Donald Trump Proposes to Keep Guantánamo Open, to Prevent Further Releases, and to Reintroduce Torture and “Black Sites”


A collage of images of Donald Trump and Guantanamo on its first day back in January 2002.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the first two months of the Trump administration.


I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

On Wednesday our worst fears on Guantánamo and torture were confirmed, when the New York Times published a leaked draft executive order, “Detention and Interrogation of Enemy Combatants,” indicating that Donald Trump wants to keep Guantánamo open, wants to send new prisoners there, and wants to “suspend any existing transfer efforts pending a new review as to whether any such transfers are in the national security interests of the United States.” Trump also, it seems, wants to reinstate torture and the use of CIA “black sites.”

Specifically, the draft executive order proposes revoking the two executive orders, 13492 and 13491, that President Obama issued on his second day in office in January 2009 — the first ordering the closure of Guantánamo, and the second to close CIA “black sites,” to grant the International Committee of the Red Cross access to all prisoners, and to ensure that interrogators only use techniques approved in the Army Field Manual.

The draft executive order also proposes to “resurrect a 2007 executive order issued by President Bush,” as the New York Times put it, which “responded to a 2006 Supreme Court ruling about the Geneva Conventions that had put CIA interrogators at risk of prosecution for war crimes, leading to a temporary halt of the agency’s ‘enhanced’ interrogations program.”

Lies about “recidivism”

The draft executive order also reinstates the military’s rather shameful official claim that the prison is “legal, safe and humane,” and, moreover, repeats lies about the recidivism rate of former prisoners that have no place in official government documents. Since 2009, statements issued by the military and more recently by the Director of National Intelligence, have made unsubstantiated claims about the number of recidivists released from Guantánamo (the term technically means those who have relapsed into criminal behavior after their release from detention, but in the cases of the Guantánamo prisoners the term itself is misleading, as no process was undertaken to establish whether any of these men had committed crimes in the first place).

Nevertheless, the key aspect of the recidivism problem is that these unsubstantiated figures are used with scandalous disregard for the truth by mainstream media outlets, and are also contested by other analysts. The claims, published every six months, break down those regarded as recidivists into those who are “confirmed” of reengaging and those who are “suspected” of doing so, and yet the media regularly adds both figures together, even though designations of those “suspected” of recidivism often involve only one source, with no way of knowing if that single source is reliable. This disregard for the truth is also evident in the draft executive order, which claims that “[o]ver 30 percent of detainees released from Guantánamo have returned to armed conflict.” In fact, the latest DNI report, in September 2016, suggested that those “confirmed of reengaging” was 17.6%, while those “suspected of reengaging” was 12.4% — a total of 30%, not “[o]ver 30%.” In addition, as the Constitution Project has pointed out, it is also important to remember that an “overwhelming majority” of those regarded as “confirmed of reengaging” were transferred during the Bush administration, whereas President Obama engaged in much more strict criteria regarding releases.

Above all, however, other analysts maintain that the DNI’s figures are exaggerated — and, of course, there is no way of independently verifying the figures because the DNI won’t release them. However, the author and journalist Peter Bergen at New America in Washington, D.C. has, for many years, been running analyses of the publicly available recidivism figures, and has persistently come up with lower figures. In 2013, for example, when the DNI had a “confirmed” figure of 16.1 percent, New America came up with 4 percent, with similar discrepancies between the “suspected” figures — 11.9 percent from the DNI, 4.7% from New America.

* * * * *

The leak of the new president’s plans came on a day filled with other woes — an actual executive order authorizing the creation of the Mexican wall that Trump obsessed about on the campaign trial, and another aimed at severely restricting immigration, with a total ban on any arrivals to the US from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

No torture

Nevertheless, Trump’s enthusiasm for torture led to serious criticism — see this Guardian article, for example, featuring damning criticism from retired Air Force Colonel Steve Kleinman, who heads the research advisory committee to the High Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG), described by the Guardian as “a secretive group from the FBI, CIA and military with a mandate to interrogate high-level terror suspects without torture.”

Kleinman said, “If the US was to make it once again the policy of the country to coerce, and to detain at length in an extrajudicial fashion, the costs would be beyond substantial – they’d be potentially existential. We’ve seen how [torture] promotes violent extremism, how it degrades alliances. We’ve seen how it only serves to provide information that policymakers want to support [desired policies], not what they need.” He added, “A lot of these people who weigh in heavily on interrogation have no idea how little they know, [and do so] because of what they see on television.”

