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15 Years Later, 45 Remain in Guantanamo Prison

15 Years Later, 45 Remain in Guantanamo Prison

Painting of Prisoners at Guantanamo Bay

January 11, 2017 marked 15 years since the opening of the detention center at the Guantanamo Bay Prison. The prison, opened by President George W. Bush, was constructed to hold suspected terrorists and enemy combatants captured by U.S. forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere as part of the “War on Terror.” In the 15 years since the prison’s opening, 775 detainees have passed through its walls, many without being told what they were accused of or when they would be released.

During his first week in office, President Obama signed an executive order calling for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention center. In the final months of this administration, there have been several developments in pursuit of that order. Since President Obama took office, the number of prisoners has been reduced from 242 to 45 prisoners. Of the 45 prisoners remaining, 9 have been cleared for transfer, 26 are in continue-to-detain status but have not been charged, and 10 have cases being handled through the military commission system.

In August, 15 prisoners—the most to ever be transferred at one time—were transferred from Guantanamo. The 12 Yemeni nationals and three Afghans were all transferred to the United Arab Emirates after being held with no charge, some for over 14 years. Then, U.S. military officials closed Camp 5 at the Guantanamo Bay Prison due to the shrinking prisoner population. The Construction of Camp 5 back in 2003 was an indication that the prison would become a somewhat permanent facility, not a temporary holding location as it was originally intended. Prisoners housed in Camp 5 were reported to be “non-compliant” detainees and were subjected to isolation in solitary confinement cells.

In December 2016, Congress passed the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), an appropriations bill that specifies the budget and expenditures of the United States Department of Defense, among other provisions. The final version of the bill maintained the 2016 prohibition of using any funds to close the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or transfer any of the remaining detainees onto US soil. Days before the NDAA was passed, Shawqi Awad Balzuhair, a Yemeni, was released to Cabo Verde. On Monday, another ten prisoners were transferred to Oman, bringing the total number of detainees down to 45.

As Jews in modern times, we see both practical as well as moral reasons to end indefinite detention. Both our American and our Jewish traditions call on us to uphold the dignity of all humans. As a 2003 URJ resolution on national security and civil liberties states, investigations “must be conducted in ways that are consistent with fundamental principles of our justice system and Constitution, including due process, right to counsel and judicial review.” Similarly, Exodus 12:19 teaches us, in the throes of our own enslavement, a responsibility to those in our custody. “There shall be law one for the citizen and for the stranger who dwells among you.” We must maintain the constitutional and moral principle of ensuring one law for citizens and non-citizens alike. If you would like to learn more about the RAC’s work defending civil liberties, visit our website.

Lizzie Stein is a leadership development associate at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, where she previously served as an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant. In her current role, she leads fellowships for alumni of RAC programs and brings leadership skills training to the RAC’s L’Taken Social Justice Seminars and other programs. Lizzie also staffs the Urgency of Now: Transgender Rights Campaign. A graduate of Occidential College, she is a member of Temple Kol Ami in Phoenix, AZ, her hometown.

Lizzie Stein

Published: 1/18/2017