Skip to main content

Today is the 21st anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, an enduring reminder of America’s failed war on terror.

The prison, created to evade the rights and protections guaranteed to individuals under both domestic and international law, has only ever been a strategic, financial, and moral failing for our nation. Its continued operation is a stain on the United States.

A Violation of the Rule of Law

On Jan. 11, 2002, the George W. Bush administration opened the detention facility at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to detain terrorism suspects captured as part of the so-called global war on terror. The administration chose this location to avoid judicial oversight of the prison, preventing detainees from exercising their basic human right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention.

Guantanamo has only ever been a strategic, financial, and moral failing for our nation.

As we later learned, there was no legal basis to hold many Guantanamo detainees. Those who were held illegally include 22 Chinese Uyghurs who had no role in fighting the United States and were handed over to U.S. authorities in Pakistan for bounties of $5,000 per person.

Many Guantanamo detainees had been held in secret CIA torture sites around the world, with proponents of their unlawful treatment arguing it was necessary to go to the “dark side” to prevent another 9/11-style attack on U.S. soil. This logic, however, was repudiated by interrogation experts and the horrific abuse, euphemistically rebranded as “enhanced interrogation techniques,” failed to produce valuable intelligence—only botched confessions and tainted court evidence.

A Perpetual Failure

The prison’s continued operation is an embarrassment and a constant reminder of the botched militarized response to the threat of international terrorism. The Guantanamo military commissions, established to try detainees for war crimes, have failed to deliver justice. The five defendants accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks have been in pre-trial hearings for over a decade. In comparison, federal courts have convicted over 600 people on terror charges since 2001, including over 100 who were captured overseas.

Guantanamo has also been a strain on resources. Over its 21 years of operation, it has cost an average of $540 million a year, making it the most expensive prison in history. That comes out to over $15 million per detainee per year. Costs will only continue to climb, as dilapidated facilities require increasingly expensive replacement.

The prison has been used repeatedly in propaganda by groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda,

The world has not been made safer by Guantanamo. The prison has been used repeatedly in propaganda by groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda, who exploit its horrors to recruit scores of others into terror groups worldwide. It has actively harmed American interests abroad.

The Path Forward

President Joe Biden came into office pledging to close Guantanamo. Only five men have been transferred since that time. Yet, while progress on closure has been frustrating, the challenge of closing Guantanamo is only getting smaller. Only 35 detainees remain, with 21 cleared for transfer.

We call on the Biden administration to expeditiously transfer the remaining cleared detainees, seek prompt resolution for those who have or can be criminally charged, and close this shameful symbol of America’s legal, moral, and ethical failure once and for all.

Staff: Kevin Snow

Kevin Snow

Program Assistant, Militarism and Human Rights (2022-2023)
Kevin Snow is the program assistant for Militarism and Human Rights. He lobbies for policy reforms that protect civilian life in conflict zones and to end America’s Forever Wars.