Even before he took office, President Trump made it clear that no one would be getting out of the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, on his watch. They were “extremely dangerous people,” he said. It didn’t matter how long they had been locked up or whether they had been charged with any crimes. They should give up any hope of release.
Mr. Trump wasn’t just walking away from the efforts of his two predecessors to shrink the population of the prison and, eventually, to close it. He wanted to make it bigger — to “load it up with some bad dudes,” as he said.
Today, 41 men remain at Guantánamo. Thirteen either have active cases in the military commission system or have been convicted. The rest have been held as enemy combatants, but without charge, for up to 16 years. Five of those have been cleared for transfer, meaning that the Pentagon, the White House and intelligence agencies long ago agreed that they pose no security threat. Many of these men were arrested under questionable circumstances; some were tortured, either at C.I.A. black sites or at Guantánamo itself.
Last Thursday, 11 of these “forever prisoners” filed a habeas corpus petition in the United States District Court in Washington, D.C. The men, all foreign-born Muslims, say their continued detention violates the Constitution’s guarantee of due process and the 2001 law that gave presidents the power to send enemy combatants to Guantánamo.
One of the plaintiffs, prisoner No. 893, a 45-year-old Yemeni named Tolfiq al Bihani, has been held at Guantánamo for nearly 15 years. He was cleared for conditional release in 2010. The Saudi government agreed to accept him in 2016, along with nine other Yemenis. Those nine were all transferred, but Mr. al Bihani remains at Guantánamo without explanation.
President George W. Bush may be guilty of creating the constitutional calamity that is Guantánamo, but at least he made an effort to empty it of men who clearly posed no threat to the United States, releasing 532 detainees by the end of his second term. President Barack Obama, who was blocked by Republicans in Congress from keeping his campaign promise to close the prison, established regular reviews of each inmate’s case and worked intensively to negotiate the transfer of those who could not be returned safely to their home countries. In the end, he released 197 detainees.