What is Guantanamo Bay detention camp?
The United States government established Guantanamo Bay detention camp in its military base in Cuba in the aftermath of 9/11, as a place to hold detainees it termed ‘enemy combatants’ beyond the reach of the law in the ongoing ‘War on Terror’. Over its fifteen year history, the detention center has housed 780 detainees in total.
Are detainees in Guantanamo guilty of any crimes?
The US government has produced little to no evidence that most of the detainees held at Guantanamo Bay were ever enemy soldiers. At least 86% of these men were not detained on the battlefield by the US military, but rather were seized by authorities of other nations and turned over to US custody in exchange for generous bounties offered by the United States in impoverished Afghan and Pakistani villages.
Detainees are ‘guilty until proven innocent,’ an assumption which turns hundreds of years of the American legal system on its head. The overwhelming majority of prisoners in Guantanamo are not formally charged with a crime. With no charges, there can be no trial. With no trial, there is never formal recognition of exoneration. In fact, of the 780 men ever held in Guantanamo, only four have ever been convicted by military tribunals.
Despite an increasing recognition of mistakes made by the US in the context of the ‘War on Terror,’ men from Guantanamo continue to live with having been labelled the ‘worst of the worst.’ People still presume their guilt, a stigma that is hard to overcome.
What are conditions like in Guantanamo?
The US government denies that the Geneva conventions apply to men detained at Guantanamo and thus deprives them of the basic rights afforded to detainees of war.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in a rare leaked report, highlighted the use of torture in Guantanamo. The ICRC report described how the systematic use of both psychological and physical torture—often in collusion with medical staff—was designed to break the will of the detainees and make them dependent on their interrogators. The ICRC outlined techniques such as humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes, use of forced positions as well as the exploitation of detainees’ psychological and medical reports.
Detainees who have protested against their mistreatment via hunger strikes, have been subjected to violent force-feeding against their will.
Many international bodies have denounced the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in its Resolution 1433 concluded that ‘many if not all detainees have been subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment occurring as a direct result of official policy.’
In a 2006 report, the UN Committee Against Torture stated that the United States should cease to detain any person at Guantanamo Bay and “take immediate measures to eradicate all forms of torture and ill-treatment of detainees.” Further, it said that the United States ‘should rescind any interrogation technique – including methods involving sexual humiliation, ‘water boarding,’ ‘short shackling’ and using dogs to induce fear … in all places of detention under its de facto effective control.’
What work has Reprieve done in Guantanamo?
Reprieve’s founder, Clive Stafford Smith, was one of three lawyers who successfully sued for access to Guantanamo bay detention camp. Following this, Reprieve was one of the first organisations allowed inside Guantanamo, and we have gone on to secure the freedom of over 80 individuals; more than any other law firm or NGO. We currently represent 7 detainees held in Guantanamo, and provide legal assistance to many more. Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, a Reprieve US attorney, continues to make regular visits to Guantanamo.
We also help detainees after their release. Reprieve’s ‘Life After Guantanamo’ team supports former detainees in their recovery, and in the challenges they face in trying to rebuild their lives. We work to make sure former detainees have access to essential services they need for rehabilitation.