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Flags fly above the sign for Camp Justice at Guantanamo Bay. © 2013 Human Rights Watch

US President Barack Obama submitted a plan for closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility to the US Congress on February 23, 2016.

“President Obama’s plan to close Guantanamo is a step forward,” said Laura Pitter, senior national security counsel at Human Rights Watch. “Guantanamo’s prison and military commissions have been a blight on the US record for years and it is well beyond time to shut them down. But transferring some detainees to the US for indefinite detention is not a solution.”

Most detainees at Guantanamo have been held there for nearly 14 years without charge or trial in violation of international law. The administration should either prosecute detainees in courts that comport with fair trial standards or transfer them to safe home or third countries.”

On September 1, 2015, Human Rights Watch wrote Obama with concerns about transferring Guantanamo detainees to the US for continued arbitrary detention.

The administration’s plan includes prosecuting some detainees in federal court rather than in the Guantanamo Bay military commissions, which do not meet international standards for credibility, impartiality or independence. However, the plan also contemplates continuing use of the military commissions for other detainees, including those accused of plotting the September 11 attacks on the United States.  

As Human Rights Watch has long reported, the Guantanamo military commissions are fundamentally flawed. They conduct proceedings with excessive secrecy, fail to protect attorney-client privileged communications, and permit the introduction of coerced evidence. The ad hoc nature of the military commissions has undermined defendants’ fair trial rights, generated novel legal issues that have taken years to resolve, and led to most of the few verdicts obtained to have been overturned on appeal.

The September 11 case is one of the few taking place in the military commissions at Guantanamo, and one of the most important terrorism cases in US history. However, it’s been nearly four years since the defendants were arraigned and a trial start date is likely years away. The case is still only in the very early stages with standard evidentiary pre-trial hearings not even yet on the case calendar.

“Obama should not want his legacy to include bringing the completely discredited military commissions to American soil,” Pitter said. 

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