Guantanamo Bay and an unending war on terror

Here and Now

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It’s been nearly two years since the President signed the executive order shutting down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. But the new National Defense Authorization Act currently being debated Congress contains provisions that would declare an ongoing war on terror, which would require ongoing detention of enemy combatants.

“These provisions do the very thing that President Bush tried to do 10 years ago, in 2001, and Congress said no,” according to Sabin Willett, lawyer for the law firm Bingham McCutchen who has represented Guantanamo Detainees, “and that is to declare in affect a war on terror.”

The US has not officially declared war on terrorism Willett told Here and Now, but this new bill would do just that. It would create a “permanent enemy,” he says, and “if you create a permanent enemy, then you create permanent targeting of that enemy, the use of military force against that enemy, and most importantly from my perspective, detention of that enemy.”

Many in Congress have been pushing to turn many different kinds of prosecutions into military activities, according to Willett. He believes that’s wrongheaded. “In 10 years, we’ve had six cases in military commissions. During the same time, the federal courts have prosecuted 400 terrorism cases,” Willett says. “Military commissions don’t work. Federal prosecutions for terrorism do work.”

For now, however, detainees continue to languish in Guantanamo Bay, even ones who have been cleared for release. “We don’t really have an effective judicial review anymore,” Willett says, “although people think we do.” He points to a group of Yemenis who have been cleared for release, but because the country where they’re from has been dubbed unstable, they remain in Guantanamo.

“The only way out of Guantanamo is political,” according to Willett. “You have to have a settlement approved by the President’s state department. If you have political pressure operating the other way, as you might with the Yemenis, you don’t go anywhere.”


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