A Look At Gitmo, 10 Years Later

Posted on January 12, 2012


Why is Guantanamo Bay still open? This recording/transcript from NPR’s All Things Considered gives a great summary of the issues still holding back the closure of Gitmo.

A Look At Gitmo, 10 Years Later

Link to the recording here.

January 11, 2012

At the 10-year mark for the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, Audie Cornish talks with Miami Herald journalist Carol Rosenberg about how conditions there have evolved and the controversy over what to do with detainees.


Another major point of tension between the U.S. and Afghanistan is the prison at Guantanamo Bay. The offshore detention facility turns 10 years old today and it still holds some 170 captives, some of whom are said to be staging protests inside the prison this week. It’s been nearly three years since President Obama’s executive order aimed to close it. But the prison is not only open, it’s due for some pricey upgrades.

Miami Herald Reporter Carol Rosenberg has reported extensively on Guantanamo and she joins me now to talk about it.

Welcome, Carol.


CORNISH: Now, Congress has been, of course, the most effective foe to the Obama administration’s plan to close the facility – obviously using the power of the purse to prevent transfers, to prevent the opening of civilian prisons to this population on U.S. soil.

But what are some of the other reasons that it’s so hard to close Guantanamo Bay?

ROSENBERG: International affairs. I mean, many of the men that they’d like to send away need to go to Yemen, which was the ancestral birthplace of bin Laden, and where a lot of people left to join al-Qaida or train in Afghanistan. These are people that the Obama administration, and the Bush administration before them, have concluded should go back to Yemen to rehabilitation and to monitoring.

But, as we know, this is not a stable country. There is a big al-Qaida franchise there. And there’s concern about sending them back to that country without monitoring, and the instability.

And the other thing is, Europe has taken a number of men from Guantanamo, resettled them, given them new starts. And the unwillingness of the United States to resettle some of the people themselves, I’m told, is a problem. You know, Europe has said we’ve done our part, we think that the Americans have not done theirs. And that between Congress’s limitations and unwillingness to even settle them on U.S. soil or set up a prison inside the U.S., Europe is less inclined to take and help resettle some of the men who both the Bush administration and the Obama administration have agreed shouldn’t be there at all.

CORNISH: Many Americans and – you’re talking about the rest of the world – associate Gitmo with those early images we know of prisoners in orange suits and goggles and shackled. How has the look and feel of Gitmo changed over the last decade?

ROSENBERG: Oh, it’s a completely different place from those first images. You know, at the beginning, the prisoners were in open air cells and those orange jumpsuits. And their guards, the Marines, were in tents in the mud just up the road. And everybody is in buildings now. Most of the detainees are in penitentiary-style buildings. The ones that we’ve seen are being held in things that look like prisons in the United States.

They’ve got cell doors and they’ve got three meals a day coming in. And they actually have satellite TV. And the guards are watching them through usually one-way glass or from behind barricades. And so, it’s become far more institutionalized.

CORNISH: And, as you’ve reported, that comes at an extremely high cost.

ROSENBERG: Yeah, the Obama administration finally put a price tag on this. We’ve been asking for years and they told Congress, as part of their debate over – with Congress about how to try and hold people – that it costs $800,000 a head, a year to keep a detainee at Guantanamo.

CORNISH: Carol, you’ve written about the developments people should watch as the prison goes into the next decade. And can you talk about maybe the top three things people should pay attention to when it comes to Guantánamo?

ROSENBERG: Well, first thing everyone should watch for is the death penalty trials. They’re going to have initial appearances this year with the five men who supposedly plotted the 9/11 attacks. And we have the USS Cole bombing trial. These are the first capital trials at military commissions. And there’s going to be a lot of attention to just how fair and how those trials proceed.

And then, another big question is whether the transfers will resume. The last two men to leave Guantanamo this year have both died. And the U.S. has not been able to send people to resettlement in other countries. There is – under new legislation, there’s an expectation that the transfers will resume, and that some of the 89 men they don’t want there will start to leave.

And then there’s, I think, just a general issue of tension. You know, it’s 10 years old, detainees are complaining through their lawyers that it’s harder to be a prisoner there these days and that the guards are being pretty tough on them. That there had been a liberalization of what you were allowed to keep and what you’re allowed to do, and that there is a new kind of tough doctrine in the prisons. And the lawyers say that the detainees are pretty unhappy right now.

And I think it’s just a general sense of futility. And we really have to watch the tensions and make sure – see what’s going on in terms of conflict between guards and prisoners in the new decade.

CORNISH: Carol Rosenberg, she’s reporter for the Miami Herald. Thanks so much for talking with us, Carol.

ROSENBERG: Thank you.

Copyright © 2012 National Public Radio®.