Is Guantanamo Bay Still Open? Dozens of Prisoners Still in Detention Camp

On January 11, 2002, the Guantanamo Bay detention camp saw the arrival of its first detainees. Today marks 20 years since its inception, and over the past two decades the detention camp has become an issue of great contention and controversy.

The offshore prison, located at a U.S. Navy base in southern Cuba, was created during George W. Bush's administration in response to the 9/11 terror attacks. Since 2002, approximately 780 inmates have been held at Guantanamo Bay. At its peak the detention camp held 684 detainees in June 2003.

Despite President Joe Biden's commitment to close Guantanamo Bay by the end of his administration, the Pentagon is developing a new military courtroom at the facility.

How Many Inmates Are Held at Guantanamo Bay?

According to Pentagon statistics seen by Newsweek, there are currently 39 inmates still detained at the prison, most of which have never been charged with a crime. Of those, 12 have been charged with war crimes, with an additional 10 awaiting trial and a further two inmates convicted.

An additional 13 prisoners have been recommended for an overseas transfer while 14 others are eligible for a Periodic Review Board. All 14 of them have undergone a review since the start of the Biden Administration. Afghan prisoners represented the largest proportion of detainees at the centre over the last two decades, with 203 of them held at the prison.

Over the course of four different presidencies, Guantanamo Bay has become infamous for the frequent allegations of detainee torture.

Department of Defense Spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth L. Hoffman told Newsweek: "Torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment is prohibited for all U.S. personnel in all locations. We recognize there have been violations of the law by U.S. personnel in the past. However, all allegations of abuse are thoroughly investigated, and those who failed to adhere to these treatment standards have and will continue to be held accountable."

Human rights organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have spoken out against the reportedly ongoing use of extreme interrogation methods.

At least 9 prisoners are known to have died behind bars, with an additional 30 reported to have died after being transferred from the detention center.

In a statement, Daphne Eviatar, Director of the Security with Human Rights Program at Amnesty International USA, said: "This is about more than just the 40 people still held at Guantaanamo—it is also about the crimes under international law committed over the past 19 years and the continuing lack of accountability for them.

"It is about the future, too, as we move towards the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and strive for enduring justice."

Detainees Held at Guatnamo Bay
In this handout photo provided by the U.S. Navy, U.S. Military Police guard Taliban and al Qaeda detainees in orange jumpsuits January 11, 2002 in a holding area at Camp X-Ray at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba during in-processing to the temporary detention facility. Photo by Petty Officer 1st class Shane T. McCoy/U.S. Navy via Getty Images/Shane T. McCoy

Will the Guantanamo Bay prison ever close?

There has long been a push to close the detention centre. Shortly after assuming office in January 2009, President Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13492 ordering the closure of Guantanamo Bay. However, Obama was unable to close the center during his administration.

In January 2018, President Donald Trump signed a contrasting executive order to keep the offshore jail open.

During the Bush administration roughly 540 prisoners were released, a further 200 were released under President Barack Obama, one prisoner was released during the Donald Trump administration and Joe Biden has thus far released one additional detainee.

President Biden has picked up the promise of his Democrat predecessor and has vowed to close Guantanamo Bay.

Hoffman said: "The Biden administration remains dedicated to a deliberate and thorough process focused on responsibly reducing the detainee population and ultimately closing the Guantanamo facility. To that end, the National Security Council continues to work closely with the Departments of Defense, State, and Justice and other departments and agencies."

Guantanamo Bay Detainment
The main gate at the prison in Guantanamo at the US Guantanamo Naval Base on October 16, 2018, in Guantanamo Base, Cuba. Despite former President Donald Trump's executive order to keep the facility open, President Joe Biden has promised to close it by the end of his administration. Sylvie Laneteaume/AFP via Getty Images

Biden expands centre despite vow to close Guantanamo

The Pentagon is building an additional new courtroom at Guantanamo Bay, the second at the facility. The new $4 million dollar expansion is designed to allow two military judges to hold court proceedings and war crimes trials from 2023.

However, unlike the existing courtroom, the new one will be closed off to the public, raising further concerns over transparency at the prison camp. Those hoping to follow the proceedings at the new courtroom will only have access to a delayed video broadcast in an entirely different building.

The detention facilities also suppose a substantial financial drain for the U.S. administration. In 2015, it was reported that running the Guantanamo Bay camp cost the U.S. Department of Defense roughly $445 million.

In a 2016 Homeland Security hearing, congressional representative Bennie Thompson said: "In addition to these annual costs, maintaining the facility in the future would require an additional $200 million. Closing the facility is expected to save between $140 million and $180 million annually."

In February 2021, The New York Times revealed that it costs approximately $13 million per prisoner to keep Guantanamo Bay running, reportedly making it the most expensive detention facility in the world. In contrast, the annual cost of inmate detention at high-risk federal prisons is roughly $78,000.