“[It’s] like we’re buried alive.” That’s how CCR client Sharqawi Al Hajj describes his imprisonment at Guantánamo, as a cemetery. Before he was brought to the island prison, Sharqawi was disappeared, rendered, and tortured in secret prisons for over two years. He has been at Guantánamo for fourteen years. During that time he has gotten older and sicker, and he worries he may not leave alive. Like the vast majority of the forty prisoners left, Sharqawi has never been charged with a crime.
How much longer can the U.S. government indefinitely detain these Muslim men?
That’s the question CCR is asking a federal court in Washington, DC. This Wednesday, CCR will argue on behalf of Sharqawi and a group of men in a mass legal challenge to Donald Trump’s Guantánamo policies, which we filed in January on the 16th anniversary of the prison’s opening. Trump boasts about his desire to expand the prison and has made it clear he has no intention of releasing more prisoners regardless of individual facts and circumstances, such as whether someone is already approved for transfer. For the petitioners in this case, this could mean at least three, or worse, seven more years of detention, because of executive fiat. This policy is not based on reason or law. It is motivated by Trump’s hatred toward prisoners at Guantánamo, all foreign-born Muslim men, and Muslims more broadly, and it is a dramatic departure from his predecessors who believed the prison should close.
In court, we will argue that perpetual, non-criminal detention like that of Sharqawi and the other petitioners violates the Due Process Clause of the Constitution. Their detention, of between 12-16 years without charge or a clear end, is arbitrary and unlawful. It also violates the 2001 Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF), which was enacted almost seventeen years ago and is still used this day to justify our clients’ continued imprisonment. The statute never contemplated perpetual detention connected to an amorphous and global conflict that may never end. Our clients have been detained longer than the duration of any prior military conflict in U.S. history. The government maintains that the continuing detention of these men for up to 16 years without charge or trial, and without a prospect of release, is normal. But it is not normal.
“The status quo at Guantánamo is human suffering,” wrote the Center for Victims of Torture in an amicus brief to the court in the case.
Guantánamo was created to be a prison outside of the law. It is only because the Supreme Court checked the power of President Bush and Congress that prisoners at Guantánamo have the right to go to court and challenge their detention. Under Obama, the courts, and the public, viewed that same expansion of executive power and detention authority as less threatening. But now Guantánamo is in Trump’s hands, and it is in an even more precarious legal and political space than ever before.
“After 15 years without charges, I deserve justice,” Sharqawi wrote. He’s right. It is time again for the courts to take a stand, and intervene.