Closing its Doors? A Look At The Recent Release of Prisoners From Guantanamo Bay Detention Centre

It is no secret that President of the United States, Barack Obama, has been desperately trying to close down Guantanamo Bay, the American military prison and detention centre in Cuba, since taking office in January 2009.

Image courtesy of Gino Reyes, no rights reserved.

Image courtesy of Gino Reyes, no rights reserved.

The first detainees arrived at Guantanamo Bay on 11 January 2002 under the command of former U.S. President George W. Bush. Obama has been pushing to close the prison throughout his two-terms in office, but has faced widespread outrage and resistance from Congress.

While the prison may have seemed necessary in the years immediately following the 9/11 terror attacks in New York City, fourteen years later it seems to be incoherent with international law and its closure has been argued to be long overdue.

It also poses as a substantial economic burden to America. Guantanamo Bay costs $445 million to run annually, 30 times more expensive than what it costs to keep prisoners on U.S. soil, making it the most expensive prison on Earth.

Back in January 2009, Obama issued an executive order directing Guantanamo Bay to be closed and the detainees to be relocated to prisoners across the U.S. But, Congress has vehemently opposed this action.

Congressional leaders warned that the detainees should not be released as they pose a direct threat U.S. national security, and that they should never be transferred to U.S. soil. One of the most stated concerns by U.S. senators is that released detainees will ‘re-enter the fight’ against America. The State Department issued a statement reassuring that only a small number of Guantanamo prisoners who have been released have re-engaged with terrorist organisations. Before Obama took office, 19 per cent were ‘confirmed to have re-engaged’ but after Obama took office, the percentage dropped to 6.8 per cent.

The question remains if Obama will succeed in transferring the remaining detainees out of the prison and if Congress will allow Guantanamo Bay to be closed once and for all. The prison is a seemingly ‘black mark’ on the U.S.’s international record, with claims made against the U.S. and its military prisons of maltreatment, abuse, and unlawful detention

Obama has said himself, that if the U.S. would like to retain its position as the leader of the ‘Free World’ valuing liberty, justice, and democracy, it must adhere to the international norms and principles which govern that world ideology. As such, the U.S. cannot have Guantanamo Bay if it is going to criticize countries like Syria on humanitarian grounds.

Just this month, on 17 April 2016, nine prisoners were released from Guantanamo Bay. The prisoners, all of whom were Yemenis, were transferred from Cuba to Saudi Arabia. The reason for not being returned to their home country is because the current state of Yemen is considered too unstable amidst the on and off-again ceasefire and simmering civil war.

In 2016 alone, individual prisoners were transferred from Guantanamo Bay to Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kuwait, Ghana and ten were transferred to Oman.

At its peak, 780 people were detained in the military prison. Over the last 14 years, detainees have been transferred from Cuba to Middle Eastern countries like Afghanistan (203), Pakistan (63), Yemen (16), Iraq (5), and Iran (1). In addition, numerous prisoners were transferred to Western nations, including Britain (15), France (9), Germany (2), Belgium (2), and the United States (2) and Canada (1).

The citizenship of detainees is overwhelmingly Afghani, with 220 of the 780 detainees hailing from Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia comes in second, with 135 detainees being Saudi nationals. While a large percentage of the remaining detainees originate from Yemen, Pakistan, and Algeria.

Although the White House has not provided a list of past and present detainees, the New York Times provided a list entitled, The Guantanamo Docket, listing the 780 prisoners suspected to have been held in the Guantanamo Bay prison since 2002.

The BBC reported that all of the prisoners that were recently released will undergo a rehabilitation program in Saudi Arabia in an attempt to help them reintegrate back into society. Most of them have been held in the prison for over a decade, and will have sustained potential extended periods of mistreatment, may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders, and require psychiatric treatment.

This recent release is Obama’s final push to try and close the prison for good. But, despite the April 2016 release, 80 prisoners remain in the prison. Furthermore another 26 detainees have been approved to leave the US naval base by the end of the summer.

Obama will remain in office until the end of 2016, and we shall see if Guantanamo Bay will close its doors as Obama walks out of the White Houses’ doors for the very last time.