Kleinman also said, “There is, at best, anecdotal evidence to support torture,” adding, “There is, on the other hand, a robust body of scientific literature and field testing that demonstrates the efficacy of a relationship-based, rapport-based, cognitive-based approach to interrogation, as well as a robust literature that would suggest torture immediately undermines a source’s ability to be a reliable reporter of information: memory is undermined, judgment is undermined, decision-making is undermined, time-references are undermined. And this is only from a purely operational perspective; we can’t take the morality out of strategy.”

In addition, of course, the failures of torture were explicitly spelled out in the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the CIA torture program, published in December 2014, and it is to be hoped that, collectively, the CIA and other interrogators — if they still have misplaced brief in the efficacy of torture — understand that they were very fortunate to evade prosecution for their actions.

Trump himself remains bullish about torture, but he at least promised to take advice from his colleagues. In an interview with ABC News, he reiterated his belief that torture works, and that the US should “fight fire with fire,” saying, “I’ve spoken in recent days with people at the highest level of intelligence, and I’ve asked them: ‘Does torture work?’ And the answer was ‘Yes, absolutely’” — a statement that, it should be noted, probably bears no relation to the truth.

As the Guardian noted, Trump “said he would defer to the incoming CIA director, Mike Pompeo, and the defense secretary, James Mattis, on the issue,” and although Pompeo has previously expressed support for torture, he has recently backed down. Mattis, meanwhile, is vehemently opposed to its use. Both men were grilled extensively on these issues by Sen. John McCain, who survived torture himself, and is, as the Guardian put it, the “co-author of a 2015 law barring the security agencies from using interrogation techniques that surpass the prohibitions in the army field manual, pledged defiance over a return to torture.” McCain, who is the chair of the influential Senate Armed Services Committee, said, “The president can sign whatever executive orders he likes. But the law is the law. We are not bringing back torture in the United States of America.” Moreover, he said he secured “explicit guarantees from Pompeo and Mattis during their Senate confirmation proceedings to follow the interrogations law and the army field manual,” and stated, “I am confident these leaders will be true to their word.”

Cynics would only add that interrogation techniques that constitute torture survive in Appendix M of the Army Field Manual, and that there is no reason for torture to be reintroduced by any other route, but Trump and those close to him were clearly thinking beyond the Army Field Manual and back to the terrible days of the Bush administration’s disgraceful global torture program when they compiled the draft executive order, and it is to be hoped that the widespread resistance to torture that surfaced after the draft was leaked will deter Trump and his people from entertaining any more foolish notions that a full-scale torture program should resurrected. As ever with this president and his advisors, however, vigilance must be maintained.

* * * * *

However, even as protestors mobilized across the country in support of Mexicans, Muslims and immigrants in general, following the executive orders about the Mexican wall, immigration and refugees, there was, unfortunately, much less focus on Guantánamo in the media.

Close Guantánamo

Keeping Guantánamo open, of course, is not a drastic move, as President Obama failed to close it despite promising to do so for eight years. However, the proposal to suspend all transfer processes until a new review is conducted is profoundly unfair for the five men still held who have been approved for release by high-level, inter-agency US government review processes, and the 26 others for whom reviews — the Periodic Review Boards — are still ongoing. Established in 2013, and akin to parole boards, the PRBs have, to date, approved 38 out of 64 prisoners for release, and all but three have been freed. Reviews, however, are ongoing, with the prospect that at least a handful of other men will be approved for release, perhaps leaving around 20 men still regarded as too dangerous to release alongside the ten men currently facing (or having faced) trials.

The circumstances surrounding the ongoing imprisonment of the men is far from perfect, as the military commission trial system is fundamentally dysfunctional and not fit for purpose, and the claim that men can continue to be held indefinitely without charge or trial remains an affront to the values that the US claims to respect, which, with regard to imprisonment, should involve those deprived of their liberty either being charged with crimes and tried in federal court, or held as prisoners of war until the end of hostilities and protected by the Geneva Conventions — with, it must be said, an opportunity to seek judicial redress if their captors claim that there is no end to the hostilities because they are, apparently, detained in a war without end.

However, throughout the Obama administration, the prison was at least treated as a legacy issue — albeit a thorny one — and every proposal by Republican lawmakers that new prisoners should be sent to Guantánamo, for example, was resisted, with valid arguments being made that the correct venue for those accused of terrorism was to be tried in federal court.

