Calling the U.S. military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a “symbol of lawlessness and human rights abuses,” two dozen U.S. senators are urging President Biden to shut it down quickly and find new homes for the 40 men remaining there. Many of the detainees have been confined at Guantánamo for nearly two decades without being tried or charged, and some have been cleared for release but are still being held.
In a letter sent to Biden on Friday and reviewed by NPR, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin and 23 of his Democratic-voting colleagues outlined immediate steps they believe the administration should take to close the secretive, deteriorating island detention facility. Among them:
- Reestablish the State Department office, dismantled by the Trump administration, that negotiates with foreign governments to transfer Guantánamo prisoners to other countries.
- Begin negotiating overseas transfers for the six men already approved for release as well as for any detainees who will not be charged with crimes.
- Use the U.S. federal courts to pursue plea agreements with detainees who can be federally charged and let them serve any remaining prison time overseas.
- Have the Justice Department conduct plea agreements remotely via videoconference since current federal law prohibits Guantánamo prisoners from entering the U.S. for any reason.
The senators said in the letter that Guantánamo “has damaged America’s reputation, fueled anti-Muslim bigotry, and weakened the United States’ ability to counter terrorism and fight for human rights and the rule of law around the world.” As a result, they wrote, “it is past time” to shutter the prison, which opened in 2002, and “end indefinite detention.”
Biden’s likelihood of success at closing Guantánamo is unclear. His efforts are applauded by human rights groups but criticized by several Senate Republicans, who say releasing the prisoners would endanger the country. Former President Barack Obama never fulfilled his pledge to shut down Guantánamo due to vehement Republican opposition.