In 2010 one of Reprieve’s clients, Younis Chikkouri, wrote a letter to his lawyer. In it, he said this: “Think about where you were eight years ago; think of everything that’s happened in your life since then. That is why I will go, with gratitude, to any place that will have me.”
Three years have passed since Younis wrote that despairing letter.
Today, the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay turns eleven. For the 166 men still there, 2013 was rung in with the knowledge that unless there is a dramatic about-face in US policy or a resurgence of public outrage against this ongoing blight, they will certainly still be sitting there a year from now, and perhaps indefinitely into the future.
Why is nothing changing? Despite Obama’s pledge to close the prison in one of his first acts as president, he has just signed a bill into law that will effectively prevent any of the 166 men from leaving for yet another year. This includes the 56 men (including Younis) whom the government recently publicly listed as having been “cleared for transfer”— a process requiring unanimous decision-making by senior officials of no less than six US governmental agencies.
By signing the National Defense Authorisation Act for 2013, President Obama has ensured that a de facto ban on transfers from Guantánamo remains securely in place for another year. Given the current political inertia, the reality is that it could be far, far longer than just one more year.
Much has been written on the nitty-gritty details and minutia of the NDAA, and how its transfer restrictions have evolved and expanded since they were first included in 2011. Lost amidst all this legal jargon and political manoeuvrings is yet another—the eleventh—year of life for these 166 men.
Included among these men are Tunisians Hisham Sliti and Adel Hakeemy. Hisham and Adel watched the 2011 Tunisian revolution and transition to a democracy from afar. This historic moment of hope for their country should have brought new hope for them as well. The risk of torture under the former regime meant that they could not safely return home. But since the revolution and Ben Ali’s removal from power, Tunisian officials have repeatedly called for Hisham and Adel’s repatriation. Moreover the government has provided safe conditions for this to happen. The NDAA is the only obstacle preventing Adel and Hisham from returning to their homes and their families.
Meanwhile, the situation for Younis Chikkouri is darker. As a Moroccan, he fears torture and persecution if repatriated. As if the Sisyphean challenge of the NDAA wasn’t enough, Younis would also need to find a host country to offer him refuge. Recently Younis wrote: My lawyer has just been to see me here in Camp IV, and she says that it looks like this prison may not close for some time. It’s hard for me to express how disappointed I and the other prisoners here were about this—imagine the hope we all felt when President Obama took office! We thought our pain was finally coming to an end.
The plight of those in Syria at the hands of the Assad regime makes global headlines, daily. There are several Syrians in Guantánamo, including Abu Wael Dhiab. The ongoing civil war in Syria, which has taken an estimated 60,000 lives, makes return there impossible. As he worries about his family back home, Abu Wael sits trapped somewhere in the dark ether between US and global politics. The health of Abu Wa’el, a father of four, has deteriorated significantly over his ten years in Guantánamo. As a result of the conditions and treatment in custody, he is currently confined to a wheelchair.
Indefinite detention without charge or trial amounts to torture for those subjected. It is shameful that this practice is continuing into its eleventh year at Guantánamo, and that rather than abiding by its pledge to shutter this violation of US principles, Obama’s administration is in fact ensuring that it goes on and on, indefinitely.