The Enduring Shame of Guantanamo

From the Archive: In his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Trump announced that he had signed an executive order to keep the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay open. On this occasion, we republish an article from 2012 by Nat Parry marking Guantanamo’s ten-year anniversary.

By Nat Parry (First published on Jan. 12, 2012)

When the Guantanamo prison camp, originally dubbed by the U.S. military Camp X-Ray, opened in January 2002, the United States came under international criticism that was nearly unprecedented in its intensity.

Some of the original detainees jailed at the Guantanamo Bay prison, as put on display by the U.S. military.

Some of the loudest complaints came from the staunchest U.S. ally, the United Kingdom, where three cabinet ministers Robin Cook, Patricia Hewitt and Jack Straw expressed concern that international agreements about the treatment of prisoners of war were being breached. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, also objected to the camp and called on President George W. Bush’s administration to follow the Geneva Conventions.

In a Jan. 19, 2002, column in the British Independent, Robinson argued that because the Afghanistan conflict was of an international nature, “the law of international armed conflict applies.” She took issue with the administration’s assertion that the prisoners were “unlawful combatants” and thus outside the protections of the Geneva Conventions.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said that despite the Sept. 11 atrocities, ”changing our values and our way of life would be terrorism’s first victory.”

Amnesty International expressed concern about the tactics being used and the secrecy surrounding the camp. “Keeping prisoners incommunicado, sensory deprivation, the use of unnecessary restraint and the humiliation of people through tactics such as shaving them, are all classic techniques employed to ‘break’ the spirit of individuals ahead of interrogation,” the human rights group said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross — in an unusual deviation from its practice of not publicly criticizing detaining governments — said the United States might have violated Geneva Convention rules against making a spectacle of prisoners by distributing pictures of the detainees being subjected to sensory deprivation, which were published worldwide.

British human rights attorney Stephen Solley said the treatment of the suspects was “so far removed from human rights norms that it [was] difficult to comprehend.”

Seven years later, just two days into his administration, President Barack Obama’s announcement that he would close the Guantanamo camp was greeted with international praise equally intense. An Executive Order Obama signed on Jan. 22, 2009, seemed to unambiguously mandate the closure of Guantanamo within a year:

“The detention facilities at Guantanamo for individuals covered by this order shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than one year from the date of this order. If any individuals covered by this order remain in detention at Guantanamo at the time of closure of those detention facilities, they shall be returned to their home country, released, transferred to a third country, or transferred to another United States detention facility in a manner consistent with law and the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States.”

Michele Cercone, spokesperson for the European Union Justice and Home Affairs Commission, said at the time that the commission “has been very pleased that one of the first actions of Mr. Obama has been to turn the page on this sad episode of Guantanamo.”

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay also praised Obama’s Executive Order, saying that it was a good day for the rule of law. “The fact that President Obama has placed such a high priority on closing Guantanamo and set in motion a system to safeguard the fundamental rights of the detainees there is extremely encouraging,” she stated.

“The United States has in the past been a staunch supporter of international human rights law, and this is one of the reasons that the regime that was established in Guantanamo has been viewed as so damaging,” the High Commissioner added.

Now at Guantanamo’s ten-year anniversary and nearly three years after President Obama’s Executive Order there is a palpable sense of disappointment and betrayal from the human rights community. The United States is finding itself on the receiving end of now-familiar criticism of its indefinite detention policies, with human rights organizations and intergovernmental bodies renewing their complaints that for the past ten years, the U.S. has flouted international human rights standards in its practices at the notorious prison camp.

“Human Rights Watch opposes the prolonged indefinite detention without trial of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere,” said HRW in a statement on Jan. 6. The group reminded the U.S. of its obligations to prosecute terrorist suspects and to compensate detainees who have been wrongly imprisoned and mistreated over the past decade:

“The practice [of indefinite detention] violates U.S. obligations under international law. Human Rights Watch has strongly urged the U.S. government to either promptly prosecute the remaining Guantanamo detainees according to international fair trial standards, or safely repatriate them to home or third countries.

