Have you ever given it any thought that the US has been holding prisoners in Guantánamo Bay for almost 21 years? The Gitmo detention centre, as the base is known, will have been operational for 7,627 days by December 8th. I never expected it would still be operating today when I published a book about the location more than ten years ago, when the first prisoners were beginning to arrive. I assumed that by now, the global war on terror would have concluded and everyone would have returned home. Instead, 40 inmates continue to be mired in an absurd legal limbo, neither being found guilty nor being freed, with no end in sight. Where did we come from? How did unjustified, indefinite imprisonment without a hearing become the norm? Why, then, do people not appear to care any longer? We’ve largely forgotten about this terrible tale of politics, fear, and the corrupting effects of uncontrolled power.
A Brief History of the Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp
Since more than 20 years ago, the U.S. naval outpost in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has served as a detention facility. After 9/11, the Bush administration made the decision to transfer prisoners of the Afghan war there, arguing that the base was beyond the purview of American courts. Hundreds of prisoners endured years of solitary confinement, torture, and abuse.
Knowing a little about history is helpful in understanding how we got here. Guantánamo Bay’s 45 square miles had been under American control since 1903, when Cuba was still a part of the Spanish Empire. Cuba obtained independence following the Spanish-American War, but Guantánamo Bay was given to the United States permanently. The United States has caused friction with Cuba ever since the communist revolution of 1959.
The Bush administration decided that Guantánamo would make the best place for a detention facility to house hundreds of Afghan War captives after 9/11. The first prisoners arrived on January 11, 2002. They were denied access to fundamental legal rights, held in open-air cages, and subjected to rough interrogations. The camp was expanded to house up to 800 convicts.
Despite early judicial decisions opposing indefinite detention, pledges to abolish the prison, and progressively better living conditions, 41 inmates are still held without charge or the possibility of release. America’s moral standing continues to be tarnished. It’s past time to put an end to this awful chapter of history once and for all, after two decades of injustice. The only issue is whether there is political will to make this mistake right.
Life as a Detainee: Endless Uncertainty and Suffering
The detainees’ existence at Guantánamo has been a never-ending nightmare of uncertainty and pain. Many have been detained for nearly 21 years without being charged or facing a trial, unable to visit their families, and with no end in sight.
Only the whims of your captors control your life as a detainee. You don’t know when you’ll be released or even whether you’ll get a trial. Simple freedoms like reading a book, calling your family, or walking outside are privileges that can be given or taken away at any time.
The physical circumstances are terrible. Small, chilly, and impersonal describe cells. At all times, loud music is played to make you feel dizzy. Waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and force feeding are examples of “enhanced interrogation techniques” that are frequently used. Poor medical care is provided. Years of seclusion and abuse have a profound psychological impact on many prisoners.
Additionally, detainees are isolated from the outside world. Family and friend correspondence is severely restricted or completely blocked. Meetings with lawyers and human rights organisations are capped. Direct interviews with detainees are not permitted in the media.
Many inmates have given up hope after going through such extreme pain for such a long time without cause or justice. The Guantánamo Bay tragedy is a moral failing that damages American democracy and diminishes our reputation abroad. Human rights abuses like these wrongful detentions must stop. It’s past time to permanently close Guantánamo after over 21 years.
Torture and Human Rights Violations: A Stain on America’s Conscience
For over 20 years now, Guantánamo Bay has been a symbol of America’s warped moral compass in the post-9/11 era. Detainees at the facility have faced cruel and inhumane treatment that violates international law and basic human decency.
Enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and physical abuse were approved and used against prisoners. Many were subjected to these torturous acts for years without ever being charged with a crime.
Detainees were held in isolation for up to 23 hours a day in tiny cells, some for over a decade. Solitary confinement of this duration has been condemned as psychological torture by human rights groups.
Prisoners were denied basic legal rights like access to lawyers or the ability to challenge their detention in court. For years, the US government insisted that constitutional rights did not apply to non-citizens held at Guantánamo, an argument that was eventually struck down in court.
