President Joe Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki has said it is the intention of the Biden administration to close down Guantanamo Bay Detention Center. In 2009, Biden promised the audience at the Munich Security Conference that “We will uphold the rights of those who we bring to justice. And we will close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.” These promises are similar to the ones made early on in the Obama administration, which were never fulfilled. Can Biden be trusted to follow through on this?
Guantanamo Bay has been a breeding ground for human rights violations since it began holding detainees twenty years ago. It is currently holding 40 detainees, most of them without any charges, and none having received a fair trial. Biden is now the fourth president to preside over the prison, and he has the power to close it.
Guantanamo Bay is most known for its brutal history of torture, including waterboarding, forced feeding, and sleep deprivation. Amnesty International released a new report on January 11th, 2021, detailing the nineteen years of human rights violations perpetrated at Guantanamo. This report details how the people detained at the facility are tortured, given inadequate medical care, and are denied fair trials. It is difficult to get out once you get in. Even those cleared for release from the detention facility have remained incarcerated for years with no escape.
We hope that President Biden will take steps to shut down Guantanamo Bay and end the abuses going on there. However, we stay skeptical because Biden served as Vice President under President Barack Obama, who admitted that “we tortured some folks” but said we must move on from it. Obama did reduce the number of detainees at Guantanamo, but the actions he took were paltry and appalling in light of the horrific conditions at the prison.
In 2016, then-President-elect Donald Trump not only vowed to keep the facility open but declared that “We’re gonna load it up with some bad dudes, believe me.” Trump established a policy to keep the facility open and ready for new detainees, completely backtracking any progress made by the Obama administration.
Biden’s press secretary, Psaki, announced no official details or timeline and did not establish it as a priority for the Biden administration. Guantanamo Bay Detention Center is a blot on the name and history of a country that claims to be free, just, and honorable. We must put pressure on our elected officials to take action on this issue.
When it comes to taking action on an individual level, you can learn more by reading updated information on Guantanamo Bay from advocacy organizations like Witness Against Torture, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, or Muslim Advocates. You can vote for programs and people that support refugees, oppose torture and Islamophobia, and prioritize rehabilitation. If you have time, write an email or letter to your elected representatives and sign petitions. Post about it on social media. Small acts are not worth nothing. Even just posting about human rights issues on your social media can raise awareness and prompt others to further investigate and take action on the issues that matter.