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Will Biden Be the President Who Finally Closes Guantanamo Bay?

In a press briefing on Feb. 12, the White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki declared that Biden’s administration was working on “a robust interagency process” that would allow them to close the Guantánamo Bay Detention Center in Cuba, officially known as Naval Station Guantanamo Bay (NSGB) or GTMO.

“That certainly is our goal and our intention,” Ms. Psaki replied when asked if the process was to be complete by the end of Biden’s term — but goals and intentions are not enough. 

The reiterated talk about closing GTMO has been going on since the tenure of President George W. Bush. On various occasions, Mr. Bush voiced his intentions and aspirations about closing GTMO — not to mention, the failed attempts and promises President Obama made about closing it for years, ever since he was first elected in January 2009. 

Although Ms. Psaki couldn’t give a certain timeline for the process itself, she added that there were “many players from different agencies who need to be part of this policy discussion about the steps forward.” 

National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne told Reuters that the NSC is going to make progress with Departments of State, Defense, and Justice, and will be “in close consultation with Congress.”

GTMO is eleven months away from its 20th anniversary, marking 20 years of not only the nefarious U.S. violations of international law and human rights, but also the egregious abuses that the CIA committed with the detainees there — something Obama acknowledged before leaving office.

“Keeping this facility open is contrary to our values,” Obama said on February 23, 2016. “It undermines our standing in the world. It is viewed as a stain on our broader record of upholding the highest standards of rule of law,” he added. 

GTMO is eleven months away from its 20th anniversary, marking 20 years of not only the nefarious U.S. violations of international law and human rights, but also the egregious abuses that the CIA committed with the detainees there

On September 18, 2019, Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One that his administration was “looking into a lot of things” regarding the situation in Guantánamo Bay when asked if he knew that keeping the detention running costed the U.S. $13 million a year for each inmate. 

“I know about that. I think it’s crazy….It costs a fortune to operate it, and I think it’s crazy,” Mr. Trump said.

Earlier in 2016, Mr. Trump said he would keep GTMO operating and “load it up with some bad dudes” — which contradicts the fact that he later blamed Obama for being unable to close GTMO and leaving his administration “stuck with it.” Trump often emphasized his support for using enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, when dealing with detainees. “I like it a lot. I don’t think it’s tough enough,” Mr. Trump said back during the U.S. election as his base erupted in cheers over his answer.

Over the past decade, the CIA used enhanced interrogation techniques with detainees, and hid from Congress the fact that the base was used as a black site. Abu Zubaydah — a Palestinian senior member of Al-Qaeda whose real name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn and the first detainee to be subject to the interrogation program that used to be approved by Mr. Bush’s administration — drew self-portraits of various interrogation techniques he, as well as other detainees, were subjected to — such as waterboarding, stress positions, short shackling, walling, large and small confinement boxes, and sleep deprivation — during his detention in Guantánamo Bay’s Camp 7, a secret base that none of the reporters was allowed to visit. 

The CIA’s violations also included desacralization of Qur’an. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) cited a detainee, interviewed in August 2002, who said guards had flushed a copy of the Quran in a toilet.

The New York Times revealed that Mr. Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times, and was the first to be “crammed into a small confinement box.” 

The CIA’s violations also included desacralization of Qur’an. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) cited a detainee, interviewed in August 2002, who said guards had flushed a copy of the Quran in a toilet.

This isn’t the only case in which the U.S. openly violated international law and committed human rights abuses. If anything, the war crimes that the U.S. has committed in Iraq is also a living symbol of the brutality of the U.S. foreign policy. And, on that account, Obama stating “As Americans, we pride ourselves on being a beacon to other nations, a model of the rule of law” is rather ironic and  paradoxical.

On the same day, Obama voiced his concern regarding the cost of keeping GTMO open. “It drains military resources, with nearly $450 million spent last year alone to keep it running,” he said. “And more than $200 million in additional costs needed to keep it open going forward for less than 100 detainees.”

President Biden has quite recently discarded the human rights violations committed by China with the Uyghurs as something “cultural,” and would depend on “the UN and other agencies that have an impact on their attitude” — which reflects that he has set priorities for his plan other than human rights. And, on a closer look, he has taken office during a time when the U.S. is facing an economic crisis, and has demonstrated that fact on various occasions. 

As made clear by President Biden and his predecessors, the “closing a [dark] chapter in our history” kind of talk is not the main motive underlying the attempts to close the base in Guantánamo Bay. Rather, it’s the cost that the taxpayers pay on it that makes the situation momentous for all of them. This is unsurprising for a society that routinely puts profit over people — but it’s downright hypocritical of the United States to position itself as a harbinger of human rights whilst simultaneously committing egregious human rights violations. One way or another, it’s time for GTMO to close.