Updated: Jan 10, 2022
Advocates for closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center were optimistic when President Biden took office, and approved releasing a prisoner for the first time in years. Now, many are increasingly impatient, reports the Associated Press. There have been few signs of progress in closing the notorious offshore prison on the U.S. base in Cuba. That has led to skepticism about Biden’s approach in his first year and the detention center on Tuesday marks the 20th anniversary of the first prisoners’ arrival. “President Biden has stated his intention to close Guantanamo as a matter of policy but has not taken substantial steps toward closure,” said Wells Dixon of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which has taken a leading role in challenging indefinite confinement without charge at the base.
Without a more concerted effort, those who want the center to close fear a repeat of what happened under President Obama, who made closing Guantanamo a signature issue from his first days in office, but managed only to shrink it in the face of opposition in Congress. There are 39 prisoners left. It’s the fewest since the detention center’s early days, when groups suspected of having a connection to al-Qaida or the Taliban, arrived on flights from Afghanistan — hooded, shackled and clad in orange jumpsuits. Guantanamo became the focus of international outrage because of the torture of prisoners and the U.S. insistence that it could hold men indefinitely without charge for the duration of a war against al-Qaida that seemingly has no end. The critics grew to include Michael Lehnert, a retired Marine Corps major general who was tasked with opening the detention center but came to believe that holding mostly low-level fighters without charge was counter to U.S. values and interests. At its peak, in 2003, the center held nearly 680 prisoners. President George W. Bush released more than 500 and Obama freed 197. President Trump said the annual cost of operating the detention center was “crazy,” at around $13 million per prisoner. Of the remaining prisoners, 10 face trial by military commission, cases that have bogged down for years. They include Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.