Ten years ago Wednesday, U.S. troops marched 20 men in chains off a military cargo plane at Guantánamo Bay to launch Americas war on terror experiment in offshore detention and justice. Now, the prison camps enter their second decade with death penalty tribunals on the horizon and President Barack Obama still struggling to find a formula for closure.
Here are 10 developments Guantánamo watchers can expect to see:
Pressure to add to the prison population: Congress has, through a variety of legislation, tried to grow the enterprise that has hundreds of empty cells in the crude complex that sprawls along the U.S. Navy bases waterfront. But the Obama administration goal is to shrink the population, then close the prison.
Its the presidents stated objective to never send anyone to Guantánamo again, Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale said on Tuesday. As of this week, the military had 1,850 U.S. troops and Defense Department contractors on staff of the prison holding 171 captives. The prison camps can hold at least 800 captives.
Prison camp unrest
Tensions are high over a toughening of rules at Guantánamo. Captives complain that the camps have instituted a new 25-day punitive segregation regime for rule breakers, in cramped cells in a once-secret disciplinary block. They say that after years of a more liberal policy, guards are now seizing captives spare blankets and clothing; and that they are shackling a captives four limbs, not just his ankles, at medical appointments.
On Tuesday, captives told their guards that for three days around the anniversary, theyd be refusing meals, staging sit-ins and hanging protest signs, according to accounts from the military and defense lawyers.
No crackdown is intended in the penitentiary-style lockup where the majority 140 captives are allowed to pray, eat and congregate in groups of 20 or so. Detainees may participate in these nonviolent forms of protest and have the opportunity to reasonably express themselves without losing those privileges, said Navy Cmdr. Tamsen Reese. The prison spokeswoman had no comment on what was happening in the secret prison camp for former CIA captives or in the more severe Camp 5 for convicts and rule breakers.
By the Obama administrations reckoning, U.S. taxpayers spend $800,000 a year to keep a single captive at Guantánamo Bay, a figure the prison camp staff wont explain. In September, the Miami Herald filed a Freedom of Information Act for documents that show how that money is spent.
Now, the Pentagons Southern Command in Miami is assembling the documents, and an attorney there is deciding which might be released, says Southcoms Army Col. Scott Malcom. Next, the Pentagons Freedom of Information office will get a chance to scrub the documents the public may get to see that explain, in detail, prison-camp spending.
Talk of Taliban releases
The White House wants to wind down the war in Afghanistan. Congress OKd it in the Sept. 18, 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, from which the Pentagon designed its indefinite detention regime.
But, If there are peace talks and if the war is considered over, what will the courts say about continued detention? says Andrea Prasow, senior counter-terror counsel for Human Rights Watch.
Ten Guantánamo captives are Afghan, and some of the 171 prisoners probably never even set foot on Afghan soil after 9/11. But the basis for captivity in Cuba stems from the conflict in Afghanistan. Will a court say the conflict has ended? asks Prasow. After Osama bin Laden is killed, after peace talks with the Taliban it may no longer justify indefinite detention.
Teen terrorist goes home
Convicted war criminal Omar Khadr could go to a prison in his native Canada any day now. At age 15, he threw a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan in 2002. He admitted to the crime under an October 2010 plea agreement that, in consideration of his age, got him up to eight more years of confinement, at most seven of them in his homeland.
The Toronto-born Khadrs lawyers expect hell suddenly turn up in a federal penitentiary in Ontario or Quebec, where the country keeps convicted terrorists. Then in 2013, after a third of his sentence, Khadr can apply for parole under Canadas legal code for juvenile offenders.
Lawyers worry about the security of the now 25-year-old man whos notorious as scion of a family of radical Muslims that kept company with Osama bin Laden. Some fool could get it into his head to target him, says Khadrs Canadian lawyer John Norris.
New Constitutional clash
Lawyers for former CIA captives argue that the prison camps are meddling in the defense attorneys confidential correspondence with their clients. The military says its looking for material the guards might consider disruptive in the camps.
Guantánamo defense lawyers are turning to a civilian court, the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., to order the prison to stop reading what Navy Cmdr. Suzanne Lachelier, a veteran defender, calls privileged communications with our clients.
With the Iraq war over, the show-business industry has fewer places to go abroad to entertain the troops. So expect more entertainers to volunteer to go to Guantánamo, and follow in the footsteps of musicians, comedians, Shakespearean actors and female impersonators who have already performed there.
The military moves a steady stream of entertainers to the base, along with nightly first-run movies, for the U.S. forces. Next up: The Atlanta based pop-rock quintet Cartel provides the music for a Navy running event called a Rock n Roll Half-Marathon Jan. 29.
Also, Guantánamo continues to provide fodder for the imagination. Consider this years release of the novel From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant : Its Alex Gilvarrys tale of a Filipino design school graduate who is swept off to the prison camps and trial as a Fashion terrorist.
NCIS, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, should close the books on what killed Awal Gul, 48, whom the prison camps say collapsed in a prison shower in February after working out on an exercise machine, and Haji Nassim, 37, whom guards reportedly discovered in May hanging by a bedsheet in a prison recreation yard.
Investigations of the deaths of both Afghan indefinite detainees are still considered open, says Ed Buice at the NCIS in Quantico, Va.
All death cases go through the Death Review Board, then Death Review Panel process. They get very careful scrutiny to make sure that every conceivable lead has been found and followed, evidence gathered and analyzed, every step documented, etc.
War court goes capital
Prosecutors expect to bring the alleged 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four co-defendants before the war court on death-penalty charges. And the first man to face a capital trial is the alleged USS Cole bomber, Abd al Rahim al Nashiri. CIA agents waterboarded both men.
The two cases, says attorney Matt Waxman, who ran detainee affairs in the Bush years, combine big fish defendants, interrogation controversy, and the prospects of death penalties. Those factors combine to raise the profile of these cases, if not their stakes.
The public should also expect to learn in this, the prison camps 11th year, whether the Obama administration ramps up its reformed commissions or continues to rely on federal civilian prosecutions for terror cases.
Expect the Republicans to portray Obama as soft on terror for still wanting to close the camps that have stirred anger in the Muslim world and unhappiness among U.S. allies.
And expect the president to reply that it was on his watch that U.S. forces killed Bin Laden, for whom America built a prison compound at Guantánamo.