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16 years of Guantánamo

Razor wire tops the fence of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay.
Razor wire tops the fence of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay. Photo: John Moore / Getty Images

As of last week, it has been 16 years since the Guantánamo Bay detention camp was opened by George W. Bush, and the first detainees arrived. Since then, around 780 people have been held at the detention camp. 41 remain.

What's new: The latest hearings for five detainees, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed, known as "the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks," started last Monday.

  • The bottom line: Since its opening, the prison has been a point of contention for both Republicans and Democrats; during the 2008 campaign both Barack Obama and John McCain said they aimed to close the prison. But, despite pledges on both sides to close it, it's still operating.

A timeline of Guantánamo since opening 16 years ago:

January 2002: The first 20 detainees arrive at Guantánamo Bay.

March 2003: A federal appeals court that prisoners don't have legal rights in the U.S.

June 2003: The prison reaches it's peak, holding 684 prisoners.

June 2004: The Supreme Court rules that those held by the Bush administration in the U.S. and at Guantánamo Bay, and deemed enemy combatants, are allowed to challenge their status before a judge.

November 2004: Per NYT, the International Committee of the Red Cross asserts that the U.S. military was purposefully using "psychological and sometimes physical coercion" equivalent to torture on Gitmo detainees.

May 2006: Bush says: "I very much would like to end Guantánamo; I very much would like to get people to a court."

June 2006: Supreme Court rules 5 to 3 against putting detainees on trial before military commissions, marking a "sweeping and categorical defeat for the Bush administration," per the NYT.

June 2007: Then-presidential candidate Obama says he will close the military prison.

July 2007: Bush signs an executive order saying the CIA will "comply with a Geneva Conventions prohibition against 'outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment,'" per the Washington Post. The EO didn't include "any details about actual interrogation techniques," the Post reports.

October 2008: Bush decides to keep Gitmo open. Per the New York Times, he "adopted the view of his most hawkish advisers that closing Guantánamo would involve too many legal and political risks to be acceptable."

January 2009: President Obama signs executive order to close the detention camp within one year. He said he was closing it to "restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great even in the midst of war, even in dealing with terrorism."

January 2011: Obama signs National Defense Authorization Act; one provision bars the Department of Defense from moving prisoners to the U.S. for trial.

February 2013: More than 100 detainees go on hunger strike, with many being force-fed. Per the Guardian, a lawyer representing some of those on strike, Carlos Warner said: "The hunger strike grows for two reasons: the military's refusal to negotiate with the men in a productive way and because the president has taken no action in spite of his words."

January 2016: With Guantánamo still operating, Obama says in his final State of the Union address: "I will keep working to shut down the prison at Guantánamo: it's expensive, it's unnecessary, and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies."

February 2016: Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump says at a Nevada campaign rally that he plans to keep Gitmo open: "We're gonna load it up with some bad dudes, believe me, we're gonna load it up."