American military doctrine is clear: when a superior officer identifies a lawful strategic objective, forces under his or her command must work to achieve it without delay. When it comes to Guantánamo, however, the Pentagon continues to obstruct President Obama’s mandate to close the prison. Their defiance is tantamount to insubordination.

Obama has said repeatedly and without equivocation that closing Guantánamo is a moral imperative and national security priority for the United States. He has further said it serves as a recruiting tool for terrorists. The president started out well on Guantánamo, signing an executive order on his second day in office requiring the prison to be shuttered within one year. He failed to achieve that goal because of missteps early in his administration, but the Pentagon, working closely with the State Department, transferred 67 detainees during his first two years in office what has become an all too familiar pattern in recent years, however, momentum was lost and closure efforts stalled when the president lost his nerve in the face of political opposition. By January 2011, he had effectively turned his back on Guantánamo, and only four men left the prison in the two and a half years that followed.


In May 2013, nearly two years ago, the president returned his attention to Guantánamo in response to a mass hunger strike by the men and recommitted to closing the prison. He said Guantánamo is “a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law,” and “there is no justification beyond politics . . . to prevent us from closing a facility that should never have been opened.” He warned that “history will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism and those of us who fail to end it.” He lifted a self-imposed moratorium on transfers to Yemen, and appointed new envoys at the State and Defense Departments to oversee closure efforts. Transfers resumed, and 11 men were released between August and December 2013.

Then transfers stopped, and momentum was lost again, because Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel refused to sign the paperwork necessary to carry out more transfers. In the first 11 months of 2014, only six detainees left the prison, five of whom were exchanged in a prisoner swap for a U.S. soldier held by the Taliban. In November 2014, Hagel announced his resignation amid conflicts with the president, including his refusal to transfer detainees. Transfers quickly resumed: 22 men were released in November and December 2014, and five more in January 2015. Since then, however, the State Department envoy resigned – and hasn’t been replaced – and the momentum for closure has once again ground to a halt. Now, 122 men remain in limbo, half unanimously approved for transfer by all relevant security agencies.

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Michael Haas on June 3rd, 2014

At the end of a war, according to Article 20 of the Hague Convention of 1907, as later revised by the Geneva Conventions of 1949, prisoners of war must be either released to go home or put on trial for war crimes. As the American role in the Afghan civil war winds down during 2014, the subject of prisoner release from Guantánamo will inevitably have to be addressed.

Accordingly, the exchange of five members of the Taliban for one American soldier held  hostage by the Taliban for four and one-half years on May 31, 2014, has brought the Geneva Conventions back into the limelight, having been ignored ever since January 25, 2002, when Alberto Gonzalez, White House Counsel to President George W. Bush and later attorney general, authored a memorandum stating that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to the “war on terror.” For the first time, several members of the media are now using the term “prisoner,” rather than the politically correct term “detainee,” as they describe the swap, although the American military claims that they always referred to the soldier as a “prisoner of war.”

guantanamo bay

The American is  28-year-old Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the only known American held as a prisoner of war by the Taliban. Negotiations for his release had been ongoing since December 2013, but the Taliban insisted that he would be released only in exchange for a swap of all five members of the Taliban held at Guantánamo.

Bergdahl was transferred to an  American military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, where he is receiving psychological care and evaluation as well as a debriefing on the circumstances of his capture. According to present plans, he will be further treated at a military hospital in San Antonio, Texas, and later reunited with his parents in Hailey, Idaho, after his treatment at the hospital concludes.

Although his stay in San Antonio was described as “long term,” he was reported in good physical condition upon his release, so Bergdahl may suffer from a psychological toll after four and one-half years of captivity. The Taliban may believe that his release is consistent with Article 6 of the Geneva Convention of 1864, which requires repatriation of “unfit” prisoners of war; if so, then he should have been released earlier. But that raises the question why seriously ill prisoners have been held at Guantánamo, including Shaker Aamer and Ibrahim Othman Ibrahim Idris, whose lawyers have petitioned for their release this year.

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