Guantánamo detention facility has failed; shut it down!

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Army Col. Steve Gabavics, the new guard force commander at Guantánamo, briefs reporters in an empty cellblock in July.
Army Col. Steve Gabavics, the new guard force commander at Guantánamo, briefs reporters in an empty cellblock in July. Miami Herald

As the existence of the terrorist detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, nears its 15th anniversary in January, it becomes more obvious with every new disclosure that the camp was a bad idea from the outset and should have been closed long ago.

In January 2009, President Obama, brand-new to the Oval Office, ordered the Pentagon to tie up loose ends and shut facility down. But Congress has insisted on keeping it open even though virtually everything we have learned about the prison over the years raises questions about the wisdom of this course of action:

▪ We already knew that this was the most expensive prison on Earth, costing an astounding $7.29 million per prisoner per year. In fiscal year 2015, the overall cost was $445 million.

▪ We already knew that when it comes to delivering actual justice, or anything remotely resembling justice, Guantánamo was never lived up to its original purpose. Of the 780 detainees who have been held over the years, only four have been convicted by a Military Commission. Two of them are awaiting delayed sentencing and four men who had been earlier convicted were subsequently cleared through appeal.

▪ We already knew that the original plan for the prison fell woefully short of meeting constitutional scrutiny. Three times detainees had to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court during the Bush administration to uphold constitutional guarantees. Three times the court sided with the detainees.

▪ We already knew that seven of the most notorious prisoners at the site — including alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four alleged co-conspirators — are facing a Military Commission. What we don’t know is when, if ever, the court will clear all the procedural hurdles so that trials can be held. They may die of old age before 9/11 families see them tried, convicted and punished.

These and other depressing statistics that clearly demonstrate the futility of keeping the Guantánamo facility open can be found in an up-to-date, eye-opening log maintained online by the Miami Herald. Now, Herald reporter Carol Rosenberg’s latest report has found that many of the so-called “worst of the worst” really weren’t. At all.

New intelligence reports say many of the prisoners should never have been at the facility to begin with. “An ongoing review shows the U.S. intelligence community has been debunking long-held myths about some of the ‘worst of the worst’ at Guantánamo, some of them still held today,” the report says. The list includes multiple cases of mistaken identity, and others who were sold to gullible U.S. forces by bounty hunters who knew the prisoners were not terrorists.

There are genuinely bad men at Guantánamo. But we’ve known for a long time that the real “worst of the worst” were sent to CIA black sites while the detention center in Cuba was turned into a kind of intelligence test lab. Had the Bush administration brought the 9/11 plotters directly to the United States their trials would likely be over.

It will be up to the next administration to decide whether to keep or discard the military commissions. And it will be up to the next Congress to decide whether to continue this charade of justice or bring the detainees to the United States where the next administration can choose between military commissions and federal courts. In view of the latest disclosures about Guantánamo, the case for keeping the facility open is weaker than ever.