Two Things You May Not Know About Guantanamo

On today’s Backstory segment we spoke with The Miami Herald's Carol Rosenberg and Emily Berman from the Brennan Center for Justice about the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which just turned 9 years old. Here are a two things we learned about the facility and the legal concepts that sustain it.

1. Camp 7

Carol told us that “What you see in the news is only a portion of the detention center at Gitmo. They’ve got a number of places that are off limits that nobody has ever seen, except people with classified security clearances.” She was talking specifically about Camp 7, where prisoners who were held at CIA black sites are now kept. She added that “What happened to them is considered presumptively classified. Their experiences, their lives, what the CIA did and where they held them is secret.” Emily added that none of the detainees held at Camp 7 have had a Habeas hearing come to completion, meaning they have not been able to challenge their detention in court through a lawyer.

2. Indefinite Detention

President Obama issued an executive order this week allowing indefinite detention of detainees at Guantanamo, with periodic review of their cases. Carol said that on this issue “the Obama Administration is heavily borrowing from Bush Administration doctrine,” especially on how inmates are categorized as “war prisoners” not “prisoners of war” under the Geneva Conventions. She added that “[the Obama Administration] decided that there are a number of people who they could never charge and convict who they consider too dangerous and they would like to continue to keep under this other status.” Both noted that the order on indefinite detention covers several categories of inmates, some of whom may go to trial at some point. But even if a detainee is put on trial, convicted and serve their complete sentence, they still may not be eligible to leave US custody. Emily noted that “if they’re still considered detainable under the laws of war and the administration still considers them a threat they’ll go right back into indefinite detention. So, the end of a sentence may or may not be meaningful.”

All of this seems to indicate that Guantanamo will be with us for a lot longer. Carol told us that even if the Obama Administration eventually closes the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, it doesn't mean they "wanted to close Guantanamo as a concept."