July 11, 2018, Washington, D.C. – Today, lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) argued before a federal judge in a challenge to Donald Trump’s ongoing detention of men at Guantánamo. On the 16th anniversary of the prison’s opening, CCR, Reprieve, and co-counsel submitted a collective filing on behalf of 11 detainees, arguing that their perpetual detention, based on Trump’s proclamation that he will not release anyone from Guantánamo regardless of their circumstances, is arbitrary and unlawful. CCR asked the judge to order their release. The motions of eight of the 11 men were referred to Judge Hogan of the district court in Washington, D.C., who heard the argument today.
“Our dangerous experiment in indefinite detention, after 16 years, has run its course,” said CCR Legal Director Baher Azmy, who argued today. “Due process of law does not permit the arbitrary detention of individuals, particularly at the hands of a president like Donald Trump, who has pledged to prevent any releases from Guantánamo. That position is based not on a meaningful assessment of any actual threat, but on Trump’s animosity towards Muslims, including these foreign-born prisoners at Guantanamo—the height of arbitrariness. Short of judicial intervention, Trump will succeed.”
Azmy told the court that, 16 years into Guantánamo’s operation, any legitimate rationale for detaining these men has expired. Indeed, two of the men who joined the challenge are cleared for transfer by the government; despite that, they, like other detainees, face the prospect of life in prison. Others are aging and in ill health. Last month, the prison’s commanders told reporters that they were planning for 25-35 more years of detention operations, including construction of a prison hospice wing.
“The government says my detention is legal because of the indefinite war against terrorism. When terrorism ends, the war will end. So, never,” said Sharqawi Al Hajj, a 43 year-old Yemeni who joined the motion and has been detained without charge since 2002. “Even though I expected such a response, I was still shocked at the idea that I am such a threat that the government wants to keep me here at a cost of millions every year.
“Let’s even assume I did wrong 17 years ago, but that I want to change and have changed. Where is there room for that? The government doesn’t want to hear about it.”
Al Hajj, a CCR client, who is sick and on hunger strike, continued, “I feel like I am dead but still breathing. Seventeen years have gone from my life. I’ve been deprived of my family. Every day I have a new ailment. If I think about it too much I’ll lose my mind.
“I’m asking the judge to protect justice. I don’t present a threat. Show me how I can convince you that I don’t pose a threat to anybody. Just show me the way and I will follow it.”
Al Hajj joined a request by the eight detainees whose motion was heard today to be able to listen from Guantánamo to their hearing, which was denied. The government opposed the request, stating that Guantánamo does not have an adequate number of rooms or phones to accommodate the request by the eight men.
Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, who acts as legal counsel for Reprieve’s seven clients, including Towfiq Bihani and Abdullatif Nasser, who have been cleared for release, said, “Keeping these men behind bars forever, when the government’s own investigators have determined that they committed no crime and pose no threat, is a shocking violation of the USA’s founding principles.
“Guantánamo Bay is a global symbol of injustice. It has made us less safe, at huge expense to taxpayers, while doing lasting damage to the USA’s reputation as a beacon for fairness and liberty.”
For more information, visit CCR’s resource page.
The Center for Constitutional Rights has led the legal battle over Guantánamo for more than 16 years – representing clients in two Supreme Court cases and organizing and coordinating hundreds of pro bono lawyers across the country, ensuring that all the men detained at Guantánamo have had the option of legal representation. CCR is responsible for many Guantánamo cases in many venues, representing men in their habeas cases in federal court and before the military commissions and Periodic Review Boards, the families of men who died at Guantánamo, and men who have been released and are seeking accountability in international courts.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.