75 House Democrats urge Biden to take immediate steps to close Guantanamo, calling the prison a ‘fundamental betrayal’ of US values

A detainee at Guantanamo Bay wearing an orange jumpsuit is escorted by US military police as other police look on.
US Army Military Police escort a detainee to his cell January 11, 2001 in Camp X-Ray at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during in-processing to the temporary detention. Getty Images
  • 75 House Democrats signed a letter calling on Biden to take swift steps to close the Guantanamo Bay prison.
  • The lawmakers decried the prison as a “fundamental betrayal of our values.”
  • The Biden administration has vowed to work toward closing the controversial facility.
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House Democrats are ramping up pressure on President Joe Biden to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, widely viewed as a damning symbol of torture and human rights abuses committed by the US post-9/11.

The White House earlier this year said it was the administration’s intention to close the prison after a review process.

“We write in strong support of your stated goal to close the prison,” said the letter addressed to Biden on Wednesday and signed by 75 House Democrats – including top lawmakers such as House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff of California, House Foreign Affairs Chair Gregory Meeks of New York, House Armed Services Chair Adam Smith of Washington state, and House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler of New York.

“We share your belief that after nearly two decades and tremendous expense, it is time to close the prison and seek prompt resolutions for the cases of the remaining detainees,” the letter continued. “We ask that as you take the steps necessary to finally closing the prison, you act immediately to further reduce its population, ensure that the remaining detainees are treated humanely, and increase the transparency of military commission proceedings at the Guantanamo detention facility.”

The letter decried the prison as a “fundamental betrayal of our values and our commitment as a country to the rule of law.”

The controversial Cuba-based detention center was opened in 2002 by then-President George W. Bush to house alleged terrorists, and nearly 800 people have been held there in the time since. Former President Barack Obama vowed to close the prison during his first presidential campaign, but faced Republican opposition in Congress and failed to accomplish this before leaving office. The number of detainees did reduce significantly under the Obama administration, however, from 245 to 41.

Former President Donald Trump took a drastically different approach, signing an executive order in 2018 to keep the prison open – and only one prisoner was transferred out during his term in the White House.

Biden has taken small steps toward shuttering the facility. In June, the Pentagon announced a Moroccan citizen held at the prison, Abdul Latif Nasser, was transferred to his home country.

“Since earlier this year, the Biden administration has been involved in an interagency review of detentions at Guantanamo Bay,” a senior administration official told Politico’s NatSec Daily. “Now, the administration is engaged in a deliberate and thorough process focused on responsibly reducing the detainee population and closing of the Guantanamo facility.”

There are still 39 men imprisoned at Guantanamo – many have been held for years without being tried or charged, and 10 have been cleared for release.

A number of Republicans in Congress continue to oppose closing the prison.