Guantanamo, that embarrassing legacy of the Bush administration, at least in the eyes of his successor, US President Barack Obama, who promised to close it, has instead acquired a sense of permanence. New buildings have sprung up, walls have fresh paint and there are better facilities for visiting media, settled routines for the Joint Task Force that runs it, and now the first military commission hearing to be held at its $11.6 million “expeditionary legal complex” since the change of chief in the White House.
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of a suicide attack on the USS Cole in Aden on October 12, 2000, which killed 17 American sailors, was expected to appear overnight in Guantanamo’s fortified military courtroom. If convicted, he could face the death penalty. His first appearance in public since his capture nine years ago and subsequent torture underscores the legal, political and moral dilemma that saw Mr Obama fail to honour his pledge to close Guantanamo. Confronted by the intractable problem of how to prosecute tortured terrorist detainees within the US court system, he lifted the two-year freeze on new military trials at Guantanamo in March.
Mr Nashiri, 46, a Saudi Arabian, was arrested in the United Arab Emirates in 2002 and brought to the camp in 2006. He is the first of the dozen or so “high-value” detainees to be brought before the military court since Mr Obama breathed new life into Guantanamo. The label “high value” refers to terrorist suspects who were swept into the CIA’s rendition program, held in secret prisons in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa and subjected to “enhanced” interrogation methods, including waterboarding (simulated drowning).