Why Guantanamo Still Matters

During his first campaign, Barack Obama promised he’d close the prison at Guantanamo Bay if elected. It remains open at the start of his second term, and terrorism prosecutions at the base continue to challenge principles of transparent government and the rule of law. In February, Hina Shamsi and Alex Abdo of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project gave three reasons why Guantanamo still matters:

1 Procedural protections that federal courts apply to safeguard fair trials have been weakened at Guantanamo Bay. A combination of diluted hearsay and evidentiary rules raise the possibility that a defendant will be convicted and perhaps executed on the basis of second- or third-hand information coerced out of another witness through questionable interrogation practices that the defense will never know about. 

2 Of the 166 men still at Guantanamo, 86 have been unanimously cleared for release by military and intelligence agencies since 2009. They remain unlawfully imprisoned because Congress passed legislation restricting the president’s authority to transfer or release prisoners. 

3 The hearings are shrouded in secrecy. For example, the government claimed that it may censor and keep from the public the memories and experiences of defendants tortured in CIA custody. The ACLU opposed the government’s claim, asserting the public’s First Amendment right to access the proceedings, but the military judge accepted it. Censorship of torture undermines the government’s claim that the military commission system is transparent and legitimate. 

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