantánamo detainees.
Last week we released four break-out videos featuring the same five men telling their stories in more depth: They talk about their lives before ending up in U.S. custody, their experiences at Guantánamo and other U.S.-run detention facilities, and how they've pieced their lives back together after Gitmo. All of the men featured in our video series, like hundreds of others who were held for years at Guantánamo, were eventually released without any charge.
British citizen Moazzam Begg was in Afghanistan, working to open a school for girls, when he was captured. He says in the video: "My experience of America prior to this was everything I had seen in the films: the concept of the good guys, the concept of people trying to do the right thing. And that was shattered."
Bisher al-Rawi was captured in Gambia, where he hoped to open a peanut factory with his brother.
Omar Deghayes was detained at Guantánamo for six years. He was blinded in his right eye after a Gitmo prison guard jabbed him in the face with his fingers.
Childhood friends Shafiq Rasul and Ruhal Ahmed are two of the "Tipton Three," the subjects of the documentary Road to Guantánamo. They traveled to Afghanistan after attending a friend’s wedding in Pakistan, and were captured there. They both spent 2 ½ years detained by the U.S.
More than 700 men have been detained at Guantánamo since it opened eight years ago; 198 remain. Most of them could tell similar stories about their years-long detention.
To close Gitmo properly, the remaining detainees must either be released, or charged and tried in federal courts, which are better-equipped to handle these cases than the unconstitutional military commissions. Consider the military commissions' track record: A grand total of three cases have been completed since Guantánamo opened as a detention facility in January 2002. Federal courts, on the other hand, have successfully tried more than 200 terrorism cases, including those of the “Blind Sheik” Omar Abdel-Rahman for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, “shoe-bomber” Richard Reid, and Zacarias Moussoui for conspiring in the 9/11 attacks. The so-called underwear bomber, Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, was arraigned in federal court on terrorism charges 14 days after he tried to blow up an airplane. In contrast, most detainees at Guantánamo have languished there for years, without charges brought against them and no end to their detention in sight.
Of those detainees who remain at Guantánamo, Bisher al-Rawi says: "If the U.S. thinks somebody is a criminal, that’s fine. Take him to court and let him have his day in court…either you release people or give them justice, true justice, with no deception, no lies."