Still, 166 detainees remain at Guantanamo. Of those, 86 have been cleared to return to their home countries, but diplomatic impasses, the Obama administration’s aversion to returning individuals to Yemen and congressional opposition have halted transfers out of the prison. Much as in 2002, when Guantanamo Bay opened, the prison — and America’s indefinite detention policy — remain under a cloud of indecision and paralysis.
2. It’s impossible to close Guantanamo.
Resettling the detainees in their home countries or in other nations is a matter of political will on the part of the president, realism on the part of Congress and trust in the nation’s sizable counterterrorism measures. But it is doable.
Obama pledged this past week to renew his push for Congress to reduce restrictions on prisoner transfers. The president could start by finding allies who might change their minds, as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)did last month, and support reversing the ban on transferring detainees to Yemen. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel could exercise the authority provided by Congress in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 to waive the restrictions and approve the transfer of some of the individuals cleared for release to countries other than those with confirmed cases of recidivism.
Finally, recidivism must be seen for the red herring that it is. According to government estimates, only a small percentage of released detainees have returned to violence. If need be, our intelligence services and those of foreign governments can identify and track released detainees. Terror threats can be monitored and managed without keeping individuals in indefinite detention, especially when there isn’t enough information to charge them with crimes.
3. Guantanamo detainees have been treated more harshly than inmates in federal prisons.
Until the recent confrontations between guards and prisoners, Guantanamo held most of its detainees in relatively lenient conditions, especially compared with federal prisons. Terrorism suspects in pretrial and post-conviction custody in the United States — at the supermax prison in Colorado or at other maximum-security prisons — are often kept in areas that are versions of solitary confinement. Communication is severely limited, and in many instances, only one hour in 24 is spent in the light of day.
As recently as this past fall, as many as 130 Guantanamo detainees were living in communal areas, many with access to Skype, television and a soccer field. This more relaxed policy was based on the premise that creature comforts could compensate for the lack of hope and due process afforded to the detainees. Yet since the hunger strikes began in February, conditions have become harsher. The recent turn toward feeding tubes, individual cells and violence between detainees and guards has made Guantanamo more like a dungeon, its inmates tormented by lives without resolution or release.