On Friday, The Constitution Project held a discussion concerning the transfer or charging of prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention center. The Constitution Project released an extensive report in April on the facility. More than 100 prisoners continue to participate in the hunger strike that started February 6. Twenty-one are being force fed via tubes inserted through the nose and down into the stomach.
The hunger strike has renewed focus on the detention facility, with President Obama calling for its closure in April. At Friday’s hearing, Rep. James Moran of Virginia, military personnel, and attorneys representing Guantanamo Bay prisoners all called for the transfer of the 86 cleared men as well as the closure of the facility. “It should never have come into existence,” said Moran in his opening remarks.
Moran, a Democrat, called on President Obama to use his executive authority to begin the process of closing the detention center. He also admitted Congress’ role in derailing the president’s earlier efforts: “Now, yes, Congress has constrained the president’s options for closing this detention facility, but President Obama still retains the authority to do so should he wish to choose to fully exercise his existing power and authority. He does have the authority to do so.”
Attorney for the Center on Constitutional Rights Pardiss Kebriaei, who represents current and former detainees as well as their family members, echoed Moran’s call to Obama. Kebriaei said both the president and the Secretary of Defense must address current conditions at the prison. Conditions have worsened during the hunger strike: prisoners now face 22-23 hours-per-day in solitary confinement, recreation time in a caged pen, prohibition from group prayer, and are deprived of basic necessities including toothpaste, toothbrush, and soap. “Some of our clients have said they would rather die than live like this,” said Kebriaei. Addressing the ongoing hunger strike, Kebriaei said the efforts are not acts of suicide, “but acts of a last resort to be heard, and for release.”
Colonel Morris Davis, who served as the chief prosecutor at the prison from 2005-2007, has been calling for the facility’s closure and has amassed more than 188,000 signatures on his petition on Change.org. Prisoners in Guantanamo “should be prosecuted in federal court where it’s been fast, efficient,” said Davis. He noted that critics of trying detainees in the U.S. sometimes cite the case of Ahmed Ghailani, who was acquitted of all but one of the 280 charges brought against him in civilian court in regards to the 1998 bombing of U.S. Embassies in East Africa. However, said Davis, Ghailani received life without parole in a maximum security prison for that one offense.
Davis spoke of the twisted justice system inside Guantanamo. The military commissions there have overseen seven convictions of prisoners after a trial or plea deal; however, five of the prisoners convicted of war crimes have returned home. “Our joke at Guantanamo was you gotta lose to win, ‘cause if you get charged as a war criminal, convicted and lose you might go home. If you don’t get charged you can sit there for the rest of your life.”