Wednesday marked the tenth annivesary of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST backgrounder]. On January 11, 2002, 20 detainees arrived at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, imprisoned as the first "enemy combatants" in the War on Terror declared by the US after 9/11 [JURIST backgrounder]. The 20 men were the first of nearly 800 prisoners to pass through the US military detention center over 10 years, and the prison has evolved into a multimillion dollar facility since its inception. Edwin Meese III, attorney general under Ronald Reagan, calls [CNN op-ed] the detention and interrogation facility a "world-class, state-of-the-art" necessity that "has served and continues to serve an important role in the war against terrorists since it opened 10 years ago." Meese says Guantanamo has "played an invaluable role in the war against terrorists by keeping them off the battlefield and allowing for lawful interrogations" and it should remain open "until a safe, reasonable alternative facility" is fashioned. Conversely, many see Guantanamo's continued operation as an affront to the principles under which the US was founded, and advocacy groups around the world have called for the center's closure. Amnesty International (AI) has prepared a tenth anniversary report [text, PDF] condemning Guantanamo, stating its practices "continue to inflict serious damage on global respect for human rights." Human Rights Watch (HRW) writes [press release] that it opposes the prolonged indefinite detention without trial of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere" and sent a letter to President Obama [text] urging him "to reaffirm his stated commitment to closing Guantanamo by prosecuting detainees in federal court and repatriating and resettling those who will not be prosecuted." The ACLU states [press release] unequivocally, "Guantanamo has been a catastrophic failure on every front. It is long past time for this shameful episode in American history to be brought to a close." UK Prime Minister David Cameron marked the anniversary in Parliament by stating that Britain is working "very hard" with the US to help close Guantanamo, and a UK columnist writes [Guardian report] that Guantanamo's continued operation after 10 years is "mocking America's claim to moral supremacy and acting as a powerful recruiting tool for the country's enemies." Moazzam Begg, a 43-year-old British Muslim and former Guantanamo inmate, claims he was wrongly detained, abused and tortured in US custody. Begg observed the tenth anniversary by predicting that Guantanamo will never close [CNN report], and to hope otherwise is simply fantasy.
Currently 171 detainees [NYT docket] are held at Guantanamo. The Obama administration originally wanted suspected terrorists to be tried before a federal civilian court, but changed its position after Congress imposed a series of restrictions [JURIST reports] barring the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the US, despite repeated appeals from rights groups to utilize civilian courts over military commissions. Last March, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism Martin Scheinin [official website] called on the Obama administration to hold civilian trials [JURIST report] for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other suspected terrorists saying that the military commissions system is fatally flawed and cannot be reformed. Earlier that month, the ACLU released a full-page advertisement in the New York Times urging President Barack Obama [JURIST report] to uphold his pledge to try 9/11 suspects in civilian criminal court. That release came just days after White House advisers announced they were considering recommending [JURIST report] that Mohammed be tried in a military court rather than through the civilian criminal justice system. In an interview in 2010, Holder stated that the main goal of the administration is to hold the people responsible [JURIST report] for 9/11 accountable in the most effective way possible. Holder reiterated his support for holding the trials in civilian courts [JURIST report], saying that the criminal justice system has been proven an effective location for terrorism trials and that excluding civilian courts as a possible tool in fighting terrorism would ultimately weaken the nation's security. Holder announced in November 2009 that Mohammed would be tried in a civilian court [JURIST report] in Manhattan, drawing intense criticism and leading the Obama administration to reconsider the decision.