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Here’s a little fact of our age: Rear Admiral Peter Clark is the 16th commander of America’s notorious prison complex at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, opened in January 2002, and it seems he won’t be the last. As the New York Times recently reported, the Trump administration is already readying a draft executive order that would direct the Pentagon to use that prison to “detain suspected members of ‘Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces, including individuals and networks associated with the Islamic State.’” One such terror suspect, Abu Khaybar, held in Yemen by “another country” and long associated with al-Qaeda, is supposedly being eyed as the possible first new Guantánamo detainee since the end of the Bush era.
Consider all of this a guarantee that what might be the world’s most notorious prison will undoubtedly have a 17th, 18th, and 19th commander — brought to you by the job-creating administration of Donald J. Trump who, during the 2016 election campaign, swore that he would keep that prison open and “load it up with some bad dudes.” In addition, instead of spending what he claimed was $40 million a month sprucing up Gitmo, he “guaranteed” that he would do it for “peanuts.” Post-election, according to no less of an authority than White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, the president still “believes that Guantánamo Bay does serve a very, very healthy purpose in our national security.” Of course, the Islamic State agrees with both of them that it would be “healthy” indeed — for ISIS, that is, which has already staged horrific videoed torture and killing scenes, while mockingly dressing its prisoners in the orange jumpsuits Guantánamo made (in)famous.
All I can say is thank god that, despite promising on day one of his presidency to shut down Guantánamo within a year, President Obama didn’t issue an executive order in his last months in office to do so (as he certainly could have). It would have set a terrible example of executive overreach for President Trump and might have led him, despite endless Republican complaints about such overreach during the Obama era, to resort to rule by executive order himself. (Sad!) So all looks upbeat indeed when it comes to the future of Guantánamo-style extra-legality and to that crown jewel in what was once a Bermuda Triangle of offshore injustice, even if we don’t yet know whether the Trump administration will send U.S. citizens there. Unfortunately, not all Americans have experienced the benefits of Gitmo equally. TomDispatch regular Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School and an expert on Guantánamo, who has written on that subject for this website for more than a decade, is certainly one of those. She tells her sad story today.