U.N. calls on U.S. to close Guantánamo & punish "highest level" authorities, 7 years into Obama breaking his promise

"Impunity only generates more abuses," U.N. human rights experts say in a letter on Gitmo's 14th anniversary

Published January 13, 2016 6:51PM (EST)

  (Reuters/Shane T. McCoy)
(Reuters/Shane T. McCoy)

The Guantánamo Bay prison camp was opened in January 2002. On its 14th anniversary, the United Nations called on the U.S. to close the prison and prosecute officials for crimes committed there.

"The United States must clean up its own house — impunity only generates more abuses as States do not feel compelled to stop engaging in illegal practices," human rights experts from the U.N. and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe said in an open letter published Monday.

Seven years ago, Obama issued an executive order calling for an end to the prison within a year. He campaigned on the promise that he would close it, but broke that promise.

Today, approximately 100 prisoners remain at Guantánamo. Many have not been charged with a crime and have received no due process.

"These men have suffered years of arbitrary detention without trial, having been placed outside of the rule of law and the reach of United States regular courts," the U.N. said. "There has been no accountability from the authorities for the violations they have endured, both physical and mental, or any access to a remedy or compensation."

"The United States Government must end impunity for the violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed as part of the so-called 'war on terror,'" the human rights experts asserted.

In 2012, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay made it clear that U.S. practices at Guantánamo Bay blatantly violate international law, and called on the Obama administration to shut it down. Her condemnation was ignored.

"Everyone implicated, including at the highest level of authority, must be held accountable for ordering or executing extraordinary renditions, secret detention, arbitrary arrest of civilians and so-called 'enhanced interrogation techniques' in the name of combatting terrorism," the U.N. letter said.

The human rights experts also called for the U.S. to give freed detainees "full redress for violations of their freedom from arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment."

The letter cites the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on CIA torture, which documents how U.S. government officials have illegally used torture since the 9/11 attacks. In December, one year after the report was released, almost no one had actually read it, and it may be destroyed.

Obama says he has tried to close the prison, but insists Republican opposition has prevented him from doing so.

In his final State of the Union address on Tuesday night, Obama reaffirmed his commitment to shutting down Guantánamo, saying "it's expensive, it's unnecessary, and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies."

Lawyers who work with the detainees aren't buying Obama's rhetoric, however. British newspaper the Guardian reported that "Numerous defense lawyers working directly with Guantánamo detainees have told the Guardian that they hold Obama and his senior officials personally responsible for the lack of action."

"They see Obama's criticism of Congress as a smokescreen to obscure the fact that a primary source of the current inertia lies not on Capitol Hill but within his own administration," the Guardian wrote.

Caroline Fredrickson, president of the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, has made the same observations. It is "really important for people to remember is that President George W. Bush opened Guantánamo on his own say, without Congress, without any authorization, any legislation to do so," she explained in a Jan. 6 interview with Democracy Now.

President Obama "is fully within his executive authority to close Guantánamo without going through Congress, because of that very same power that George W. Bush used to open" it, the legal expert explained.

In its open letter, the U.N. implied that "arbitrary detention and lack of accountability for the mistreatment of current and former Guantánamo detainees" feeds violent extremism.

"To date, there has been little reflection, no lessons learned," the U.N. said, accusing the U.S. of not "having acknowledged, reflected and made amends for past violations of fundamental human rights."

"Long-term security can be regained if a page is turned on this dark chapter of post-September 11 practices in response to terrorism," the human right experts explained. "Transparency, accountability and the rule of law are tools that must ultimately prevail."

In addition to demanding that the U.S. shut down the prison, the U.N. called on Washington "to establish an independent oversight mechanism to receive complaints and review all allegations of torture and ill-treatment" and "to dismantle the military commissions at Guantánamo Bay."

Obama has just one year left to fulfill the promise he was elected on and close the prison camp.

Guantanamo 'Designed to Destroy a Human Being' - Former Inmate Shaker Aamer

By Ben Norton

Ben Norton is a politics reporter and staff writer at AlterNet. You can find him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.

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9/11 Aol_on Barack Obama Guantanamo Bay Human Rights United Nations