Trump’s Blanket Refusal to Release Any Detainee Amounts to Arbitrary Detention, Lawsuit Says
January 11, 2018, Washington, D.C. – Today, on the 16th anniversary of the Guantánamo prison’s opening, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Reprieve, and co-counsel filed a major challenge to Donald Trump’s continued detention of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. The collective filing, on behalf of 11 men, argues that Trump’s proclamation against releasing anyone from Guantánamo, regardless of their circumstances, which has borne out for the first full year of the Trump presidency, is arbitrary and unlawful and amounts to “perpetual detention for detention’s sake.”
“It’s clear that a man who thinks we should water-board terror suspects even if it doesn’t work, because ‘they deserve it, anyway’ has no qualms about keeping every last detainee in Guantanamo, so long as he holds the jailhouse key,” said CCR Senior Staff Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei, who represents Sharqawi Al Hajj, one of the prisoners participating in today’s filing. “Continuing, still indefinite detention after all this time is unprecedented and experimental. Another three or seven years under President Trump may mean a death sentence for men like Sharqawi Al Hajj, who is in poor health and damaged by past torture.”
The filing argues that continued detention is unconstitutional because any legitimate rationale for initially detaining these men has long since expired; detention now, 16 years into Guantánamo’s operation, is based only on Trump’s raw antipathy towards Guantánamo prisoners – all foreign-born Muslim men – and Muslims more broadly. CCR notes that Donald Trump’s proclamation that he will not release any detainees during his administration reverses the approach and policies of both President Bush and President Obama, who collectively released nearly 750 men. Trump’s blanket policy guarantees three, or even seven, more years of imprisonment unless the courts intervene now.
“President Trump has said torture works. He’s wrong. Prisoner abuse like waterboarding, sleep deprivation, dog leashes, sexual humiliation all send us tumbling into the filth where our sworn enemies live, and it legitimizes their struggle in the eyes of their followers even as it delegitimizes us in the eyes of the world,” said Mark Fallon, former NCIS Deputy Assistant Director for Counterterrorism, who served as the Deputy Commander of the DOD task force President Bush established to bring suspected terrorists to justice before Military Commissions at Guantanamo Bay, and author of Unjustifiable Means: The Inside Story of How the CIA, Pentagon and US Government Conspired to Torture. “Guantanamo Bay serves as a symbol of torture, injustice and oppression. The prison should be shuttered, the rule of law should be restored and we should adhere to our obligations to hold those responsible accountable.”
Some of the men participating in today’s filing have been detained in Guantánamo for nearly 16 years without charge or trial—detention that has spanned three presidential administrations and five presidential terms. Two of the petitioners have in fact been approved for transfer, narrowly missing their chance at release in the final days of the Obama administration.
Reprieve attorney Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, who represents prisoners at Guantánamo, said, “Since Guantánamo opened, it’s been clear to all – including U.S. officials – that the detainees were being held on the basis of mistakes, faulty evidence, and forced ‘confessions’. The U.S. has had 16 years to build a case against these men, and yet 28 of 41 prisoners are held without charge or a trial of any kind – a shocking violation of America’s founding principles. If the president won’t close Guantánamo, then the other branches of government must take action instead to finally restore the rule of law.”
Speakers at a press conference this morning announcing the filing included Ms. Kebriaei; Mr. Fallon; Center for Constitutional Rights Legal Director Baher Azmy; and habeas attorney Thomas Anthony Durkin, Partner, Durkin & Roberts, Chicago, Illinois. Ambassador Lee Wolosky, former U.S. Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure, was also present and addressed Guantanamo policy generally. Neither Ambassador Wolosky nor his law firm, Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, is involved with the court filing, nor is Mr. Fallon.
Also today, human rights activists, torture survivors, Guantánamo attorneys, 9/11 family members, and members of diverse faith communities rallied outside the White House to mark the 16th anniversary and the continued operation of the Guantánamo Bay prison. Read the coalition press release about today’s rally here.