Religious leaders reiterate calls for closing prison at Guantanamo Bay

Guantanamo Bay

In an 11 January letter from, among more than two dozen others, the National Council of Churches (USA), T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, and Islamic Society of North America, religious leaders called for President Biden to ensure that all of the people held at Guantanamo Bay are either released, agree to a plea deal, or receive a fair trial in a federal court.

“In the fullness of time we now know that many of the people sent to Guantanamo were never involved in terrorism in the first place,” the letter reads. “Even today, 20 years after the prison was opened, most of the prisoners have never been tried or convicted of any crime.”

The letter noted that, although the right to a trial is a bedrock American value, it has been denied to those at Guantanamo. “Allowing the government to claim a war-based authority to hold people for decades without charge or trial, in a conflict that has no clear end-state or conditions for victory, and for which the government does not recognize clear geographic boundaries, is an extraordinary and dangerous expansion of governmental authority,” the letter reads. “While the sustained immorality of holding people without trial ought to be reason enough to close the prison, it is also unreasonably expensive – costing more than half a billion dollars each year, or over $13 million per prisoner per year.”

The letter urges US leaders to spend tax dollars wisely. “More importantly you are responsible for upholding American values,” the letter concludes. “The prison at Guantanamo does neither. We pray that you will close it.”

Peter Prove, World Council of Churches Director for International Affairs, welcomed this renewed call by US religious leaders, noting that “the World Council of Churches has long been requesting justice and human rights for Guantanamo detainees.” A WCC central committee statement in 2005 urged the government of the United States “to immediately grant the legal rights accorded to detainees to all those held at the Guantanamo Bay naval base “without due process and in total violation of the norms and standards of international humanitarian and human rights law.”

WCC Central Committee, Geneva, 15-22 February, 2005

All human beings regardless of race, sex or belief have been created by God as individuals and in one human community. “Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.” (Article 11 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights)

The Central Committee is therefore deeply concerned by the continued unconscionable and illegal detention of over 600 foreign nationals, mostly Muslims, at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. The detainees have been held without due process and in total violation of the norms and standards of international humanitarian and human rights law including the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which the US ratified in 1992.

The US Government has denied detainees the scrutiny of their cases by courts of law in the US on grounds that “they are being held under the President’s authority as Commander in Chief and under the laws and usages of war”. Also they are “aliens with no connection to the US being held outside sovereign US territory”.

These grounds of detention undermine the universal principles of jurisprudence and are in violation of the fundamental rights of the detainees.

We are therefore encouraged by the actions of the NCCC-USA that has joined voices with other human rights, legal and religious non-governmental organizations in an amicus curiae brief filed in the US Supreme Court. The NCCC-USA’s request to visit the detainees at Guantanamo Bay on a pastoral and humanitarian basis was denied by the government. The NCCC-USA remains committed to the struggle for justice and rule of law and continues to monitor the situation as some of the cases of the detainees are being litigated under the US judicial system.

The Central Committee meeting in Geneva, February 15-22, 2005:

Urges the US Government immediately to grant legal rights accorded to detainees as outlined in the amicus curiae brief to which the NCCC-USA, together with other national and international non- governmental organizations, is a party;

Appeals to the US Government to let NCCC-USA fulfill its pastoral and humanitarian responsibilities to the detainees by giving it permission to visit them at Guantanamo Bay;

And calls on the churches to:

Appreciate and encourage the important work being done by the NCCC-USA in its endeavours to struggle for the rule of law and secure due process for those detained at Guantanamo Bay;

Educate and conscientize their congregations to the situation of those presently under detention in Guantanamo Bay and to fulfill their responsibility as a community of faith in Christ by calling for the release of those being held in detention under inhuman conditions;

Calls on member churches to pray for the just and fair treatment and trials of those under detention and for their families.


Close Guantanamo Bay Naval Base Prison


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