The failure of the U.S. government to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay is leaving a toxic legacy for human rights, Amnesty International said on the 10th anniversary of the first detainees being transferred to this notorious U.S. prison.
In a report published ahead of the anniversary, Guantánamo: A Decade of Damage to Human Rights, Amnesty International highlights the unlawful treatment of Guantánamo detainees and outlines the reasons why the detention center continues to represent an attack on human rights.
“Guantánamo has infected everything it has touched,” said Tom Parker, Amnesty International USA policy director for (counter) terrorism and human rights. “We mark this dismal anniversary knowing with a heavy heart that despite President Obama’s election promise to close the facility it will begin its tenth year of operation more deeply entrenched in U.S. life than ever.”
Despite the president’s pledge to close the Guantánamo detention facility by January 22, 2010, 171 men were being held there in mid-December 2011. At least 12 of those transferred to Guantánamo on January 11, 2002 were still held there. One of them is serving a life sentence after being convicted by a military commission in 2008. None of the other 11 has been charged.
The Obama administration – indeed large parts of all three branches of the federal government – has adopted the global “war” framework devised under the former George W. Bush administration. The administration asserted in January 2010 that four dozen of the Guantánamo detainees could neither be prosecuted nor released, but should remain in indefinite military detention without charge or criminal trial under the United States unilateral interpretation of the law of war.
“Until the United States addresses these detentions as a human rights issue, the legacy of Guantánamo will live on whether or not the detention facility there is closed down,” said Rob Freer, Amnesty International United States researcher.
The Guantánamo detention facility, which is located on the U.S. naval base in Cuba, became a symbol of torture and other ill-treatment after it was opened four months after the 9/11 attacks.
Among the detainees still held there today include individuals who were subjected by the United States to torture and enforced disappearance prior to being transferred to Guantánamo. There has been little or no accountability for these crimes under international law committed in a program of secret detention operated under presidential authority. The U.S. government has systematically blocked attempts by former detainees to seek redress for such violations.
In 10 years, only one of the 779 detainees held at the base has been transferred to the United States for prosecution in an ordinary federal court. Others have faced unfair trials by military commission. The administration is currently intending to seek the death penalty against six of the detainees at such trials.
The Obama administration has blamed its failure to close the Guantánamo detention facility on Congress, which has indeed failed to ensure U.S. government compliance with international human rights principles in this context.
To mark this historic anniversary, Amnesty International members and other activists will host events around the world, calling for the end of the detention facility. In Washington, DC, a broad coalition of activists will hold a rally at the White House and a demonstration representing detainees still held at the detention center; in Canada, activists will create a temporary art installation near the U.S. Consulate in Toronto and host a ten-hour musical event in Montreal; “happy birthday” cards will be delivered the U.S. embassy in the Netherlands and a giant detainee visual will be delivered to the U.S. embassy in Spain; activists will create a flashmob in France; and in Stockholm, Sweden, activists will enter a prison cell to sign a petition to President Obama as images are projected onto a nearby billboard.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.