Newly-revealed plans for expanding the Guantanamo Bay prison confirm that the future of the facility focuses on keeping detainees there well into old age—and likely for the rest of their lives.
A decade after President Barack Obama signed an executive order calling for Guantanamo Bay to be shuttered, prison officials are seeking contractors to build a wheelchair-accessible 5,000-square foot compound at the detention center, according to reports by the Middle East Eye and the Miami Herald.
Human rights advocates on Thursday decried the move.
“Building wheelchair accessible prison cells at Guantanamo paints a deeply chilling picture,” said Maya Foa, director of the British human rights organization Reprieve. “President Trump appears to be planning to detain men—the vast majority of whom have never been charged with a crime or faced a trial—until they die.”
The new wing will contain three handicapped-accessible cells—suggesting that the prison is planning to provide end-of-life care to detainees, many of whom have not been formally charged with any crime or been afforded a trial.
Lt. Jason Tross, a Guantanamo Bay official, told the Middle East Eye that the new handicapped-accessible cells are indeed planned because the prison is “facing an ageing detainee population.”
Of the 40 men who are currently being held at the prison in Cuba, 26 are considered “forever prisoners,” having never been tried. Five have been cleared for release in recent years but remain imprisoned. Some prisoners have been at Guantanamo Bay since the say the facility opened in 2002.
A number of detainees are now in their 50s and 60s, and the oldest inmate is 71 years old and in poor health after having been detained for 14 years.
President Donald Trump has said multiple times that he wants the current prisoners to stay at Guantanamo indefinitely and that he is open to sending more detainees there. Administration officials have said they may detain captives suspected of fighting for ISIS there.
The Herald and Middle East Eye reports came weeks after Reprieve released a study of the Periodic Review Board (PRB), which has repeatedly denied release to the 40 remaining prisoners.
The PRB, the group said, “occupies the space that rightfully should belong to the criminal courts” but is focused on assessing prisoners’ so called “threat levels” instead of proving they are guilty of an actual crime and sentencing them to a specific amount of time behind bars.
The “rigged system,” the study argued, “fails to meet any standards of independence and impartiality and instead acts as a conduit for decisions which ultimately lie with the executive branch—a branch currently led by a president who has publicly declared that ‘there should be no further releases from Gitmo.’”
“Indefinite detention has no place in a democratic society,” said Foa on Thursday. “The men who have been cleared for release must be returned home and the prison should be shut once and for all.”
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Julia Conley is a Common Dreams staff writer.