Medical neglect and abuse were rampant, with reports of prisoners being shackled to beds, medically unnecessary force feedings, and delayed emergency treatment. Several detainees died at the camp without a satisfactory explanation.
Islamophobia and religious intolerance were evident in how prisoners were handled, from desecration of Qurans to interrupting prayers to forcing inmates to shave beards.
The moral bankruptcy of Guantánamo’s policies has severely damaged America’s standing in the world and violated the democratic values it claims to uphold. After 21 years, it is long past time to shut down this facility, charge or release the remaining prisoners, and end one of the darkest chapters in modern US history. The stain it has left on America’s conscience may never fully fade, but closing it would at least be a step towards regaining moral authority and healing past harm.
Failed Military Tribunals: A Mockery of Justice
The military tribunals at Guantánamo were supposed to provide fair trials for the detainees but instead became a mockery of justice.
The rules for the tribunals were made up as the process went along, not following standard legal procedures. Evidence obtained through torture was allowed; defendants could be excluded from parts of their own trials; and hearsay was permitted. Many of the military officers serving as judges had little legal experience. Unsurprisingly, very few detainees were found not guilty.
No Real Defence
Detainees had limited ability to defend themselves. They were not allowed to see much of the evidence against them as it was deemed “classified.” The prosecution outmatched their military lawyers and they had trouble accessing information. Some detainees boycotted their tribunals altogether due to the unfairness.
Still No Justice
Despite multiple trials, only a handful of convictions resulted, and many were overturned on appeal. The handful of detainees who were convicted served short sentences and were sent home. The vast majority of detainees held for years without charges were eventually released without explanation, demonstrating the failure of the tribunals to justify their imprisonment.
The military tribunals at Guantánamo failed to provide justice or legitimacy. They existed merely to give the appearance of due process where there was none. The detainees and the American legal system deserved far better. President Obama halted the tribunals, but sadly, they were restarted under President Trump. It is long past time to end this futile effort and close the prison for good. The stain of Guantánamo on America’s moral standing grows darker with each passing day. Justice delayed is justice denied.
The Uncertain Future: Will Guantánamo Bay Ever Close?
The future of Guantánamo Bay remains unclear. Will this controversial prison finally close after over two decades of operation? There are arguments on both sides.
The Case for Closing
There are many reasons why closing the detention facility seems like an ethical choice.
It undermines America’s moral authority on human rights. Holding people indefinitely without charge or trial goes against the principles of justice.
It’s extremely expensive. Running the prison costs taxpayers over $13 million per prisoner annually.
It fuels anti-American sentiment. Guantánamo Bay has become a symbol of injustice that terrorists use to recruit new members.
Federal courts can handle trials. The U.S. court system is well equipped to prosecute any prisoners who are actually charged and put on trial.
The Case for Keeping Open
However, there are also reasons why policymakers argue Guantánamo should remain open:
It holds dangerous terrorists. Some prisoners are suspected Al-Qaeda members who may return to plotting attacks if released.
Prisoners may escape justice elsewhere. Detainees transferred to other countries could escape prosecution altogether or receive light sentences.
It’s a useful interrogation centre. The detention centre’s location and legal status make it an optimal place for gathering intelligence from prisoners.
Closing is complex and time-consuming. Transferring prisoners to U.S. soil and handling related legal issues could take many years.
Where there are national security concerns, policymakers tend to favour keeping the prison open. Where there are human rights concerns, there are calls to shut it down immediately. After over two decades, a resolution remains elusive. The future of Guantánamo Bay, like its past, remains uncertain.
There you have it, then. Unjust treatment for 21 years and counting. Gitmo has served as a troubling representation of America’s most sinister tendencies for an entire generation in the years following 9/11. We must keep pushing for political leadership to summon the fortitude and moral conviction to put an end to this tragic chapter of history as the years drag on endlessly and hope wanes. You have the ability to speak up and ask for an end to the cruelty. Do your part to say enough is enough by contacting your government officials, lending support to organisations seeking justice, and raising awareness on social media. We can struggle to restore humanity and dignity by coming together. Excuses are no longer acceptable; now is the time to take action. Long enough has passed for this catastrophe.