The Guantanamo Bay detention camp is a detainment and interrogation facility of the United States military located within Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba. The facility was established in January 2002 by the Bush Administration to hold detainees it had determined to be connected with opponents in the Global War on Terror including Afghanistan and later Iraq, the Horn of Africa and Southeast Asia. It is operated by the Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) of the United States government in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, which fronts on Guantánamo Bay in Cuba.
The detainment areas consist of three camps: Camp Delta (which includes Camp Echo), Camp Iguana, and Camp X-Ray, but Camp X-Ray has been closed. The facility is often referred to as Guantánamo, G-Bay or Gitmo, after GTMO, the military abbreviation for the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.
After Bush political appointees at the US Office of Legal Counsel, Department of Justice advised the Bush administration that the Guantanamo Bay detention camp could be considered outside U.S. legal jurisdiction, military guards took the first twenty captives to Guantanamo on January 11, 2002. The Bush administration asserted that detainees were not entitled to any of the protections of the Geneva Conventions. Ensuing U.S. Supreme Court decisions since 2004 have determined otherwise and that the courts have jurisdiction: it ruled in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld on June 29, 2006, that detainees were entitled to the minimal protections listed under Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. Following this, on July 7, 2006, the Department of Defense issued an internal memo stating that prisoners would in the future be entitled to protection under Common Article 3.
Current and former prisoners have complained of abuse and torture, which the Bush administration denied. In a 2005 Amnesty International report the facility was called the “gulag of our times.” In 2006 the United Nations called unsuccessfully for the Guantanamo Bay detention camp to be closed; one judge observed ‘America’s idea of what is torture … does not appear to coincide with that of most civilized nations’. Susan J. Crawford, appointed by Bush to review DOD practices used at Guantanamo Bay and oversee the military trials, told Bob Woodward of the Washington Post in an interview in January 2009 that Mohammed al-Qahtani was tortured while being held prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, making her the first Bush administration official to concede that torture occurred there.
On January 22, 2009, President Barack Obama signed an order to suspend the proceedings of the Guantanamo military commission for 120 days and to shut down the detention facility within the year. On January 29, 2009, a military judge at Guantanamo rejected the White House request in the case of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, creating an unexpected challenge for the administration as it reviewed how the United States brings Guantanamo detainees to trial. On May 20, 2009, the United States Senate passed an amendment to the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2009 (H.R. 2346) by a 90-6 vote to block funds needed for the transfer or release of prisoners held at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. President Obama issued a Presidential memorandum dated December 15, 2009, ordering Thomson Correctional Center, Thomson, Illinois to be prepared to accept transferred Guantanamo prisoners.
The Final Report of the Guantanamo Review Task Force, dated January 22, 2010, published the results for the 240 detainees subject to the Review: 36 were the subject of active cases or investigations; 30 detainees from Yemen were designated for ‘conditional detention’ due to the poor security environment in Yemen; 126 detainees were approved for transfer; 48 detainees were determined ‘too dangerous to transfer but not feasible for prosecution’.
On January 7, 2011, President Obama signed the 2011 Defense Authorization Bill, which, in part, placed restrictions on the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to the mainland or to foreign countries, thus impeding the closure of the facility. U.S. Secretary of Defense Gates said during testimony before the US Senate Armed Services Committee on February 17, 2011: “The prospects for closing Guantanamo as best I can tell are very, very low given very broad opposition to doing that here in the Congress.” Congress particularly opposed moving prisoners to facilities in the United States for detention or trial. In April 2011, Wikileaks began publishing 779 secret files relating to prisoners in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. As of March 2013, 166 detainees remain at Guantanamo
From the 1970s onwards, the United States used portions of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base for temporary housing of Cuban and Haitian refugees intercepted on the high seas, as many were trying to get from the Caribbean to the United States. In the 1990s, it held refugees who fled Haiti in Camp Bulkeley until United States District Court Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. declared the camp unconstitutional on June 8, 1993. The last Haitian migrants departed in late 1995.
In October 2001, the US began participating in the War in Afghanistan with the Northern Alliance to overturn the Taliban and dislodge al-Qaeda, a major terrorist organization. It said persons fighting with them were not part of a legitimate government force, and the administration classified them as enemy combatants. To house persons captured during the conflict and in later efforts against terrorists, the United States Department of Defense (DOD) constructed a new detention facility at the naval base. Structures were gradually added to provide care for the detainees, interrogation areas, hospital, etc. In June 2005, DOD announced that a unit of the defense contractor Halliburton would build a new $1 billion detention facility and security perimeter around the base.
