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Happy 10th Birthday, Guantanamo Bay

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Photo by Shane Mccoy/Mai/Mai/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Some of the first prisoners to arrive at Guantanamo's Camp X-Ray 10 years ago; the caption on file with this photograph refers to the "temporary detention facility" they would soon be occupying

Guantanamo Bay remains the persistent headache that pretty much all Americans would like to go away. Wednesday marks its 10th birthday as home to alleged terrorists scooped up by the U.S. following the 9/11 terror attacks.

President Obama’s pledge to shut down the prison within a year of taking office passed two years ago. It has been a year since any of the remaining 171 detainees left, because of congressional bars on bringing them to the U.S., and the willingness of the U.S. government to sanction indefinite detention.

“The commitment the president has to closing Guantanamo Bay,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday, “is as firm today as it was during the campaign.” Carney endorsed the headache notion, saying shutting Gitmo down

…is the right thing to do for our national security interests. That has been an opinion shared not just by this president or members of this administration, but senior members of the military as well as this president’s predecessor [that would be President George W. Bush], and the man he ran against for this office in the general election [that would be GOP Senator John McCain of Arizona].”

“There is plenty of blame to go around,” says Tom Parker of Amnesty International. “Congress has worked diligently to block the President’s attempts to close Guantánamo, but the President has also failed to make the case to the American people that it must be closed.”

The decade will be marked by protests in Washington, Berlin, Madrid and London. Even some of the detainees are expected to reject their meals to protest their continuing confinement. Rights activists are not only upset with Obama for failing to keep his pledge to shut down the prison over congressional objections, but because he recently signed a defense bill authorizing indefinite military detention without trial.

Thirty-six of the 171 still being held on the U.S. Navy base in southeastern Cuba await trial for war crimes; the remaining 135 are being held because they are allegedly dangerous, can’t be sent home because their homeland is falling apart, or because of congressional restrictions. Congress has barred delivering any of the detainees to the U.S. for trial, and blocked the transfer of many approved for release by a Justice Department-led task force.

The Bush Administration flew the initial batch of 20 detainees to Gitmo in chains and orange jump suits that garnered worldwide attention a decade ago. By placing them on a U.S. military base in Cuba, their thinking went, they could be kept away from Americans – and from any legal rights they might get on U.S. soil. By the time Gitmo’s population crested at nearly 800 two years later, the place was roiling with anger. In the years since, more modern facilities have been built. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the supposed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, is scheduled to be arraigned at Gitmo later this year.

Is the White House any closer to closing Gitmo today than it was on January 20, 2009, the day Obama became President? “This this is a process that faces obstacles that we’re all aware of,” Carney said Monday when he was asked, “and we will continue to work through it.”

That’s White House-speak for don’t count on it.

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