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Clean Our Mess: Release Guantanamo Detainees in the US, Close the Camp
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Parents teach their children: You make a mess, you clean it up.

Twenty years ago, the United States government transformed its naval base at Guantanamo Bay into a legal, moral and foreign-policy disaster. It’s time for President Joe Biden to fulfill his promise to complete the task his predecessors didn’t have the wisdom or desire to do: close America’s gulag.

Thirty-nine prisoners remain at Gitmo. The Pentagon has cleared 18 for release. Yet they will remain captive until the U.S. finds a country willing to accept them and offers assurances that they’ll be surveilled to ensure they don’t present a threat to U.S. interests and allies. When possible, former detainees are sent home. Others are either denied the right of return by their home countries or would face torture or execution for domestic political reasons.

Kidnapped, tortured and held in isolation without visits from friends or family, Gitmo victims have never been charged with a crime and in many cases were innocent of anti-American activities. After they’ve been cleared for release, they enter a Kafkaesque nightmare; they’ve convinced their interrogators that they shouldn’t be there yet remain behind bars at a cost to taxpayers of \$13 million a year each.

Three detainees were cleared more than a decade ago yet remain at Guantanamo. Six others should have been released early last year. “If I had to make a bet on what’s happening, this is an example of the Biden administration, distracted by the pandemic and the economy, not paying any attention to actually making transfers happen,” said Shayana Kadidal, an attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, who represents Sufyian Barhoumi of Algeria. He was cleared six years ago.

The grand fallacy at the heart of this pseudo-legal purgatory is the assumption that ex-Gitmo detainees must go somewhere, anywhere, but the United States. Why, if like Thomas Wolfe, they can’t go home again, shouldn’t they be resettled here?

The detainees are part of a mess that we created. Providing them with a home and whatever else they need to lead productive lives — education, job training, psychological treatment — is the least we can do to make amends for the cruelty and injustice they’ve endured.

Set aside the psychic smear of the national trauma Americans suffered after 9/11, and it becomes clear that under U.S. law and legal culture, these men are as “innocent until proven guilty” as it is possible to be. They were never indicted, much less convicted, of anything, yet they’ve languished under miserable conditions for years. The Defense Department has determined that they don’t present any threat. These men should be treated the same as a U.S. citizen wrongly convicted for a crime he didn’t commit; they should receive financial compensation for their years of false imprisonment and ample resources to help them settle wherever they want to go.

Might a former Gitmo prisoner, radicalized and shattered by his experience, commit a violent crime or an act of terrorism on U.S. soil after being released? It’s possible. A dozen former detainees returned to Afghanistan and fought against U.S. occupation forces.

Yet if we have integrity, that’s a chance we have to take. We release innocent men and women from prison despite the possibility that years of incarceration have hardened them, exposed them to fellow criminals and may have left them with hatred and resentment of the society that wrongfully convicted them. We don’t try to foist off innocent ex-convicts on some other country on the grounds that they are too damaged to live here. There are, moreover, means of mitigating the risk that a former detainee might pose a danger to Americans: validating their experience by issuing them a public formal apology, ideally by the president himself on national television, prosecuting their military and CIA torturers and allowing victims to testify against them, work permits, entry visas for family members, financial compensation and, of course, surveillance by local authorities.

These moves would also boost our international reputation.

The Bush administration relied on the fiction that Guantanamo was a netherworld under U.S. control yet not subject to U.S. legal protections such as the right to a speedy and fair trial, or representation by an attorney, when it chose this imperialist relic of the Spanish-American War to warehouse and torture hundreds of Muslim men whose involvement in jihad ranged from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s role in planning the 9/11 attacks to Osama bin Laden’s chauffeur to regional opponents of the regime in Yemen to nothing whatsoever. In 2008, however, the Supreme Court ruled in Boumediene v. Bush that Guantanamo inmates were in fact entitled to constitutional protections including the right to file a writ of habeas corpus in American courts. Legally, therefore, they’re already in the United States.

Congress passed a law preventing the use of taxpayer money to transfer Guantanamo detainees to the United States. But they’re already here, so there’s no transfer. Besides, the law is almost certainly an unconstitutional violation of the president’s prerogative as commander in chief. But why wait for a lengthy court challenge? We’re talking about just over three dozen men. Financing the airfare from Cuba to the lower 48 states could be taken care of by a GoFundMe. Count me in.


Notice, I did say over three dozen. That’s because all 39 Guantanamo victims are legally innocent under American law, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. None of them have ever faced trial in an actual civilian courtroom and never will because their testimony was extracted under duress. KSM, for example, was infamously waterboarded 182 times. If the rule of law and due process mean anything, all 39 prisoners — not just those who have been cleared to leave — should not be transferred to maximum-security prisons on the American mainland, as liberals generally suggest. They should all be released in the United States and given every possible resource to live out their lives peacefully and successfully.

Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, co-hosts the weekly DMZ America podcast with conservative fellow cartoonist Scott Stantis.

