Guantánamo

On Guantánamo’s 16th anniversary, a new court challenge could force Trump to act

What Guantánamo’s secret prison is really like

9/11 defense attorney Walter Ruiz says the Pentagon's most clandestine prison is "just like this kind of beaten down, broken down, county-jail-looking kind of thing,” on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017.
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9/11 defense attorney Walter Ruiz says the Pentagon's most clandestine prison is "just like this kind of beaten down, broken down, county-jail-looking kind of thing,” on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017.

President Donald Trump’s declaration that he intends to keep all current prisoners at the U.S. Navy base in Guantánamo indefinitely is being used as justification by legal advocates that the courts must intervene on behalf of the 41 remaining detainees at the military prison.

A group of lawyers, former government officials and activists gathered in Washington on Thursday to present a new legal petition that would bring 11 men imprisoned at Guantánamo to court if successful. They say the shift in policy — from President Barack Obama’s unsuccessful promise to close the prison to Trump’s campaign promise to “load it up with some bad dudes,” along with unsuccessful attempts to institute a ban on immigrants from certain Muslim-majority countries — does not have a legal basis and is instead rooted in a hatred towards Muslims.

Therefore, the courts must step in to act since the Trump administration has no intention of doing so, the lawyers said.

“Given President Donald Trump’s proclamation against releasing any petitioners — driven by executive hubris and raw animus rather than by reason or deliberative national security concerns — these petitioners may never leave Guantánamo alive, absent judicial intervention,” the petition reads.

The Center for Constitutional Rights, a liberal-leaning legal advocacy organization, filed the legal petition on the 16th anniversary of the arrival of the first detainees at Guantánamo. The group also organized a protest near the White House on Thursday.

“It’s clear that a man who thinks we should water-board terror suspects even if it doesn’t work, because ‘they deserve it, anyway,’ has no qualms about keeping every last detainee in Guantánamo, so long as he holds the jailhouse key,” said CCR senior staff attorney Pardiss Kebriaei, who represents Sharqawi Al Hajj, one of the 11 prisoners included in the filing. “Another three or seven years under President Trump may mean a death sentence for men like Sharqawi Al Hajj, who is in poor health and damaged by past torture.”

Advocates on Thursday described Trump’s Guantánamo policy as a “deep freeze,” in contrast to former presidents Obama and George W. Bush, who kept the prison open but allowed many to leave during their time in office. They say Trump’s policy violates his authority under the ongoing 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, which permits detention solely for the specific purpose of preventing the return of prisoners to the battlefield.

And Trump’s campaign pledge to not release any detainees during his administration creates an arbitrary additional term of detention for four or eight years that does not have any legal basis, the advocates said.

Attorney Tom Durkin, who represents one of the five prisoners who have been cleared but not yet released, said the Trump administration does not intend to do anything in Guantánamo because his political base responded positively to his tough-on-terror message during the 2016 campaign.

“I think we have to take him at his word,” Durkin said. “He has an unbelievable constellation of animus towards Muslims.”

Alex Daugherty: 202-383-6049, @alextdaugherty

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