Today, Jan. 11, marks 22 years since the opening of the Guantánamo Bay detention center. While Guantánamo has largely faded from public attention, the prison and its enduring legacy continue to cast a dark shadow over the United States and its global reputation.
On this 22nd anniversary, we take a look at the current state of the notorious prison and the many issues that remain unaddressed there.
The Dark Legacy of Torture at Guantánamo
Created in the wake of 9/11 to house those suspected of terrorist activity, Guantánamo has housed up to 780 men, many of whom were later determined to be innocent of any wrongdoing after enduring years of abuse and unlawful detention. Today, 30 detainees remain, 19 of whom still have yet to be so much as charged with a crime.
Guantánamo was also home to one of many secret U.S. “black sites” documented in a 2014 Senate report on the CIA’s use of torture through so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The Senate report determined that these techniques—which included waterboarding, lengthy sleep deprivation, acts of sexual assault, and years of solitary confinement—did not aid in counterterrorism efforts.
Even 22 years later, Guantánamo continues to be the subject of serious international scrutiny.
Current and former Guantánamo detainees have provided harrowing accounts of their years in Guantánamo, which left them with crippling physical and mental illnesses, including heart problems, brain trauma, and PTSD. Many former detainees suffer relentless nightmares or fear of going outside. Nine died while in U.S. custody.
Despite widespread agreement that the treatment detainees received in Guantánamo violated their most basic human rights, no one has ever been held accountable.
International Criticism of Guantánamo Continues to Mount
Even 22 years later, Guantánamo continues to be the subject of serious international scrutiny. In October of this year, the U.N. Human Rights Committee held a hearing on the United States’ adherence to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). They determined that U.S. practices at Guantánamo violated at least four articles of the ICCPR that prohibit torture and arbitrary detention without charge and require humane treatment and a fair and timely trial.
The U.S. has a responsibility to fully address the human rights violations committed at Guantánamo and close this dark chapter once and for all.
Following a first-of-its-kind visit to the prison, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism reported that current conditions at Guantánamo “amount to, at minimum, cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment under international law.” The report determined that the U.S. is failing to fulfill its obligations under international law to address the effects of its torture on detainees by not providing torture rehabilitation or specialized treatment.
Meanwhile, the International Red Cross and other international experts have sounded the alarm over deteriorating health conditions at the prison, warning that the current state of medical care for rapidly aging detainees is inadequate.
Despite these reports, U.S. officials claim that the current treatment of detainees is humane and meets international standards.
Indefinite Detention and the Future of Guantánamo
Under “law-of-war” detention, men accused of being “enemy combatants” have been detained indefinitely at Guantánamo without the right to trial. In fact, of the 780 men who have been detained there, only 11 have ever been charged or convicted.
Both Presidents Obama and Biden promised to close the detention center and finally end its legacy of human rights abuses, yet dozens of these “forever prisoners” remain today. More than two decades after its establishment, it’s long past time to end the practice of indefinite detention and close Guantánamo.
We call on President Biden to fulfill his promise and accelerate the process of releasing or fairly trying the men still being kept in Guantánamo. Furthermore, those who inflicted torture on detainees must be held responsible for the lasting harm they caused.
Respect for the dignity of human life is not a reward, but a right. The U.S. has a responsibility to fully address the human rights violations committed at Guantánamo and close this dark chapter once and for all.