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  1. Notsofast says:

    close the camp…. really radical ted, it takes a lot of moral fiber to call for the end of a neo-con, neo-nazi concentration camp. how about, get the hell out of guantanamo, you deadbeat squatters. the russians and chinese might pay more than 3 grand a year for such a fine piece of real estate. if the fat american ass can ever be dislodged from guantanamo, i hope the cubans rebuild it as a nakba museum, kind of the like auschwitz.

  2. Release them in America? I didn’t think you could become any more stupid than you already were, but you continue to surprise.
    Tell you what – I’ll keep one of these prisoners in a pit in my backyard for the paltry sum of \$1 million per year. No? Perhaps you’d prefer to welcome a few into your own home? Surely they’ll make sterling citizens!

    • Agree: ruralguy
    • Replies: @Quartermaster
  3. roonaldo says:

    You mean release the innocent shopkeeper who was denounced by his rival in return for U.S. incentive money? And further embarass the Hegemon? And bring to trial the torturers and their enablers, as U.S. and international law require? Have you gone completely out of your mind?

    Why, the beauty of Guantanamo is that it serves as a template for, say, a brutal lockup of those pesky Jan. 6th pedestrians and the heavily armed FBI swat troops bringing in the dangerously deadly duo of Roger Stone and his wife in the pre-dawn hours.

    Coddling the unconvicted and the blatantly innocent could jeopardize the use of torture camps, I mean, social readjustment vacation facilities, for those refusing experimental inoculations and those who, out of a total disregard for the mental equilibrium of the citizenry, express viewpoints contrary to bureaucratic pronouncements.

    Hold on, there’s a knock at the door… big deal as it turns out…it’s just a “Thought-Purity Posse” of the neighborhood “Democrats for Justice Brigade.” They must be planning a marshmallow roast–torches, pitchforks, masks…and a hearty invitation to come join them–I just love parties!

  4. anonymous[289] • Disclaimer says:

    Another USA legal project no less important – take aggressive steps to end the death penalty! As Biden and Kamala spoke of doing, but on this issue betrayed their voters as well, the deaths by lethal injection – in fact often slow torture – still continuing under Biden.

    DOJ teams should swoop in to block every execution, and any Supreme Court justice favouring the death penalty should be immediately impeached by Congress, as ‘not in good behaviour’ per the phrase in the US Constitution.

    This horrific practice is unusual now. 85% of countries have abolished / suspended it. It is mostly Muslim countries, and a few ’empire fantasy’ nations – USA, India, China, Japan, Belarus – who still do it.

    The USA had no executions whatsoever for nearly 10 years, between the last gas chamber killing under then-California-governor Ronald Reagan in 1967, and Gerald Ford allowing a firing squad execution in Utah in the last few days of his presidency, January 1977.

    For nearly a decade, humane US judges had tag-teamed to block all executions … but the compassionate judges got slowly replaced.

    Thus Richard Nixon remains the only US President, under whom there were no judicial executions in the USA!

  5. I suppose they could just do a “Fidel” and open the gates to Cuba.

  6. Guantanamo??? In 2022, as the world turns toward a nukie exchange??

    Get lost, punk!

  7. anonymous[273] • Disclaimer says:

    You know what would be great – Russian springs the innocent fake terrorists, interviews them on RT, and puts the Cuban Missiles in Guantanamo. You know they could do it in a tachycardia heartbeat of that vaxed-out dickhead Milley.

  8. @Macumazahn

    Such idiocy is completely in character for Rall. I saw his strip in the Athens News for years. I’d usually read it to see what kind of stupidity he found sane of late.

    • Replies: @Wj
  9. jsinton says:

    Should have just stuff them is shipping containers and left them in the desert 20 years ago. No muss, no fuss. Naw, that would be mean.

  10. Wj says:

    Actually Rall is spot on here. Gitmo needs to be closed and everg vestige of that moron george bush needs to be eradicated. To my embarrassment I voted for that wasfe of flesh in 2000

  11. PJ London says:

    ” … whose involvement in jihad ranged from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s role in planning the 9/11 attacks …”
    He admitted his role after only 354 episodes of ‘waterboarding’.
    When is an honest journalist going to show up?

    What is even more disgusting is the attitude of the average American as demonstrated in the comments.
    Salem is strong still in the USA.

  12. ruralguy says:

    Typical leftist view: We are all equal — there are no distinctions between civilized people and murderers, thieves, perverts, and terrorists. Flood the country with scammers, drug dealers, and parasites from failed third world countries — we are all the same. We should all join hands, celebrate queers, rainbows, and the diversity of crayons. Never mind the ensuing chaos. It’s not real after all.

  13. Note to Mr. Rall: Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. is a man of his word.

    At least regarding Rich People (and of course the Apartheid state)

    He said “nothing would fundamentally change”.

    I’m counting on Mr. Biden to continue with his Fundamental truth-telling.

  14. Closing Gitmo is long overdue, but releasing the prisoners in the US would be a tough sell. Not least to them — who wants to be naturalized to a country that tortured you?

    Although resettling them in DC makes sense for a lot of reasons…

  15. AntiDem says:

    Cool now do the January 6th prisoners.

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