Unfortunately, in the draft executive order for Donald Trump, proposals are made not only for the ongoing imprisonment and trials of “alien enemy combatants” at Guantánamo, but also for “the detention and trial of newly captured alien enemy combatants.” It is clear from another section, listing those with whom the US “remains engaged in a global armed conflict,” that the authors of the draft executive order regard those enemies as “al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces, including … members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and with those who fight on behalf of or provide substantial support to or harbor such groups in furtherance of hostilities against the United States, its citizens, or its coalition partners.”

Nevertheless, it is not clear that those drafting the executive order are aware that the conditions for imprisonment at Guantánamo — as laid out in the Authorization for Use of Military Force that Congress passed in the days after the 9/11 attacks — relate specifically to 9/11, and those allegedly involved with al-Qaeda, the Taliban or associated forces. In other words, it seems probable that, although Obama stretched the limits of authorization by including ISIS in his remit for drone strikes, it is probable that a new authorization would be required to detain Islamic State members at Guantánamo.

It is not impossible, with a Republican-controlled Congress, to imagine this happening, but the question would have to be why, when by far the best place for terrorists to be dealt with is in federal court. Even throughout the hysteria of the early days of Guantánamo, when the Bush administration was busy peddling its lies about the prison holding “the worst of the worst,” federal court trials were taking place for anyone accused of terrorism who was not unfortunate enough to have ended up in the legal black hole of Guantánamo or the CIA’s “black sites,” and those trials, of course, continued successfully under President Obama.

In addition, it is worth noting that, although Trump promised on the campaign trial to send US citizens to Guantánamo, to be prosecuted in military commissions, that is not mentioned in the draft executive order, because Americans have constitutional protections, and those do not apply at Guantánamo, where only foreign citizens can he held. As Jonathan Hafetz, a professor at Seton Hall Law School, told CNN in August, after Trump’s wild claim was first made, “To bring anyone from the US — citizen or not — to Guantánamo and put them in military detention would be unprecedented. Even the Bush administration, in its most sweeping views of executive power, didn’t transfer [terror suspects arrested in the US] to Guantánamo.”

In conclusion, then, as noted above, eternal vigilance is required with Trump and his advisors, but the only specific area in which those concerned with the closure of Guantánamo need to be particularly focused on is the proposal to prevent the release of the five men still held who are approved for release, and the threat that the Periodic Review Boards may not continue for the 26 other men who are eligible for reviews every six months. To be frank, however, with so many men released in Obama’s last year, the population of Guantánamo is close to what the Obama administration itself regarded as an “irreducible minimum” of men who should not be released, even though, shamefully, 15 years after the prison opened, no one in a position of power and authority has any idea of how to deliver anything resembling justice to these allegedly dangerous individuals, or their alleged victims.

Donald Trump should learn from this how the primary lesson of Guantánamo is that breaking laws and treaties is nothing short of disastrous for everyone involved, and should finish what President Obama started, and close Guantánamo once and for all.

Note: For further information about the draft executive order, see this additional New York Times article. And if you’re in the US and are concerned about the torture proposals, please visit this Roots Action page and ask your Senators and Representatives which side they are on.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

19 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, cross-posted from, examining in detail the draft executive order that was leaked this week, in which Donald Trump proposes revoking the two executive orders issued by President Obama in Jan. 2009 – one ordering the closure of Guantanamo, the other closing CIA “black sites.” Trump is expected to be rebuffed by his own appointees in his hopes of bringing back torture, but Guantanamo will stay open, and, it may well be that no prisoners are released until after Trump administration officials have reviewed their cases. It is also to be hoped that he will not be encouraged to send any new prisoners to Guantanamo, for which there is no justification.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Anna Giddings wrote:

    I don’t understand how Obama signed the executive order to close Guantanamo and nothing was done yet Trump signs this and that and it’s acted upon immediately.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Mary Shepard wrote:

    Because Obama could not get congressional approval to either release the detainees or incarcerate them elsewhere.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Anna Giddings wrote:

    But has Trump congressional approval for this?

