Why Young People Should Care About Guantánamo

By Nada Hussein, North America Volunteer with Amnesty International

2 p.m. lingered on yet another work day in the blistering July heat of 2017. The sun glared through the window directly in front of me on the 20th floor office in a high-rise building tucked away from the reality that existed 19 floors down. Without hesitation, I answered the ringing phone. Iquickly marked my notepad with a small indicator that this call was the 15thcaller that day who had raised concerns about the status of the nation’s healthcare system. Last summer, I worked as an intern for a US Senator and spent a lot of my time answering phone calls from concerned constituents.

Eachstory I heard reminded me that the concerns I thought wereoutside the bounds of my everyday bubble were in fact problemsthat my community facesday after day. The unavoidable fact of being an intern for a US Senator’s office is that you cannot turn a blind eye to what affects the constituents that our elected officials represent. However, because I personally could not stand on the Senate floor and vote to put the worries of my neighbors at ease, I was left to advocate for them by simply making sure that every comment, question, and concern did not go unnoticed.

There is one issue in particular that is important to me as a young person, and remains pressing under the current US administration: the continued operations at Guantánamo Bay detention facility. Since its opening in 2002 in response to the 9/11 attacks, the detention center on the southeastern part of Cuba has detained over 700 men — nine of whom have died in custody. There are 40 — all Muslim — who remain there today. Most of themhave never been charged with a crime, and those facing charges today are to be tried by military commissions which do not meet international fair trial standards. They can’t pick up the phone to call the offices of US Senators. They need our support and solidarity to advocate on their behalf and lift up their stories as they struggle to survive. If we don’t support them, they remain out of sight and out of mind.

Toffiq al-Bihani is one of these men. He was tortured by the CIA in Afghanistan in 2002 before he was transferred to Guantánamo, where he’s been since 2003. He has never been charged with a crime, and the U.S. government even approved him for transfer out of the camp in Cuba back in 2010. Yet today, he remains imprisoned in Guantánamo, far from family, friends and community. Toffiq al-Bihani “celebrated” his 46thbirthday on June 1stthis year. It was his sixteenth year warehoused away, wondering when freedom will finally come.

Toffiq al-Bihani is one of many that were tortured in the secret detention program operated by the CIA. Victims were subject to waterboarding, prolonged sleep deprivation, stress positions, forced nudity and various other forms of physical and psychological assault, the impact of which continues to affect them today. More than half of the detainees currently at Guantánamo were held in the CIA program. While the U.S. government no longer uses these specific torture tactics against detainees, as far as we know, no one has been held accountable for torturing Toffiq al-Bihani or any of the other men held at Guantánamo.

In 2017, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture made it clear:“By failing to prosecute the crime of torture in CIA custody, the US is in clear violation of the Convention against Torture and is sending a dangerous message of complacency and impunity to officials in the US and around the world.”

Unless Guantánamo is shut down for good, the possibility remains that moredetainees will be subjected to indefinite detention, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment there. President Donald Trump on January 30, 2018 issued an Executive Order to keep the Guantánamo Bay detention facility open. He said he wants to “fill it up with bad dudes” — whatever that means. What we know is that Toffiq al-Bihani is a survivor of torture and injustice who, despite of it all, remains hopeful that his day of freedom will come.

On 11 July 2018, beginning at 11am Eastern Standard Time, the oral argument in Al Bihani v. Trump will take place before Senior Judge Thomas F. Hogan in the US District Court in Washington, DC. The case was brought earlier this year on behalf of 11 detainees held at Guantánamo Bay detention center (eight are now named in the case). Toffiq al-Bihani is the lead plaintiff in the case.

The petition, filed on 11 January 2018, seeks the release of the men after years of indefinite detention without charge or trial. It has new urgency after President Trump signed his Executive Order allowing for new detainee transfers to the base. The oral argument will be will be open to the public, and Amnesty International will be in attendance.

We need your support to raise the profile of the lawsuit and the plight of the plaintiffs, including Toffiq al-Bihani.Together, we can call on our elected officials to bring an end to the Guantánamo Bay detention facility with accountability and redress. Unless we come together to shut it down, this detention facility could remain open well into the lives of our own children.

As Desmond Tutu once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” With this, I can only hope for a future that isn’t marooned by human rights abuses. I hope for a future in which the officials who are elected to represent my peers and me are able to stand for the ideals of equality and justice for those who are and are not within the bounds of our borders.

I’m ready to pick up the phone and contact my Senator for Toffiq al-Bihani and the other men held in Guantánamo. Are you?

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