“We have also called for investigations of U.S. officials implicated in torture of terrorism suspects and for adequate compensation for detainees who were mistreated. Human Rights Watch will continue to press for compliance with these obligations. Failure to do so does enormous damage to the rule of law both in the US and abroad.”

On the eve of Guantanamo’s tenth anniversary, Amnesty International said, “Guantanamo has politicized justice internationally by portraying detainees as having no human rights.” Amnesty has described the legacy of the Guantanamo Bay prison as a “decade of damage to human rights” not only in the United States, but across the world.

In a report released on Dec. 16, 2011, Amnesty stated:

“The USA speaks the language of human rights fluently on the global stage, but stumbles when it comes to applying human rights standards to itself. The Bush administration promised to put human rights at the centre of its counter-terrorism strategy, but singularly failed to do so. The Obama administration has promised the same thing, but the USA continues to fall short of this commitment, despite what were undoubtedly positive initial steps in the right direction.”

“From day one,” said Amnesty, “the USA failed to recognize the applicability of human rights law to the Guantanamo detentions.”

Ambassador Janez Lenarcic, the Director of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), also expressed dismay over the failure to close the Guantanamo facility.

“Universal human rights standards require that the detention of terrorist suspects shall be accompanied by concrete charges and the persons detained under these charges shall be immediately informed of them and brought before a competent judicial authority,” Lenarcic said.

In a press release, ODIHR reminded the United States of its OSCE obligations:

“As a participating State of the OSCE, the United States has committed itself to respect human rights in the fight against terrorism and to ensure the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time before an independent and impartial tribunal. In the OSCE Bucharest Document of 2001, participating States expressed their determination to protect their citizens from security challenges such as terrorism ‘while safeguarding the rule of law, individual liberties, and the right to equal justice under law.’”

Lenarcic regretted that the practice of indefinite detention without trial has been codified into U.S. law with the recent adoption of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). He called for a swift closure of the Guantanamo detention center and urged the authorities to prosecute promptly the remaining Guantanamo detainees in accordance with international fair trial standards, or release them.

Moazzam Begg, a 43-year-old British Muslim who was wrongly detained at Guantanamo for three years until British authorities negotiated his release in January 2005, is more despondent about the prospects of closing the prison camp.

“Gitmo will never close. That is a fantasy,” Begg recently told CNN. “I’ve stopped wishing for it. Even if it closes its doors, it will be only symbolic. The detainees who are still there will go somewhere else to be held and be treated possibly worse, and still not get their time in court. And Gitmo, in a way, will always be open. It will be in my memory, in my head, just like everyone else who experienced that hell.”

Colonel Morris Davis, a chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay during the Bush administration, concurs with Moazzam Begg, saying that Obama “doesn’t have the balls” to close Guantanamo.

Nat Parry is co-author of Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush

15 comments for “The Enduring Shame of Guantanamo

  1. Gregory Herr
    February 2, 2018 at 21:40

    Indefinite detention without charges is abominable on its face and blatantly opposed to what we were taught the American Revolution was fought for–

    What struck me way back when was how Cheney and Rumsfeld characterized the detainees as “the worst of the worst.” How could that be “known” when some of the “sweeps” were based on the unreliability of paid informants. And let’s not lose sight of the prison at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan which amounts to a Guantanamo East.

  2. john wilson
    February 2, 2018 at 12:43

    As far as I know Trump never mentioned Guantanamo during his campaign. Obama on the other hand did and even went so far as to make the order for this hell hole to be closed down once he became president. Clearly, Trump has been compromised and is under orders from the deep state, but at least he didn’t make any false promises in this regard. I don’t recall anyone ever challenging Obama for reneging on his promise to shut Guantanamo, or him giving any tangible reason for keeping this place open. Does anyone here remember Obama saying why Guantanamo was still open at the end of his presidency?

    • Zachary Smith
      February 2, 2018 at 14:24

      Feb. 23, 2016, 2:42 p.m.
      By Kurtis Lee

      Donald Trump wants to put ‘bad dudes’ in Guantanamo Bay

      Donald Trump has a message for President Obama when it comes to shuttering the Guantanamo Bay prison: no way.

      “We are keeping it open,” Trump said Tuesday in the dimly lighted ballroom of the Nugget Casino here in Sparks. “And by the way, we’re going to load it up with some bad dudes.”

