Within days of his first inauguration, Barack Obama signed a presidential order directing his administration to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base (GTMO) within one year, following up with astonishing alacrity on his campaign promises, despite many competing policy priorities. Martha Rayner, an associate professor of law at Fordham University and director of its criminal defense clinic, did not expect an immediate parade of planes ferrying her clients and other GTMO prisoners to their home countries but did imagine that that GTMO, and the indefinite imprisonment without trial that it stood for, would soon end.
A week later, she was in Camp Echo, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, visiting one of her clients: Sanad al-Kazimi, a husband and father of four from Aden, Yemen. He had been abducted by some arm of some government in the United Arab Emirates in January 2003 and subjected to brutal torture, without being formally arrested, charged with a crime, or provided an opportunity to be heard. He was not captured by soldiers on a battlefield and registered with the International Committee of the Red Cross, an independent organization that monitors treatment of war detainees. He was disappeared.
After that, al-Kazimi was relocated multiple times. One of the stops was at a CIA-run site in Afghanistan dubbed the “Dark Prison” by detainees who emerged to describe the complete darkness they had been held in, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. While there, Mr. al-Kazimi tried to kill himself on three separate occasions by hitting his head against the wall of his cell. Each time, his U.S. captors intervened and injected him with drugs that put him out.
Following his time at the Dark Prison, al-Kazimi was transferred to the United States’ Bagram Airfield Military Base in Afghanistan. This move, writes Rayner, was designed to transform what was unquestionably illegal detention by the CIA into military imprisonment that had a veneer of lawfulness. The U.S. military then colluded in torture by attempting to erase what the CIA had done.