After years of false promises, time to close Guantanamo

It has been five years since President Barack Obama promised to close the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention center – and yet 155 prisoners remain imprisoned under harsh conditions.

By [Author’s name redacted]

JTF Guard Force Troopers transport a Guantanamo detainee to the detainee hospital located adjacent to Camp Four, Dec. 27, 2007. (photo: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Billings)
JTF Guard Force Troopers transport a Guantanamo detainee to the detainee hospital located adjacent to Camp Four, Dec. 27, 2007. (photo: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Billings)

Five years ago yesterday, President Barack Obama signed an executive order to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. The facility has not closed, and as of today, 155 detainees are still imprisoned there. So what’s the story?

Established in January 2002 following the September 11th attacks, the Guantanamo Bay detention camp has become a large holding facility for hundreds of people. Detainees there were captured as part of the notorious “War on Terror,” most of them from Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, the Horn of Africa and Southeast Asia.

Prisoners at Guantanamo are often held for years without trial or due process. Because the naval base is technically on land leased from Cuba, the Bush administration claimed constitutional rights did not extend to prisoners held there – an argument the Supreme Court mostly rejected in 2008. Nevertheless, the U.S. has since Guantanamo’s inception deprived detainees of basic rights and subject them to cruel interrogation techniques and, it is alleged, even torture.

In 2004, a list of 20 Pentagon-approved interrogation techniques used in the camp was leaked to the media. The list included sleep deprivation, exposure to loud noise or music and extreme temperatures. Furthermore, after the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) inspected the camp in June 2004, it issued a confidential report which was later leaked to The New York Times. The inspectors accused the U.S. military of using “humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes [and] use of forced positions” against prisoners.

In response to their treatment and indefinite detentions, the prisoners of Guantanamo held two hunger strikes in 2005 and 2013, respectively. In both cases, many of the strikers were force fed by camp authorities. We don’t know of any ongoing or new hunger strikes because on December 4, 2013, the Pentagon announced it would disclose no more information about them, since it “serves no operational purpose.” The latest figures that we have showed numbers of hunger strikers falling to 15, all of whom were being force fed through a tube. This last wave of hunger strikes began in early 2013 and at its peaked in July, 106 detainees were refusing meals; 45 of them were being force fed.

The following video, produced by the human rights organization Reprieve, in collaboration with Director Asif Kapadia, shows American rapper Yasin Bay (also known as Mos Def) voluntarily subjecting himself to the force-feeding procedure used by authorities in the camp. The information regarding the procedure is based on leaked classified documents. (The video contains a graphic simulation of a force feeding.)

Out of the 779 people imprisoned in Guantanamo since it was open, only a handful were officially charged. According to documents leaked by Wikileaks, some of the prisoners were captured due to mistaken identity, while many others were brought there in order to extract intelligence from them.

Throughout history, regimes have used an array of practices in order to oppress people. Two of the most severe are imprisonment – specifically imprisonment without trial – and torture. Only due to the public’s silence or acquiescence, however, were regimes allowed to disappear, kidnap, murder, torture, rape, expel and dispossess.

We must not be indifferent while people are being deprived of their most basic rights. We must cry out against oppression.

When Barack Obama ordered the closure of Guantanamo five years ago, many people hoped he would keep his promise. It is time for the United States government to close Guantanamo Bay once and for all and free all political prisoners.

[April 2017: The author’s name was removed from this article at their request.]

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