- The Washington Times - Monday, January 13, 2020

A lawyer who has represented some of the suspected enemy combatants being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp on Cuba said Monday that it’s time to close the prison’s gates.

At a Washington event held to mark the 18th anniversary of the use of the facility known as “Gitmo” to detain prisoners in the War on Terrorism, Thomas B. Wilner said the 40 people still being held there lack sufficient legal protection because they are in a legal limbo.

“If these people had been held in the United States, they’d have the right of habeas corpus and due process,” Mr. Wilner said at the New America public policy institution in Washington.

President Trump has released only one detainee during the three years of his administration and that was as a result of a plea deal, advocates say. Of the 40 still being held there, 26 detainees at Guantanamo are so-called “forever prisoners,” deemed too dangerous to release but with insufficient evidence against them to win a criminal case.

“I don’t believe the Executive (Branch) can just hold people and throw away the key on its own,” said Mr. Wilner, who also helped found the “Close Guantanamo” advocacy organization.

One of the co-founders of the group said Guantanamo was specially designed to get around Constitutional requirement for due process.

“It’s a lawless prison,” Andy Worthington charged.

In the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington, and the resulting U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Mr. Wilner said he backed taking into custody those thought to have been involved.

“I was so relieved. We had ‘gotten those guys,” he said.

But, he said, it eventually became clear that many of those sent to the Cuban facility were not hardened terrorists but people who were “in the wrong place at the wrong time” or essentially “sold” to U.S. officials by others in the region looking to cash in on the reward money.

“I knew that a lot of those people were absolutely innocent. I was appalled,” Mr. Wilner said.

Many of those in the detention camp were so roughly interrogated that it could only be described as torture, Mr. Worthington said.

“There were people there who were ‘nothing’ and there was nothing they could give,” he said.

Securing basic rights for people in American custody shouldn’t be a partisan issue, said Mr. Milner, who describes his early political years as being in the moderate Republican camp.

“I think both parties have lost their way,” he said.

President Trump campaigned on the idea that Guantanamo could be used to house even larger numbers of detainees. However, he has more recently complained about the cost of leaving open the prison.

“It costs a fortune to operate and I think it’s crazy,” he told reporters in September 2019 on Air Force One.

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