Reprieve has been fighting for the prisoners held in Guantanamo since the day it opened 17 years ago. We were some of the fist lawyers allowed in and have freed more prisoners than any other organisation. Our lawyers continue to represent the detainees and travel to Guantanamo regularly for legal visits with our clients.
Here’s what you need to know about the world’s most notorious illegal prison.
What is Guantanamo Bay?
Guantanamo 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 Guantanamo. Since then, Guantanamo has become a symbol for injustice and torture.
Are the detainees really the ‘worst of the worst’?
More detainees have died in Guantanamo 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 Guantanamo’s gates, 729 have now been released, with only 4 being convicted. But still 40 detainees remain there.
How are the detainees treated?
At Guantanamo, 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 Guantanamo.
In a 2006 report, the UN Committee Against Torture stated that the United States should end detention at at Guantanamo 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 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.’
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 Guantanamo been closed?
Despite widespread condemnation, legal challenges and public pressure, Guantanamo has now operated for 17 years, through 4 presidential terms (now in its 5th).
Shortly after his inauguration in 2009, President Obama signed an executive order to close Guantanamo 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 Guantanamo has been a complete disaster.
Since his election in 2016, President Trump has promised to keep the Guantanamo open and load it up with “bad dudes”.
Join the movement to Close Guantanamo
17 years since it opened, Guantánamo has become an enduring symbol of injustice in our time. That’s why we’re renewing our campaign to have America’s illegal prison closed for good – will you join our movement by adding your name?