A controversial United States detention camp located at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba has detained suspected terrorists for over a decade. None of the detainees has stood trial; nor has any detainee been convicted of crimes. Since no trials have been held, suspicion and speculation are the only justifications for detention, and international concerns for the rights of the detainees has risen.
In 2009, President Barack Obama signed an executive order to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. However, no measures have been taken to release prisoners and shut down the camp, despite a recently renewed pledge from Obama to do so. National security concerns and questions about where the detainees should be moved have delayed the movement to close the camp.
The U.S. has been known to employ methods of torture, such as force feeding, in Guantanamo, but John Yoo from the Office of Legal Counsel for the United States Department of Justice claims that the prisoners’ treatment does not fall under the U.S. government’s definition of torture, which states that any form of torture is not unlawful in an overseas setting on a non-state actor. In other words, since the prisoners are not in their countries’ militaries, and since they are not on U.S. land, they are subject to torture even in spite of the Geneva Convention’s forbidding the use of “torture to extract information from prisoners of war.”
Reports have detailed the use of sleep deprivation and waterboarding at Guantanamo Bay. Torture is used to try to get intelligence from detainees, but since the reasons for detention are largely speculative, detainees may not have information to share, and the interrogations can sometimes lead to false confessions. Detainees have resorted to hunger strikes multiple times. In the last year, a large number of the inmates have been on a sixth-month hunger strike, and many are now being force-fed.
Guantanamo Bay is a U.S. military base territory. The 45-square mile area was first leased to the U.S. by the Cuban government in 1903, when the Cuban-American treaty was signed, allowing the U.S. to utilize the land and water as a fueling station and naval base. In 2002, the detention center at Guantanamo was established under the second Bush administration after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The prison has held 779 men since its opening; it now holds 164.
Since the Guantanamo Bay base is not actually a part of the U.S., but rather a territory overseen by the U.S. government (just like Okinawa, Japan, another U.S. military base), the Guantanamo detainees are not subject to the protocol of a trial that is granted to prisoners in the U.S.
Today, over 100 detainees remain isolated and are continually abused and tortured. Many prisoners were cleared for release as early as 2007 but remain in captivity today because Congress has refused to allow their transfers to U.S. soil, where they would be subject to standard legal proceedings.
According to the Washington Post, Obama said, “The notion that we’re going to continue to keep over a hundred individuals in a no-man’s land in perpetuity, the idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried—that is contrary to who we are; it is contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop.”