Last week, the attorney Jon Eisenberg was trying to get in touch with a client of his—a Syrian named Jihad Ahmed Mujstafa Diyab, who has been detained at Guantánamo Bay for nearly twelve years without trial. Twice a day for months, medical staff and guards have dragged Diyab from his cell, strapped him in a chair, and forced a tube down his throat, ostensibly to ensure that he doesn’t die during a prolonged hunger strike.
Eisenberg had trouble reaching Diyab. All telephone communication between detainees and their lawyers had been shut down, Eisenberg says—presumably because President Obama was in the midst of delicate and secret negotiations with the Taliban over exchanging five other men held at Guantánamo for an American prisoner of war named Bowe Bergdahl. (A spokesperson for Joint Task Force Guantanamo said he could not confirm or deny Eisenberg’s account.)
The five Guantánamo detainees, reportedly Taliban officials, have now been escorted to Qatar, where they will be able to walk freely on the streets. Left at the military prison are seventy-eight other men who have been cleared for release yet remain in interminable detention. Most, like Diyab, were cleared more than four years ago. Though Obama continues to profess his commitment to closing the prison, and though constraints placed by Congress on his ability to do so have weakened considerably, his administration has not demonstrated the resolve to transfer the remaining prisoners.
“From the administration’s perspective, I think they must have seen more urgency from Bergdahl,” said Eisenberg. “From my client’s perspective, it’s plenty urgent. He’s being tortured every day.”
Just weeks ago the president of Uruguay, Jose Mujica Cordano, offered to accept six of the cleared men as refugees. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said on May 28 that he would decide to reject or accept the proposal “fairly soon.” Now that Obama has shown a willingness to push legal boundaries in order to move detainees whose designation as a threat seems at least plausible, the circumstance of men like Diyab, who the government never intends to charge with a crime, is even more indefensible.