Twelve years ago this month, President George W. Bush issued an order authorizing the U.S. military to detain non-U.S. citizen “international terrorists” indefinitely, and try some of them in military commissions. Within two months, those seized in the “war on terror” following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan were being sent to Guantanamo Bay.
A dozen years later, the United States is preparing to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, ending “the longest war in American history,” as President Barack Obama observed on Veteran’s Day. Yet the Guantanamo prison — now notorious as the site of torture and other abuses — remains open.
Obama pledged to close Guantanamo as one of his first official acts in office. Yet nearly six years into his presidency, the prison continues to hold 164 foreign captives. Only three have been convicted of a crime.
The plan to end major combat operations in Afghanistan in 2014 means the government cannot put off closing down the Guantanamo prison any longer. Government officials and independent legal experts – including General Mark Martins, chief prosecutor of the military commissions at Guantanamo — have acknowledged that ending the war in Afghanistan raises serious questions about whether the United States retains the legal authority to continue to hold captives indefinitely.
Obama surely knows this, and to his credit, recently re-committed himself to following through on his 2009 pledge. He reiterated in May that Guantanamo should be closed, and subsequently appointed two new high-level envoys at the State and Defense Departments to help get the job done. He met with them earlier this month to pledge his support.