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    This is just a draft at present, Anna, but if it becomes an actual executive order it will lead to officials reviewing the Guantanamo and torture programs, and advising him what to do. As Mary says, Obama’s problem was that he faced serious opposition in Congress – although he should have fought back much more than he did, and if he’d done so, Guantanamo would have been closed before he left office.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    One sad thing, Andy, is there was a provision of the NDAA allowing indefinite detention of American citizens. As laws are written, the unintended consequences are never foreseen. With Trump, I fear that he could use it against dissent.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    It was never clear whether the NDAA did authorize the detention, without due process, of US citizens, Jan. I always doubted it, to be honest, because of the constitutional protections US citizens have that foreign citizens like me don’t have, and because, when threatened with having his behavior challenged in the courts, George W. Bush, who had held and tortured a US citizen (Jose Padilla) and two US residents (Ali al-Marri and Yasser Hamdi) on the US mainland, chose not to. But of course, there will now almost certainly be some dark figures who have Trump’s ear, and who will be looking once more at subverting the constitution, and, as ever these days, we must be vigilant.
    Check out my 2013 article about the NDAA here:

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    Andy – the respect for Constitution is lost when the WH deems one a threat. That “due process” thing… Ask Anwar al-Awlaki about it. Oh, wait….
    Or Chelsea Manning about constitutionally guaranteed treatment….Or….
    I don’t trust Trump to do much of anything that is backed by the Constitution – so far, he has proven he doesn’t care about the US Code or the Constitution.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    I take your points on board, Jan, but I don’t think Trump is in a position to undermine the independence of the judiciary – at least not in the short-term. And he needs to be got rid of before any of the big jobs can be filled.

  10. the talking dog says...

    I’ve just come from a spirited rally outside a federal court here in Brooklyn, where a judge has stayed some elements of Trump’s latest executive order attempting to bar Muslims from entering, or reentering, the United States, even if they have lawful resident status, USA dependents, jobs, etc., etc. I assume Trump is entirely unabashed, and will fight for his order, no matter its illegality. Indeed, I understand he even meant it to apply to incoming flight crews. Exception, of course, for Muslims from countries that he does business in.

    As we feared, the GTMO consciousness problem is going to be just where on the list of things to fight Trump this will fall? Right now, however, it seems he is hellbent on picking a fight with Muslims where ever they may be found. Certainly no surprise that the 41 poor bastards stuck at GTMO might be stuck there longer– though threats to ship others there loom, and apparently, there is no evidence that reason or facts (except for self-serving “alternative facts”) are going to have any sway in this “government.”

    All this– along with alienating Mexico, China, the EU, women, Muslims, the media, and everyone who didn’t vote for him, all in just eight days in office. The mind boggles.

  11. damo says...

    Its only been 7 days and trump is allready an out of control monster espesh after whats happened this weekend a friend of mine whos half iranian with a green card cannot get back into the states

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m glad you were at the historic court ruling, TD. Judge Ann Donnelly will be remembered for this first ruling against Trump and his disgraceful racist behavior. I wrote about it on Facebook here:
    linking to the Guardian’s report:
    But as I wrote in another Facebook update last night, “Eight days ago, reality as we knew it seemed to disappear with Donald Trump’s inauguration, when we entered a dystopian sci-fi movie, and since then there has been a tsunami of horrendous executive orders, almost too many to keep up with, culminating in this latest outrageous ban on citizens from seven countries – Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen (at least 134 million people) – including, incredibly, permanent US residents who were abroard when the ban took effect, and even dual nationals who might want to visit the US. How did this ban get to be put in place without anyone responsible for implementing it being able to point out how much chaos it would cause worldwide?”
    I’m hoping that the massive opposition – in parts of the establishment, the civil service, the courts, the media as well as out on the streets – is not going to fade away, but with outrageous and unprecedented action like this, I can’t see the outrage being tamed in the slightest, and nor should it be. Trump’s contempt for almost everybody and everything is really genuinely quite shocking, even with all the warnings we had in advance.
    So yes, Guantanamo’s on the back burner for now. The first priority seems to be how to get rid of this menace and his repulsive advisors like Bannon, as quickly as possible, while the US still has anything left of its reputation to salvage.
    Oh, and P.S. Don’t even get me stated on Theresa May and the Brexiteers on the right and the left. What a shambles.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    There are so many stories, Damo. It is unbelievable the chaos he has caused – and he really doesn’t seem to care.
    Check the thread here for the story of the mother of one of my Facebook friends, Lubna, who is Irish-Sudanese and lives in Saudi Arabia, and who wrote that her mum is “a green card permanent us resident, of Sudanese origin living with my only brother in USA who is an engineer in a renowned organisation and his wife in a key position in an ivy league university! She was in Sudan to visit relatives and she has no home there.”
    The Guardian’s round-up here:

  14. damo says...

