US President Barack Obama campaigned on a promise to shut down the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention center, where men have endured beatings, hypothermia, waterboarding, stress positions and painful surgical force-feeding, without anesthesia, sometimes twice a day, for being suspected of aiding terrorists or, in many other cases, just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"We tortured some folks," said President Obama famously, and rather awkwardly, in calling for an end to advanced interrogation practices overseen by medical practitioners.
The commander-in-chief said from the outset that these brutal practices must be stopped, and called for the prison that embodies US torture in public perception to be closed. Yet, as the final hours of the 44th US president’s administration wind down, it is all too clear that the man who replaced torture with targeted killings by drone does not have the executive power to shut down the facility.
Now, with 80 prisoners remaining in Guantanamo Bay, the Pentagon is preparing for a post-Obama future for the facility, McClatchy reported, with questions arising about geriatric care and wheelchair accessibility for detainees later in life.
The oldest detainee currently held at Guantanamo is 68, and recent Pentagon documents speculate that the majority of detainees, currently in their 30s and 40s, may also see their latter years in the prison. The potential also exists that the existing cadre of prisoners may enjoy new company under an aggressive foreign policy of Hillary Clinton or a avowedly pro-torture Donald Trump.
The all-but-forgotten Guantanamo Bay detainees face a bleak future although morale among prisoners appears to be higher than in previous years. Beginning in late 2013, over 100 prisoners undertook a mass hunger strike, many for hundreds of days. Several continue to this day to refuse sustenance and face a particularly brutal force-feeding technique.
Human rights groups speculate that many Guantanamo detainees rebel because they are not guilty of any crime, and face an indefinite detention without recourse.
Researchers speculate that over 80% of detainees have no connection to a terror group, but were snatched in roving dragnets in Iraq and Afghanistan on the basis of mistaken identities, faulty intelligence from neighbors seeking a payday from Americans, or because they were fighting for their homes.
No Light at the End of the Tunnel
"At some point if detention operations continue here we will have to address, Are the doors in the cells wide enough to move wheelchairs in and out? Are there ramps to reach medical facilities," said Rear Admiral Peter Clarke, detention center commander. "And we’ve just started looking at that so I can’t tell you we are ready or not but it is something we are planning for."
While President Obama continues to advocate for the immediate emptying and closure of the facility, his plan to move captives to detention facilities on the United States mainland are consistently blocked by Republicans in Congress. In a strong bid to maintain the torture site for future administrations, Capitol Hill Republicans are contemplating advancing legislation to outlaw transfers anywhere in the world, setting up a fierce legal battle between the President and Congress in the coming months.
Guantanamo Bay personnel fear that the prisoners may erupt in violent or suicidal protest if the prison remains open into the next administration, with the transfer program completely eliminated and new detainees transferred into the facility. The possibility is more likely under a prospective Trump administration, although Hillary Clinton would likely face an even tougher road against Congress than her predecessor if she assumes the Oval Office.
A cultural adviser at the facility, named Zaki, says, "I have no idea, we’re just thinking what we can do later on when we have a population that’s not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel."