FRONTLINE: Out Of Gitmo
Airs Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV
Thursday, February 16, 2017
Credit: Courtesy of FRONTLINE 2017
The dramatic story of a Gitmo detainee released from the controversial U.S. prison after 14 years.
When President Obama first took office, he signed an executive order to close the controversial military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — where the U.S. has held terror suspects for years without charges.
Though he didn’t succeed in closing Gitmo, a symbol of the post-9/11 war on terror, Obama made a final push to clear out the camp before President Trump took over. Last year, he released 52 detainees, nearly half of them men who had been held indefinitely without charges. Once deemed too dangerous to let go, the detainees were finally cleared for release and scattered around the world in secret deals with foreign governments.
On Feb. 21, 2017, in a one-hour, two-part report, FRONTLINE examines the release of these “indefinite detainees,” and the little-known history of how Gitmo became a place where the government claimed it could hold people beyond the reach of U.S. law.
"Out of Gitmo" - Preview
In the first segment, “Out Of Gitmo,” NPR and WGBH News correspondent Arun Rath follows the trail of one of the most recently released detainees from Gitmo to Serbia, where the government sent the former terror suspect. NPR’s "All Things Considered" will also air a segment previewing “Out Of Gitmo" February 21. See stations and broadcast times at NPR.org/stations.
Rath, who has been covering Gitmo for years, talks with officials inside the camp and in Washington, including former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, exploring the challenges and complexities of releasing men who were never charged with a crime but were once considered too great a risk to let go.
“I wanted assurance from my security people that in fact they had seen physically where these people were going to be, who was going to monitor them,” Hagel, who personally signed off on the release of 40 detainees, tells Rath. “And on the other side, we say to the host countries that are going to accept them: we want these people to get back into society, where they are productive citizens.”
The film focuses on the case of Mansoor Al Dayfi, who was captured in his early twenties in Afghanistan and accused of being an Al Qaeda commander. His final review before being released after 15 years concluded he was at worst a low-level fighter and possibly not a member of Al Qaeda at all.
Rath follows the twists and turns of Mansoor’s life outside Gitmo, as he carries out a hunger strike in protest of being transferred to Serbia, and struggles to put Gitmo behind him in a country wary of his presence there.
Rath also returns to the camp, where there are signs of a long future ahead: “President Trump has said repeatedly that there won’t be any more releases of detainees like Mansoor, and that he plans to use his powers to hold more people here indefinitely,” Rath says.
Rath’s reporting continues in a second segment, “Forever Prison.” In collaboration with Retro Report, the film draws on extensive and rare archival footage to tell the little known story of how the military base came to be used to hold people beyond the reach of U.S. law. It happened a decade before 9/11, when some 70,000 Haitian refugees fled their country, seeking asylum in the U.S. in the wake of a bloody coup.
U.S. officials intercepted hundreds of boats at sea — sending most of the refugees back to Haiti. Many others, though, were brought to Guantanamo, where normal U.S. asylum laws would not apply. The Haitians’ claims were processed at the camp, but without access to lawyers like they would have had if they made it to the U.S.
As “Forever Prison” recounts, the Haitians’ situation caught the attention of a group of Yale law students and their professor, who successfully fought the government to be able to represent the Haitians and ultimately get many of them to the U.S. for asylum hearings – drawing on some startling evidence.
“We got a series of videotapes,” Yale Law Professor Harold Koh says. “And one of them showed this scene where the U.S. military came into the camp and suppressed an uprising among the Haitians by physically mauling them, dragging them around. Remember, these are not criminals, these are refugees.”
“We thought we were alone all this time,” says Marie Genard, who fled Haiti with her father and was then held at Guantanamo for more than a year. “We were not alone. We had people who wanted us here. We had people who was fighting for us.”
But the court battle over the Haitians’ rights at Gitmo would ultimately leave the camp in legal limbo, and help set the stage years later for the Bush administration to argue Guantanamo was a place where post 9/11 terror suspects could be held outside the reach of U.S. law.
Together, “Out Of Gitmo” and “Forever Prison” provide essential context for the continuing debate on what to do with the people still there — and what will happen to the camp going forward.
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A collaboration with NPR and WGBH News. The writer and producer is James Jacoby. The correspondent is NPR/WGBH News reporter Arun Rath. "Forever Prison" is a FRONTLINE production with Retro Report. The writer and producer is Bonnie Bertram. The correspondent is NPR/WGBH News reporter Arun Rath. The senior producer of both films is Frank Koughan. The senior investigations editor for NPR is Robert Little. The executive producer for Retro Report is Kyra Darnton. “Out Of Gitmo” is a production with Left/Right Docs. The executive producers for Left/Right Docs are Ken Druckerman and Banks Tarver. The executive producer for FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath.
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