    He realy is beyond reproch and he says hes going to go further …well at least the vile tories are …..maybe dissaproveing

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    All decent Tories will be deeply shocked by this ban, Damo – the question is: how many are there?
    Trump and his vile bigot-in-chief, Steve Bannon, are clearly unwilling to back down, proposing more outrageous bans, as you note, but at least in some way they’re on the back foot now, although it remains to be seen if, in jackbooted manner, they’ll override court orders. But at least the battle lines are quite clearly being drawn – the would-be fascists on one side, the rest of us on the other, clinging to civil society and the values that have made life so generally tolerable and tolerant for so many years.

  16. Anna says...

    Hard to keep up with all that needs to be read and watched. The only hope I cling to is the T’s – inevitable ? – implosion, like bubble gum that can be stretched only so far, before bursting.
    If ever I felt like a yo-yo … Damn the T. and May for all the reasons you know, applaud US and UK citizens resisting. The latter within 24 hrs already got close to 700.000 (!!!) signatures asking for a ban of the T. visiting the UK! Wish I could sign it too! Both the UK and US have increasingly awful governments, but also a wonderfully vibrant civil society. I’m jealous. Curious how my own government will wriggle between those two ‘vital allies’. It no doubt hopes that the T. will allow us to travel to the US without a visa, which cannot be excluded as we are overwhelmingly white & catholic, so we might come in handy to inflate plummeting immigration statistics. On the other hand, there’s Ms May’s wish to kick us out of the UK. So, May to Trump: ‘Special Relationship Special Offer’, two odd millions of Poles, already pre-vetted, at least basic knowledge of English language, average European crime rate including rape & murder. Guaranteed non-muslims. Available as of today, cheaper in bulk.

    We do need more than civil protest though, we need political ballot power. Easier said than done with true leftist politicians such as Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn being sabotaged by political establishment. We could have been celebrating Bernie’s inauguration if the Dems had not sidelined him, a huge elephant in the room of recent Oh’s & Ah’s about the T. Read Hamid Dabashi’s brilliant takes on that hypocrisy, that the US is finally getting at home what it has been inflicting on the rest of the world since decades.

    Wonder whether you saw this fascinating documentary (you were in the US when it aired), about how the Israeli embassy in London engineered last year’s – but still lingering – ‘anti-semitism’ hype about Labour and Corbyn in particular, because they support BDS and Palestinian aspirations? Such manipulations by various embassies of course are no surprise, but it should be an eye-opener for many naives to see how easy it is to exploit the proverbial ‘useful idiots’and a wider public opinion – including student leaders – while providing ‘plausible deniability’ to the embassy itself. If you have no time for all four parts, watch at least the third one :
    May & Johnson, the latter in spite of being called an idiot [sic] by the main agitator, chose to close the matter without a proper investigation …

  17. damo says...

    We can now see that trump and his administration and the sniveling rank tories are the enemys of the people the enemys of freedom and democracy …people can see clearly what and whom they are now its up to people to get up off there arses and get out there and protest

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Anna,
    Great to hear from you in these difficult times. I do so very much hope that Trump – and his administration – will implode. They are so offensively belligerent, and so incapable of wooing anyone except core voters, that it is hard to see them surviving. But there is no room for complacency. Behind Trump is the white supremacist Steve Bannon and the racist Stephen Miller, who is Jewish, but both men are playing from the Goebbels rulebook on propaganda.
    I like your comments about the trade-off deal regarding the Poles – unfortunately, it sounds completely plausible in this sad world we’re now in, where entire populations become commodities to be used as pawns in political games.
    I didn’t see the Al-Jazeera series you mentioned, so I’ll try and check that out, but I am generally aware of how poisonous and widespread is the influence of the Isr**li lobby!

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I think the stench of corruption and bigotry and shameless political expediency might finally be getting through to people, Damo – at the very least, to the armchair protestors who might be realising they have to actually stand up and be counted in a manner that involves more than signing online petitions, and hopefully beyond that – to some of Brexit dreamers, and even to some of the great silent mass of non-voters. Even with the Brexiteers’ unconvincing argument about “respecting the will of the people” (yes, I get it, Brexiteers – I respect your desire not to leave the EU, but not at the cost of economic suicide, and so, as befits the outcome of an “advisory” referendum, it’s time for the grown-ups to say no), no one ever wants to mention the fact that 28% of the population didn’t even vote at all.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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