Although the Bush administration said most of the men had been captured in fighting in Afghanistan, a 2006 report prepared by the Center for Policy and Research, Seton Hall University Law School reviewed DOD data for the remaining 517 men in 2005 and “established that over 80% of the prisoners were captured not by Americans on the battlefield but by Pakistanis and Afghans, often in exchange for bounty payments.” The US offered $5,000 per prisoner and distributed leaflets widely in the region.
Top Department of Defense officials often referred to these prisoners as the “worst of the worst,” but a 2003 memo by then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said, “We need to stop populating Guantanamo Bay (GTMO) with low-level enemy combatants … GTMO needs to serve as an [redacted] not a prison for Afghanistan.” The Center for Policy and Research‘s 2006 report based on DOD released data, found that most detainees were low-level people who were not affiliated with organizations on US terrorist lists.
Eight men have died in the prison camp; DOD has said that six were suicides. DOD reported three men, two Saudis and a Yemeni, had committed suicide on June 10, 2006. Government accounts, including an NCIS report released with redactions in August 2008, have been strongly questioned by the press, the detainees’ families, the Saudi government, former detainees, and human rights groups. Defense officials have reported three suicides at the camp since 2006Suicides and suicide attempts
During August 2003, there were 23 suicide attempts. The U.S. officials did not say why they had not previously reported the incident. After this event, the Pentagon reclassified suicides as “manipulative self-injurious behaviors”; camp physicians alleged that detainees do not genuinely wish to end their lives. Guantanamo Bay officials have reported 41 unsuccessful suicide attempts by 25 detainees since the U.S. began taking prisoners to the base in January 2002. Defense lawyers contend the number of suicide attempts is higher.
Reported suicides of June 2006
On June 29, 2005 three detainees were found dead, who, according to the Pentagon, “killed themselves in an apparent suicide pact.” Prison commander Rear Admiral Harry Harris claimed this was not an act of desperation, despite prisoners’ pleas to the contrary, but rather “an act of asymmetric warfare committed against us.” At the time, human rights groups called for an independent public inquiry into the deaths. Amnesty International said the apparent suicides “are the tragic results of years of arbitrary and indefinite detention” and called the prison “an indictment” of the George W. Bush administration‘s human rights record. Saudi Arabia’s state-sponsored Saudi Human Rights group blamed the U.S. for the deaths. “There are no independent monitors at the detention camp so it is easy to pin the crime on the prisoners… it’s possible they were tortured,” said Mufleh al-Qahtani, the group’s deputy director, in a statement to the local Al-Riyadh newspaper.
Highly disturbed about the deaths of its citizens under US custody, the Saudi government pressed the United States to release its citizens into its custody. From June 2006 through 2007, the US released 93 detainees (of an original 133 Saudis detained) to the Saudi Arabian government. The Saudi government developed a re-integration program including religious education, helping arrange marriages and jobs, to bring detainees back to society.
The Center for Policy and Research published Death in Camp Delta (2009), its analysis of the NCIS report, noting many inconsistencies in the government account and said the conclusion of suicide by hanging in their cells was not supported. It suggested that camp administration officials had either been grossly negligent or were participating in a cover-up of the deaths.
In January 2010 Scott Horton published an article in Harper’s Magazine disputing the government’s findings and suggesting the three died of accidental manslaughter following torture. His account was based on the testimony of four members of the Military Intelligence unit assigned to guard Camp Delta, including a decorated non-commissioned Army officer who was on duty as sergeant of the guard the night of June 9–10, 2006. Their account contradicts the report published by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). Horton said the deaths had occurred at a black site, known as “Camp No“, outside the perimeter of the camp. According to its spokeswoman Laura Sweeney, the Department of Justice has disputed certain facts contained in the article about the soldiers’ account.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) inspected the camp in June 2004. In a confidential report issued in July 2004 and leaked to The New York Times in November 2004, Red Cross inspectors accused the U.S. military of using “humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes, use of forced positions” against prisoners. The inspectors concluded that “the construction of such a system, whose stated purpose is the production of intelligence, cannot be considered other than an intentional system of cruel, unusual and degrading treatment and a form of torture.” The United States Government reportedly rejected the Red Cross findings at the time.
On November 30, 2009, The New York Times published excerpts from an internal memo leaked from the U.S. administration, referring to a report from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The ICRC reports of several activities that, it said, were “tantamount to torture”: exposure to loud noise or music, prolonged extreme temperatures, or beatings. It also reported that a Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT), also called ‘Biscuit,’ and military physicians communicated confidential medical information to the interrogation teams (weaknesses, phobias, etc.), resulting in the prisoners losing confidence in their medical care.
