Reprieve has been fighting for the prisoners held in Guantánamo since the day it opened 16 years ago. We were some of the fist lawyers allowed in and have freed more prisoners than any other organization. Our lawyers continue to represent the detainees and travel to Guantánamo regularly for legal visits with our clients.
Here’s what you need to know about the world’s most notorious illegal prison.
What is Guantánamo Bay detention camp?
Guantánamo Bay is a US detention camp established by President George W. Bush in 2002 in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. It is located at a US military base on Cuba.
It was said that the prisoners were the “worst of the worst” – men so dangerous that an offshore facility was needed to detain and interrogate them.
The US government sought to create a legal black hole, where neither US nor international law applied. The administration claimed that the detainees were not covered by the US Constitution because they were not on US soil, and that their “enemy combatant” status meant they could be denied legal protections.
On 11 January 2002, the first detainees arrived, hooded, shackled and terrified, at Guantánamo. Since then, Guantánamo has become a symbol for injustice and torture.
Are the detainees really the ‘worst of the worst’?
More detainees have died in Guantánamo than have been convicted of any crime. As it turned out, the ‘worst of the worst’ claim did not stand up, and the US began to release the those who had been rounded up and sent there.
At least 15 children were held. The majority of detainees were never even charged with a crime, let alone convicted of one. In all, of the 780 prisoners who have been though Guantánamo’s gates, 729 have now been released, with only only 4 being convicted.
But still 41 detainees remain there. The last release was in January 2017.
How are the detainees treated?
At Guantánamo the systematic use of both psychological and physical torture has been widespread, and abuse continues to this day. For many detainees, the torture began while they were detained in CIA Black Sites before being taken to Guantánamo.
In a 2006 report, the UN Committee Against Torture stated that the United States should end detention at at Guantánamo 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…”
Many international bodies have denounced the treatment of detainees at Guantánamo. 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.’
The main conclusion of the US Senate’s 2014 probe into torture was that it “was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence.” But Donald Trump has said he would like to bring “back waterboarding, and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding… Don’t tell me it doesn’t work—torture works… if it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway, for what they’re doing to us. We have to fight fire with fire.”
Why hasn’t Guantánamo been closed?
Despite widespread condemnation, legal challenges and public pressure, Guantánamo has now operated for 16 years, through 4 presidential terms (now in its 5th).
Shortly after his inauguration in 2009, President Obama signed an executive order to close Guantánamo within one year, calling it a “sad chapter in American history.” But he succeeded only in reducing the number of detainees from 245 to 41.
Despite it’s widespread human rights abuses and terrible record of locking up the wrong people, some still refuse to admit that Guantánamo has been a complete disaster.
Since his election in 2016, President Trump has promised to keep the Guantánamo open and load it up with “bad dudes.”
What work has Reprieve done in Guantánamo?
Reprieve’s founder, Clive Stafford Smith, was one of three lawyers who successfully sued for access to Guantánamo bay detention camp. Following this, Reprieve was one of the first organizations allowed inside Guantánamo, 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 Guantánamo, and provide legal assistance to many more. Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, a Reprieve US attorney, continues to make regular visits to Guantánamo.
We also help detainees after their release. Reprieve’s ‘Life After Guantánamo’ 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.