The sun rises on 20 years of indefinite detention at Guantánamo Bay


The sun rises on 20 years of indefinite detention at Guantánamo Bay

The sun rises on 20 years of indefinite detention at Guantánamo Bay


Those cleared for release from Guantánamo Bay wait for the sun to rise on the day they finally get to see their families again.

By Pauline Canham

Published 10 January 2022

Today the sun rises on another day at Guantánamo Bay Detention Centre for 39 detainees still held without charge or trial, forgotten by a world that has moved on.   Saifullah Paracha has woken to more than 6,300 sunrises in his Cuban cell, knowing only that when the sun sets again, he will have missed yet another day with his family in Pakistan.

Saif, as he is known, has spent 18 years detained by the US without charge or trial, 17 of them at Guantánamo Bay.  At 74 years old, he is the oldest detainee, his health failing with every passing year.  He recently suffered his third heart attack and a doctor expressed concern that if he is not released soon, he will go home in a coffin.

On January 11, 2002, when Guantánamo was announced to the world, the US was four months in to a ‘state of exception’ brought in following the 9/11 attacks, and a global ‘War on Terror’ – both of which rumble on two decades later.  A raft of extreme ‘policies’ were thrown together to counteract ‘extremism’, including the war in Afghanistan, the illegal invasion of Iraq, ‘extraordinary’ rendition, torture, indefinite detention of the ‘worst of the worst’ terrorists without trial, and the drone assassination program.

In vengeful mood, the US administration embarked on these strategies in a hurry, only to find that each time they jettisoned a moral principle they seemed to enhance the appeal of extremism, rather than end it.   Whether the US achieved many democratic goals in Iraq must be left to the historians, after President Joe Biden announced the end of combat missions to root out ISIL in December 2021.  The year also saw the withdrawal from Afghanistan, seen by many as the US slinking back home, tail between its legs.  Within hours rather than days, the Taliban were back in power, as they had been 20 years before.

At least one 9/11 policy remains visibly in place: indefinite detention at Guantánamo Bay.  Of the 39 men locked up in limbo, only 17 are deemed HVDs (‘high value detainees’), including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed architect of 9/11.  His trial (more accurately, a ‘military commission’) has gone nowhere in over a decade.

The majority are still so called ‘forever prisoners’, sometimes referred to as ‘no value detainees’.  12 of these NVDs have been cleared for release at a Periodic Review Board (PRB).  This means that far from being the ‘worst of the worst’, they have been consensually assessed as “no threat to the United States” by senior officials from the Departments of Defence, Homeland Security, Justice, and State, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Office of Director of National Intelligence.  But even then they are still not free to leave.

Read more