The Guantanamo Bay detention camp, also known as Gitmo, is a United States military prison that is located on the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. The purpose of the facility is to house enemy combatants and suspected terrorists captured by U.S. forces, mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan. Gitmo has become a leading symbol of the United States’ approach to their “War on Terror”, but the detention center is also globally known for the human rights violations committed there. The majority of prisoners that have been in the facility were never charged with a crime or were never put on trial for their alleged crimes. For almost two decades now, the facility has been continuously in violation of international law, participating in torture, inhumane conditions, unfair trials or military commissions, and illegal and indefinite detention. Nevertheless, the facility has gone unchecked for years and the international community is still wondering whether or not the Guantanamo Bay detention camp is ethically and legally allowed to remain open.
Guantanamo Bay was established under President Bush’s administration in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks. Under Bush, detainees were captured on foreign soil, not charged with any crime, brought to Guantanamo, detained indefinitely without trial, and denied access to counsel. While Bush’s efforts to fight the War on Terror were generally supported by the country and Congress, it soon became glaringly obvious that this fight had no scheduled end and this “ongoing threat” is now virtually indefinite. Interrogation of the detainees at Guantanamo began on January 23, 2002, and although the interrogations were conducted in a manner that was determined to be in violation of international norms and standards, the interrogations continued, even after the improper conduct was revealed.
The operation of Guantanamo Bay continued under President Obama’s administration, even though he promised during his presidential campaign that he would close the facility. Gitmo remained open for the entirety of Obama’s presidency, and while the majority of the detainees were either resettled, transferred, or repatriated within those years, there remained 41 detainees at the end of his presidency. While President Obama ran on the promise that he would close Guantanamo Bay permanently, Donald Trump promised he would keep Gitmo open indefinitely and fill it with more detainees. In keeping that promise as president, Trump signed an executive order on January 30, 2018 to keep the facility open, and vowed not to transfer another detainee outside of Guantanamo.
The United States has been found multiple times to be in violation of international law in regard to the treatment of the detainees at Guantanamo. The inhumane treatment of the detainees at Guantanamo began under the Bush Administration, after the U.S. military admitted to the use of interrogation techniques that the international community had condemned as torture. At this point, the majority of the world is well aware of the human rights violations that have occurred, and continued to occur, at Guantanamo.
A report by the Center for Constitutional Rights published in 2006 titled “Report on Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment of Prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba” detailed the various and numerous forms of torture and interogation methods used by the U.S. military. The report is compiled from dozens of first-hand accounts from the detainees themselves regarding the acts of abuse that they endured for years at the hands of American soldiers. Contrary to what the Bush Administration and the Secretary of Defense at the time claim, the Guantanamo prisoners were not “the worst of the worst.” According to the report, “the U.S. military has openly acknowledged that many of the men at Guantanamo do not belong there.” Many of the detainees at the facility have absolutely no ties or connections to terrorist organizations, and yet they have been denied access to legal representation and counsel to fight on their behalf.
Since its establishment, dozens if not hundreds of innocent men have been imprisoned and mistreated in Guantanamo, but regardless of presumed innocence, just about every detainee that has stepped foot in the facility has been tortured and abused. Due to these aggressive and unnecessary techniques, many detainees “lost their sanity,” “tried to commit suicide, some multiple times,” and undertook “hunger strikes to protest conditions at Gurantanamo” which “resulted in the military intransally force-feeding over thirty prisoners.” According to Human Rights First, there have been nine detainees who have died at Guantanamo. Lastly, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights, the detainees in custody have been psychologically, physically, and sexually abused, and have experienced degrading treatment that has been left unchecked for two decades.
Out of the roughly 780 detainees that have been imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, 40 detainees remain after two decades of the facility’s operation. Three presidents have come and gone since then, each with a different viewpoint and opinion about whether or not to keep the facility up and running. Newly elected President Biden launched an official review into the facility in February of 2021, “reviving the Obama-era goal of closing the controversial facility with the aim of doing so before he leaves office,” according to Reuters. Keeping the same opinion as President Obama, Biden vowed to close the facility during his election bid, but it was unclear how he plans to go about it within the next four years. This does not, however, come as a shock, since multiple former and current detainees have penned letters to President Biden urging him to close the facility, once and for all. Only time will tell if he keeps his promise during his presidency and finally puts an end to the inhumane abuse that countless detainees have endured, in the hopes that no one else has to suffer from the same injustice.