Twenty years after the 9/11 attacks, the American “war on terror” continues somewhere in the hills of southeastern Cuba, in a place known as Guantanamo Bay.
Within months of the 2001 attacks, the United States rounded up hundreds of people suspected of links to al Qaeda, the organization behind the terrorist attacks, and transferred them to a U.S. naval base.
They were described as “enemy fighters”, deprived of their rights and set as the only timetable for their release – if there ever will be – as then-US Vice President Dick Cheney put it, “the end of the war on terror.” , which officially continues.
Today, most of the 780 suspects, who were imprisoned in more cage-like cells, have been released, in many cases over a decade, without charge.
There remain 39, some of them with a promise of release that never materialized, some still looking forward to it.
Twelve of them are considered dangerous by Washington, most notably Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who allegedly orchestrated the 9/11 attacks..
Under President Joe Biden, their trials resumed after a delay caused mainly by the coronavirus pandemic.
The trial of Sheikh Mohammed and four other defendants began today, just days before the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks and after a 17-month hiatus.
Their trial before a special military tribunal began at the point where it had stopped, with the defense complaining that the defendants had been tortured at the hands of the CIA and therefore asking for the annulment of most of the evidence presented by the US authorities.
It may take months, even more than a year, before the trial enters its truly substantive phase due to the many appeals filed by the defendants’ lawyers.
The five men, who have been held in solitary confinement for 15 years, are charged with “murder” and “terrorist acts” and face the death penalty.
However, there is no guarantee that the verdict will be issued before the 21st anniversary of the attacks or before the 22nd.
The military tribunal system has proven to be chaotic, cumbersome and often contrary to US law to such an extent that within 20 years only two suspects have been convicted.
Benjamin Farley, a Defense Department attorney representing one of the five defendants, described the military tribunals “A failure of ad hoc justice”.
The US government has been accused of concealing and falsifying evidence, spying on defense lawyers, and the heaviest charge is the torture allegedly suffered by detainees.
«I think everyone on all sides knows that military tribunals are a failureSays Sagiana Candidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
The problems are such that the 10 (accused) are likely to spend the rest of their lives in Guantanamo, he added, speaking to AFP.
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Isolated, miles from the naval base, Guantanamo Bay has been the scene of extreme interrogation methods, such as virtual drowning, lasting days, weeks and even years.
In 2002 the first detainees transferred there were 20.
It later emerged that the administration of Republican President George W. Bush did not have the data to link many of them to al Qaeda or the attacks, and so it released them discreetly, though some only a decade later.
When Democratic President Barack Obama took office in January 2009, there were still about 240 detainees at Guantanamo.
One of Obama’s first decisions was to order the one-year closure of Guantanamo Bay, a prison that a government official had described as a “propaganda tool” for violent jihadists around the world.
But Republicans, who had a majority in Congress, blocked its closure.
Nevertheless, Obama pushed for the release of most of the detainees, and when Donald Trump took over the presidency in January 2017, there were 41 suspects.
But instead of continuing his release, Trump froze them and threatened to fill more Guantanamo Bay cells with Islamic State fighters captured in Iraq and Syria.
Biden, who was Obama’s vice president, has called for the jail to be closed, but analysts say he will avoid clashing with Congress knowing it could be politically disastrous.
On the contrary, with the threat of Covid-19 weakening thanks to vaccinations, military tribunals resumed in May and Biden has sought to discreetly release those against whom no charges have been filed.