Updated: Oct 19, 2021
The Guantanamo Bay detention camp, which sits on land leased from Cuba, opened in 2002 in response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The camp was intended to detain only the most dangerous of prisoners, in order to interrogate them and prosecute them for committing war crimes. The U.S. began paying locals to turn over anyone that had a chance of being a terrorist. This allowed poor Afghan and Pakistani tribesmen to turn over anyone they captured, even innocent people, for a cash reward. On top of that, the U.S. tortured prisoners for information and held innocent civilians indefinitely. Once the public realized the inhumane conditions inside of the prison, their negative opinion of it forced Obama to promise to close it down in his 2008 presidential campaign.
Sami Al-Hajj, from Sudan, was a journalist for Al Jazeera who hoped to cover the events in the Chechnya republic of Russia. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, he was sent near the Afghan border in Pakistan to cover the war as a cameraman. He was detained by the Taliban, and later by Pakistani authorities. Soon, he was transferred into American custody, where he suffered greatly.
Even though the American soldiers knew he was a journalist, they tortured him as if he was a prisoner. On his day-long flight to Guantanamo Bay, he wasn’t allowed to go to the bathroom or eat any food. At Guantanamo, he was prevented from sleeping for a whole week and was force-fed vomit-inducing quantities of food down a reused tube during his 480-day hunger strike. Like many other prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, he was never formally charged with a crime.
Al-Hajj stated that many of the prisoners were farmers, Uighurs escaping Chinese persecution, and humanitarian workers, who had no chance of posing a threat to U.S. national security. An example of the U.S. detaining innocent civilians involved six Bosnians originally from Algeria that were acquitted of terrorism charges in Bosnia. Bosnia, which had just finished fighting a civil war, was pressured to hand them over due to allegations that the men were planning an attack against a U.S. embassy. They were then held at Guantanamo for over four years on charges including teaching karate to orphans in Bosnia, serving out mandatory service as a cook in the Algerian army ten years ago, and wearing a popular Bosnian Muslim anniversary band that looked similar to a radical Palestinian group’s symbol.
Despite the common conception that most Guantanamo Bay detainees are terrorists, a report compiled in 2006 found that out of 517 detainees, very few prisoners were categorized as fighters for al-Qaeda, a major terrorist group. In addition, a very high majority of the detainees were captured while the U.S. still placed large bounties on the capture of suspected enemies. Maj. Gen. Michael Dunlavey, a former top military commander at Guantanamo Bay, complained to military officials about the amount of ordinary civilians being held as terrorists and was told to “please shut up and go home.” He estimated that over half of the prisoners were mistakenly kept there without any formal charges or a trial. And even more outrageous is the fact that only 16 detainees, out of a total of over 750, were ever charged with a crime.
Guantanamo Bay’s human rights violations are very extensive. Some of them include indefinite detention, willful torture, and inhumane conditions. Detainees are often placed in extremely cold rooms with loud music, forced to kneel for long periods at a time, stripped of their clothes, and face psychological and physical abuse. The karate teacher from Bosnia suffered a numb, partially paralyzed face. These human rights violations are also considered grave breaches and are legally defined as war crimes under the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions, which the U.S. is a signatory to. No one, not even a convicted terrorist, deserves treatment in violation of basic human rights. For example, Theodore Kaczynski, an anarcho-primitivist also known as the Unabomber, killed three and injured 24 with his mail bombs, a far more serious than those of most people at Guantanamo. But even he doesn’t get beat up and tortured by prison guards. America always called out other nations, such as the Soviet Union, Vietnam, Iraq, and most recently, China, for violating human rights in their treatment of prisoners. When the human rights violations are happening in our nation, however, most politicians don’t seem to care. When Obama tried to close down Guantanamo Bay, he met strong Congressional opposition multiple times. Trump, on the other hand, is a strong supporter of the prison, having signed an executive order to keep the prison open indefinitely and supporting the use of waterboarding, a form of torture where drowning is simulated by pouring water at a prisoner’s face while covering their airways with a cloth. The easiest way to end the extensive list of human rights violations is to close Guantanamo Bay, formally charge the remaining detainees with a crime (if applicable to them), send them to a secure prison with strictly monitored guards located on American soil, and prosecute them as quickly as possible.