Guantánamo and the Politics of Fear

Out of the nearly 800 people who have been imprisoned at Guantánamo over the last fourteen years, only 8 have been convicted of a crime — that’s just 1%. Yet, Republicans, eager to keep the prison open, continue to fuel the false narrative that the men at Guantánamo are the worst of the worst. Though far from reality, it’s an incredibly powerful claim that has harmful effects on the lives of real people. It is a central reason that that Guantánamo continues to operate more than a decade after it opened; that an unlawful regime of indefinite and arbitrary detention continues with no end in sight; and that men who have been living peacefully for years after release still suffer hardships and the stigma of their detention.

This narrative is part of a craven political agenda to hurt President Obama’s credibility and derail his policy objectives. These politicians oppose the release of prisoners and the closure of the prison, just as they are fighting to prevent President Obama from filling the vacant Supreme Court seat. Guantánamo has always been about partisan politics.

The idea that the men detained at Guantánamo were all sent there after being captured on “the battlefield” by US forces because they posed a threat couldn’t be further from the truth. Eighty-six percent of individuals were arrested by foreign forces, not by the US military. Most Guantánamo detainees were ensnared in a slipshod bounty-system in which the US paid handsome cash rewards to locals for turning over anyone who seemed out-of-place. Many of the men who arrived in Gitmo were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time — fleeing from, not fighting in, the erupting conflict in Afghanistan.

Over the course of six years and, notably, without strong opposition from either party, the Bush administration transferred over 500 men out of Guantánamo. Since 2002, hundreds of men have been released from Gitmo and the overwhelming majority of them worked hard to try to rebuild their lives (though with no…

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