U.N. Official Calls For U.S. To Shut Down Guantanamo Bay Facility
A representative from the United Nations has ordered the United States to apologize for the inhumane torture and treatment of inmates at Guantanamo Bay, to take full responsibility for the abuse and human rights violations perpetrated there, and, ultimately, to shut down the unethical U.S. military prison facility.
U.N. representative Fionnuala Ni Aolain obtained access from U.S. President Joe Biden to visit the facility in Cuba earlier this year. Ni Aolain thanked the president for this access, being the first U.N. representative allowed to enter and investigate conditions, but she left her visit in distress, determined to prevent future violations from this facility against prisoners. Ni Aolain believes that the torture occurring at these unknown “black sites,” including Guantanamo, is the “single most significant barrier” to securing justice for 9/11 victims. “The importance of apology and guarantees of non-repetition to both the victims of terrorism and the victims of torture betrayed by these practices will be no less pressing in the years ahead,” she said.
U.S. President George W. Bush facilitated the opening of the Guantanamo prison facility on January 11, 2002, four months after the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. by the terrorist organization al-Qaeda. The prison has held 780 prisoners since then, but today the inmate population is 30 – and U.S. authorities have labeled 16 of these current prisoners eligible for release. Out of the 780 inmates held at Guantanamo over the years, 732 have been released without charge.
The Bush administration’s intent was for “Gitmo” to be a high-security detention center for prisoners captured during the “war on terror.” Operating under a different morality than traditional U.S. prisons, this high-security facility is driven by a sense of cruelty. Many rights groups have criticized the various human rights violations that occur at Guantanamo. The list includes beatings of prisoners, illegal detentions, waterboarding, sexual and physical assault, and a complete lack of due process rights.
Ni Aolain’s report noted the continuing existence of these abuses, highlighting “structural shortcomings and systematic arbitrariness including in training, operating procedures, and the fulfillment of detainees’ rights to health care, family council, and justice,” along with the “near-constant surveillance, forced cell extractions, undue use of restraints, and solitary confinement” procedures still used at Guantanamo. Inmates are referred to by serial number, she explained, which “undermines each detainee’s self-worth and dignity, particularly in the lived context of profound deprivation of liberty, communication, and relationship with the outside world.” Having had the chance to meet with some inmates, Ni Aolain said prisoners at the facility live with the “unrelenting harms” caused by the “rendition, torture, and arbitrary detention.”
“I observed that after two decades of custody, the suffering of those detained is profound, and it’s ongoing,” she wrote.
Amnesty International, an international organization focused on human rights headquartered in the United Kingdom, responded to the report with an urgent call to shut down the prison facility. “It is well past time to demand the closure of the prison, accountability from U.S. officials, and reparations for the torture and other ill-treatment that the detainees have suffered at the hands of the U.S. government,” Agnes Callamard, the group’s security general, publicly stated.
The Biden administration has recognized Ni Aolain’s concerns but still challenges some of her findings.
“Detainees live communally and prepare meals together; receive specialized medical and psychiatric care; are given full access to legal counsel; and communicate regularly with family members,” said Michele Taylor, the U.S. ambassador of the U.N. Human Rights Council. “We are committed to providing safe and humane treatment for detainees at Guantanamo in full accordance with international and U.S. domestic law.”
It is difficult to believe the U.S. is truly committed to the humane treatment of its detainees when reports from the inside investigations that have come to light say otherwise. Biden and his administration must decide to stop supporting the inhumane torture of prisoners held without charge and close Gitmo.