      Trump ‘Fine’ With Sending American Citizens to Guantanamo Bay
      Trump has previously vowed to keep Guantanamo open
      Aug 12, 2016

      Bush was a POS warmonger and torturer. Obama was a POS warmonger and torturer. Trump is a POS torturer, and shows great promise of joining in the “warmonger” category as well.

      If anything, most members of the US Congress (both houses) are as bad or worse than any of those three.

  3. Joe Tedesky
    February 2, 2018 at 11:44

    This subject of human rights, is an excellent revival of your work Nat to begin a needed and worthwhile conversation we Americans have been avoiding for far to long.

    I still remember myself getting a sour gut feeling, as I watch on the TV screen detainees with bags over their heads, while they were strapped together, and loaded onto a plane. I also recall the pundits talking about radical changes were going to be made to our existing laws, as to protect us from all the evil of the world. And we Americans weren’t only buying into that line, but we were more than happy that our government was taking a strong stand against our enemies. That’s when I realized, that our love of freedom and liberty, was more than at risk, that the worst part was that we the people were compliant and happy to roll over our civil rights to continue our being good Americans. This is classic ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ make no mistake about it,

    When all is said, and done, GTMO will stand as the one symbol of America’s hegemony project that spit in the face of human rights….and then the world will see to just how the U.S. fell from it’s grace on high.

    • Bob Van Noy
      February 2, 2018 at 11:57

      Thank you Joe. The only reason I expose my true name, and only on this site, is because it’s vitally important to separate oneself from this kind of crime. If during our lifetime, and beyond, we cannot make a stand when it truly counts then what’s our worth to Our Society?

      • Joe Tedesky
        February 2, 2018 at 16:20

        Bob if I had one wish and one wish only I would replicate more Americans to be like you. Your drive for the truth, is what led you to this marvelous site, and your comments are most appreciated by us others who are in search of the same truth you have pursued for so long. So, never change Bob, because you are a fantastic citizens to share space with. Let’s hope our grandchildren are rewarded for the way we old folks felt with our comments of concern. Joe

  4. Bob Van Noy
    February 2, 2018 at 09:26

    Many thanks Nat. Of all the issues we as Americans are confronted with, Guantanamo, prisoner of war crimes, and civilian casualties, are the most damaging to our Democracy. Any society that claims that it is based on the rule of law cannot tolerate such injustice.

    Until our society deals legally with the prisoners held at Guantanamo, and the much larger issue of why it was successfully established during the Bush administration, cannot hope to conduct a day to day government.

    I’m not aware of a single US Senator that is patriotic enough to touch this subject and that’s shameful.

    • Bob Van Noy
      February 2, 2018 at 09:44

      By the way, Defend Democracy Press, a Site I follow and admire, is running Caitlin Johnstone’s article today as a lead. It is a scholarly site and multilingual.

      • Bob Van Noy
        February 2, 2018 at 09:59

        Sorry for the multiple posts but I had missed this and the commentary is important to this site…

        • Joe Tedesky
          February 2, 2018 at 11:47

          Hey Bob no apology needed, your providing valuable information on top of your well thought out experienced opinion. Carry on brother. Joe

        • Gregory Herr
          February 2, 2018 at 21:23

          Just as Joe says, no apology necessary…I look on you as providing reliably valuable direction and understanding. Though I have accomplished nowhere near the depth of your scholarship, I can at least recognize and appreciate it.

    • ,
      February 2, 2018 at 11:21

      Our current President of the US has professed that he is a big fan of torture, and plans to continue and expand it. Millions of Americans voted for this human garbage called Donald Trump. Proud to be an American? I’m not that sick.

  5. ,
    February 2, 2018 at 07:43

    The practice of torture is a hallmark of evil, totalitarian states. Is there any doubt that the US is such a state?

  6. Amin Khan
    February 2, 2018 at 05:43

    whatever is being done, the war in capitalists and communists is no more required.Nature is already at work. Let join hands for a prosperous future.

    • ,
      February 2, 2018 at 07:45

      You just don’t get it, do you? Why have you come to this site?

Comments are closed.