The US’ practice of holding people without charge or trial indefinitely has just become more definite. A problem which Obama promised to sort out as his first act as President has just become more intractable. The State Department office responsible for shuttering Guantánamo has just itself been shuttered.
The hushed and largely overlooked State Department ”departmental notice”—released in the media dead zone of late Friday afternoon—quietly announces that the Office for the Special Envoy for the Closure of Guantánamo Bay has been, ironically, closed. It is impossible to read this as anything but the final nail in the coffin of Administration efforts to rectify the abuses and illegalities of Guantánamo.
Whereas the closure of the Office for the Special Envoy was unceremoniously communicated through an internal State Department announcement, its establishment nearly four years ago had warranted considerable fanfare. A State Department press release from its establishment on 12 March 2009 states: “In order to carry out President Obama’s commitment to close the detention facility at Guantánamo within one year, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has determined we need to intensify our efforts to facilitate the transfer of detainees. Secretary Clinton therefore has asked Ambassador Daniel Fried, a seasoned diplomat with a strong record of accomplishment, to lead a dedicated team to address this issue full-time.”
How times have changed for the Obama Administration. Having faced opposition from a fear-mongering Congress, the Administration has turned tail and fled from its promises.
One person for whom times have not changed is Abu Wa’el Dhiab—a Syrian just entering his eleventh year at Guantánamo. Neither Abu Wa’el nor anyone else can explain what he’s still doing there. He has never been charged with a crime, and of course without being charged, he cannot have a trial.
For years, Abu Wa’el has been cleared through the process by which an alphabet soup of defence, intelligence and security agencies (CIA, FBI, Department of Justice, Department of Defense, Department of State, and the Department of Homeland Security) determine whether Guantánamo inmates are or could possibly be a threat to Americans, America or its allies. They all agree: Abu Wa’el is not a threat. Being denied a trial, this is as close as he will get to any sort of admission that he is innocent—in fact held in error all these years.
While times have not changed for Abu Wa’el—despite being cleared and despite Obama’s promises and executive orders—times have changed for his family. He is a father of four and his family has had to flee from village to village over the past months to escape a conflict which has already claimed more than 60,000 lives.
Everyone agrees that Abu Wa’el cannot safely be repatriated to war-torn Syria, so he sits in Guantánamo, tortured by worry for his family, with nowhere to go. Recently an Argentine newspaper ran a story highlighting his family connections to Argentina and his need for resettlement. Now that the State Department Office tasked with finding him a place to go has been closed, who will negotiate with the government of Argentina for his resettlement? More pointedly, what kind of shadow argument can Obama now cling to in his protestations that he continues to look for a way to close Guantanamo?
Regardless, the result for Abu Wa’el is that he remains, indefinitely detained without charge or trial, as he has since Bush’s Administration created the Guantánamo detention regime.