Shaker Aamer read Harry Potter during his 13 years in Guantanamo Bay, where he was held without charge. The idea of Azkaban, a wizard prison where all the world’s happiness is sucked away by monsters, felt very similar to his situation. It’s a bleak description, but despite efforts to close the facility, Guantanamo has remained open and could soon get a whole lot worse. John Oliver gave a sharp reminder on Sunday’s Last Week Tonight episode that power over the facility may soon transfer to Donald Trump.
“The keys to Azkaban will be handed over to whoever succeeds him,” Oliver said. “If we don’t shut it down, future president Trump could theoretically throw anyone he doesn’t like into Guantanamo.”
Although its closure was a key goal of President Barack Obama’s during his eight-year administration, the prison looks like it will stay open. A report from the UN’s human rights council in 2015 repeatedly highlighted Guantanamo as a major issue in the United States’ human rights record. First-hand accounts reveal detainee abuse, but the true nature of the prison remains a mystery due to heavily redacted files.
Guantanamo hasn’t been closed for a few reasons. First, Americans like it. A March 2016 poll conducted by the New York Times and CBS News found that 52 percent want the facility to remain open. This is reflected in elected officials: Senators like Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, have publicly declared their support for Guantanamo.
Another reason is it’s hard to decide what to do with the prisoners. Of the 61 detained, 31 have not been charged. This number, known as the “irreducible minimum,” is made up of people who the U.S. believes have committed crimes, but there is not enough evidence to bring them to trial, and the government does not want to risk finding an inmate “not guilty,” releasing them, and then finding out they’ve committed a crime again.
The risks associated with releasing these prisoners, Oliver argued, is outweighed by the beliefs the country was founded on. Freedom means “standing up for our highest ideals, even when it requires accepting a certain amount of risk.” Keeping people locked up without charge or trial as they wait away the decades violates these principles.
“No amount of sugarcoating can cover up what we have done at Guantanamo,” Oliver said.
Last Week Tonight airs Sundays on HBO.