The ICRC’s access to the base was conditioned, as is normal for ICRC humanitarian operations, on the confidentiality of their report. Following leaking of the US memo, some in the ICRC wanted to make their report public or confront the U.S. administration. The newspaper said the administration and the Pentagon had seen the ICRC report in July 2004 but rejected its findings. The story was originally reported in several newspapers, including The Guardian, and the ICRC reacted to the article when the report was leaked in May.
According to a June 21, 2005, New York Times opinion article, on July 29, 2004, an FBI agent was quoted as saying, “On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times, they had urinated or defecated on themselves and had been left there for 18, 24 hours or more.” Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall Schmidt, who headed the probe into FBI accounts of abuse of Guantánamo prisoners by Defense Department personnel, concluded the man (a Saudi, described as the “20th hijacker”) was subjected to “abusive and degrading treatment” by “the cumulative effect of creative, persistent and lengthy interrogations.” The techniques used were authorized by the Pentagon, he said.
Many of the released prisoners have complained of enduring beatings, sleep deprivation, prolonged constraint in uncomfortable positions, prolonged hooding, sexual and cultural humiliation, forced injections, and other physical and psychological mistreatment during their detention in Camp Delta.
In 2004 Spc. Sean Baker, a soldier posing as a prisoner during training exercises at the camp, was beaten so severely that he suffered a brain injury and seizures. In June 2004, The New York Times reported that of the nearly 600 detainees, not more than two dozen were closely linked to al-Qaeda and that only very limited information could have been received from questionings. In 2006 the only top terrorist is reportedly Mohammed al Qahtani from Saudi Arabia, who is believed to have planned to participate in the September 11 attacks in 2001.
Mohammed al-Qathani, nicknamed the “20th hijacker of 9/11” was captured at Orlando, Florida Airport, which stopped him from his plan to take part in the 9/11 attacks. During his Guantánamo interrogations, he was given 3 1/2 bags IV fluid, then he was forbidden to use the toilet, forcing him to soil himself. Some accounts of the treatment he received are as follows: Water is poured over the detainee. Interrogations start at Midnight, and last 12 hours. When he falls asleep, he is woken up by American pop music and water. Female personnel tries to humiliate and upset him, which is successful. A military dog is used to intimidate him. The soldiers play the American anthem and force him to salute. They stick pictures of 9/11 victims to him. He is forced to bark like a dog and his beard and hair are shaved. He is stripped nude. Fake menstrual blood is smeared at him and he is forced to wear a women’s bra. Some of the abuses were documented in 2005, when the Interrogation Log of al-Qathani “Detainee 063” was partially published.
he Washington Post, in a May 8, 2004 article, described a set of interrogation techniques approved for use in interrogating alleged terrorists at Guantánamo Bay. Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, characterized them as cruel and inhumane treatment illegal under the U.S. Constitution. On June 15, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, commander at Abu Ghraib in Iraq during the prisoner abuse scandal, said she was told from the top to treat detainees like dogs “as it is done in Guantánamo [Camp Delta].” The former commander of Camp X-Ray, Geoffrey Miller, had led the inquiry into the alleged abuses at Abu Ghraib in Iraq during the Allied occupation. Ex-detainees of the Guantanamo Camp have made serious allegations, including alleging Geoffrey Miller’s complicity in abuse at Camp X-Ray.
The book, Inside the Wire by Erik Saar and Viveca Novak, claims the abuse of prisoners. Saar, a former U.S. soldier at Guantánamo, repeated allegations that a female interrogator taunted prisoners sexually and in one instance wiped what seemed to be menstrual blood on the detainee. Other instances of beatings by the immediate reaction force (IRF) have been reported in the book.
The BBC published a leaked FBI email from December 2003, which said that the Defense Department interrogators at Guantánamo had impersonated FBI agents while using “torture techniques” on a detainee.
In an interview with CNN‘s Wolf Blitzer in June 2005, Dick Cheney defended the treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo:
The United States government, through the State Department, makes periodic reports to the United Nations Committee Against Torture. In October 2005, the report covered pretrial detention of suspects in the “War on Terrorism“, including those held in Guantánamo Bay. This Periodic Report is significant as the first official response of the U.S. government to allegations that prisoners are mistreated in Guantánamo Bay. The report denies the allegations but describes in detail several instances of misconduct, which did not rise to the level of “substantial abuse,” as well as the training and punishments given to the perpetrators.
Writing in the New York Times on June 24, 2012, former President Jimmy Carter criticized the methods used to obtain confessions: “…some of the few being tried (only in military courts) have been tortured by waterboarding more than 100 times or intimidated with semiautomatic weapons, power drills or threats to sexually assault their mothers. Astoundingly, these facts cannot be used as a defense by the accused, because the government claims they occurred under the cover of “national security”..