US president-elect Donald Trump’s tweet yesterday that everyone held at Guantanamo Bay is “extremely dangerous” is ill-informed. What’s worse, his proposed course of action – stopping all releases – shows a lack of understanding about the danger of keeping Guantanamo open poses to US National Security.
The vast majority of the 720 men released from Guantanamo, many after years of wrongful detention and torture, have been getting on with their lives around the world without incident. A total of 59 men remain there; most have been held without charge or trial for close to 14 years. Only 10 have been charged with a crime, most notably the five charged for their role in the September 11 attacks.
Six US government agencies, including the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, have cleared 23 of the current detainees for release. These include some that the US admits were cases of mistaken identity, such as Mustafa al Shamiri, captured at 16 or 17 yet assessed to be a “a senior trainer at the al-Faruq Training Camp as well as an al-Qaida guesthouse logistician.” The six agencies said he should be released and acknowledged in September 2015 that the intelligence about him was wrong. Abdul Zahir was also deemed a case of mistaken identity in July 2016, after nearly 14 years in captivity. Zahir was detained during a raid intended to capture someone else, at a place where chemical or biological agents were believed to be stored. The agents were in fact benign substances.
The US detains the remaining 26 without charge but claims they are “too dangerous” to release. Because the government has failed to provide these detainees with a meaningful ability to challenge their detentions, the grounds for these claims are largely a secret. If these individuals violated the law they should be prosecuted in courts that meet fair trial standards – otherwise they should be released.
Even if Trump doesn’t care about these people and their families, or basic principles of fair legal process, he should care about the risk that the Guantanamo detentions pose to US national security. Guantanamo is a potent symbol of injustice and torture that feeds into terrorist propaganda and is a powerful recruitment tool for extremist armed groups. That’s why numerous national security leaders have called for closing it. Trump should listen to them.