Guantanamo, a prison built for those detained in America’s never-ending Global War on Terror, has been open for almost 21 years. Will America’s forever prison finally close?

By Karen J. Greenberg, TomDispatch

As of December 8, 2022, Guantánamo Bay detention facility — a prison offshore of American justice and built for those detained in this country’s never-ending Global War on Terror — has been open for nearly 21 years (or, to be precise, 7,627 days). Thirteen years ago, I published a book, The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First 100 Days. It told the story of the military officers and staff who received the prison’s initial detainees at that U.S. naval base on the island of Cuba early in 2002. Like the hundreds of prisoners that followed, they would largely be held without charges or trial for years on end.

Washington – January 11, 2019: Witness Against Torture activists demonstrating at the White House calling for the closing of the Guantánamo Bay detention camp on the 17th anniversary of its opening.

Ever since then, time and again, I’ve envisioned writing the story of its ultimate closure, its last days. Today, eyeing the moves made by the Biden administration, it seems reasonable to review the past record of that prison’s seemingly never-ending existence, the failure of three presidents to close it, and what if anything is new when it comes to one of the more striking scenes of ongoing injustice in American history.

The Beginning

When, in January 2002, those first planes landed at Guantánamo (which we came to know as Gitmo), the hooded, shackled, goggled, and diapered prisoners in them were described by the Pentagon as “the worst of the worst.” In truth, however, most of them were neither top leaders of al-Qaeda nor, in many cases, even members of that terrorist group. Initially housed at Camp X-Ray in open-air cages without plumbing, dressed in those now-iconic orange jumpsuits, the detainees descended into a void, with little or no prison policies to guide their captors. When Brigadier General Michael Lehnert, the man in charge of the early detention operation, asked Washington for guidelines and regulations to run the prison camp, Pentagon officials assured him that they were still on the drawing board, but that adhering in principle to the “spirit of the Geneva Conventions” was, at least, acceptable.

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