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GAO Report on Guantanamo Doesn’t Touch Indefinite Detention, Civil Liberties Offenses

Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (Photo: Marion Doss / Flickr)

The infamous Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba opened in January 2002. Now, ten years later, a report from the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) finds it would be possible to close the military facility and move the 166 detainees to the United States.

Attorneys working with Guantanamo detainees argue that the report does not touch on whether moving detainees would help the transparency or human rights issues that have plagued the facility since it was first built.

“Transferring detainees from Guantanamo to federal prison in the US is not the way to close Guantanamo,” said Wells Dixon, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). “It’s important to remember that Guantanamo is not just a place, but a regime of indefinite detention. That is the fundamental problem – the issue is less where you hold someone.”

The report was commissioned by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“This report demonstrates that if the political will exists, we could finally close Guantanamo without imperiling our national security,” Feinstein said. “The GAO report makes clear that numerous prisons exist inside the United States – operated by both the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice – capable of holding the 166 detainees who remain at Guantanamo in an environment that meets the security requirements.”

The report notes that there are already 373 individuals charged with or convicted of terrorism held in 98 prisons in the United States.

According to the press release, “the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice both operate detention facilities comparable to Guantanamo Bay and currently hold convicted terrorists and other felons connected to terrorism.”

The facilities may need some adjustment as detainees from Guantanamo would need to be held separately from the rest of the prison population. Six of these are Defense Department facilities, working at 48 percent capacity, that are already in place to “confine service members for more than 1 year.”

Feinstein said that the cost of running Guantanamo is unsustainable.

“As far as I know, there hasn’t been a single security problem reported in any of these cases. This fact outweighs not only the high cost of maintaining Guantanamo – which costs more than $114 million a year – but also provides the same degree of security without the criticism of operating a military prison in an isolated location,” she said.

Brent Mickum, a US lawyer representing Guantanamo detainee Abu Zubaydah, told Truthout the question is not whether there is enough space in US prisons.

“Clearly there are facilities in the US that can house 66 or 166 individuals,” he said. “The bigger issue here that nobody wants to touch is the extent to which the majority of people who remain at Guantanamo are in fact not terrorists and not dangerous.”

Dixon argues that looking at the number of people who have been charged supports this assertion. “More men have died at Guantanamo than have been convicted. Nine people have died, seven individuals have been convicted and seven have charges pending.”

In September 2012, the Justice Department confirmed that 55 detainees had been approved to be transferred to other countries. The report was released three years after it had been confirmed that the individuals could be released, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

“There is no reason to bring these detainees to federal prison in the US,” said Dixon. “They should be released. Eighty-six of 166 men who remain at Guantanamo have been unanimously approved to be transferred by the United States government, the CIA and Homeland Security.”

Even if they are brought to the United States, Dixon, with CCR, said that the court system for people charged with terrorism is riddled with problems. “The federal court system in the US is well established, but it has issues for individuals with terrorism offense. These include unfair trial practices and impaired right to confront witnesses,” said Dixon.

“That said, we advocate that when detainees are charged with terrorism, they should be brought to a fair trial.”

The long-term detention of Bradley Manning, accused of leaking confidential documents to WikiLeaks, is often used to illustrate the lack of due process in national security cases. Manning has been detained since May 2010. He was held for nearly two years without charge.

Mickum, whose client is considered one of the most “high value” detainees at the Guantanamo facility, said that there is little political will to ask what he considers the right questions on the detention facility.

“If people started to really examine the evidence, we’d have a vastly different dialogue,” said Mickum. “Instead, everyone just sits there and listens to Lindsey Graham [the Republican senator from South Carolina] or John McCain. They make sure that everybody really thinks that those that remain at Guantanamo are the worst of the worst. I doubt there will even ever be 25 trials at Guantanamo.”

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