Human Rights, In Focus, Politiks

Guantánamo: detention centre or nightmare?

Secret files released by Wikileaks show that prisoners suffer torture and degrading treatment during interrogation, as the real purpose of the detention centre is to extract information that will help eliminate al-Qaeda members.

It has always been known what goes on in Guantánamo, so this is nothing new.  However, diplomats, politicians and the interests of some governments, not to mention those who are afraid of the United States, have allowed the situation there to continue.

Condemnations of Guantánamo are presented by the all-powerful media corporations as nightmares conjured up in the imagination, while the international community’s silence and indifference makes it complicit in the torture and human rights violations taking place in a region where the United States claims, again, to be ‘world policeman’.

Ane Bores

Ten years after the fateful events of 11 September 2001, when al-Qaeda suicide bombers flew two planes into the Twin Towers in New York, killing thousands of civilians and sparking a conflict between East and West which continues to this day, the closure of the Guantánamo detention centre is still more of a dream than a reality.

The US high security concentration camp at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, around 570 miles from Havana, was opened in 2002 to house terrorists captured during the War on Afghanistan.  Former president George W. Bush launched this offensive soon after 9/11 to protect the US public from the terrorist threat.

Despite these ostensibly good intentions, the Guantánamo detention centre has always been at the centre of controversy because of its disregard for the presumption of innocence and the most basic rights of detainees.

According to several UN reports, there is clear evidence that many of those held have suffered torture or degrading treatment, including interrogation under extreme conditions.

Hundreds of classified documents recently published by Wikileaks have revealed that the Pentagon’s real objective was always to obtain the greatest amount of information possible in order to help eliminate al-Qaeda members.

This is what happened at the beginning of May in the case of Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda, who was executed by the US government on the basis of information obtained from suspect interrogation techniques.  Meanwhile, some 60% of prisoners transferred to Guantánamo remain under indefinite detention; even though it has yet to be proven that they actually pose a real threat.

Broken promise

In January 2009, President Barack Obama promised to close Guantánamo within twelve months.

The day after taking office, Obama ordered the temporary suspension of activities at the camp and no military tribunals were held for 120 days while the new administration reviewed the judgements of those accused of terrorist offences, expressly condemning the use of illegal interrogation methods.

However, two years in to the presidency, Guantánamo is still unfinished business for the Obama administration.  The camp remains open and exists in a legal void.  The lack of financial resources for transferring prisoners to the United States, and the refusal of other countries to take any of the detainees, means the closure of Guantánamo seems increasingly remote and impossible to predict.

The camp’s closure was hindered considerably when the Republicans successfully gained control of Congress in the 2010 elections, using their new majority to block the use of public funds for prisoner transfers.

It was around this time that the US held the first and only civilian trial of a Guantánamo detainee.

Ahmed Ghailani was acquitted of 284 of the 285 charges against him, but the prisoner transfer veto by Congress meant that further trials could not go ahead.  The US Attorney General was obliged to lay charges against a group of five prisoners to be tried by a military tribunal at Guantánamo Bay.

Some prisoners were moved to other countries, such as Spain, but that was only around 70 of them – a small minority indeed.

Wikileaks exposes the scandal

On 25 April this year, leading international newspapers published the latest revelations by Wikileaks.

The internet organisation had gained access to around 760 classified military reports dating from 2002 to 2009 which exposed how many elderly people and teenagers with no terrorist links were being held and transferred to Guantánamo with the sole aim of obtaining information from them.

According to the files, prisoners would be held in detention regardless of their state of health if it was thought that they were hiding valuable intelligence.

The Spanish newspaper El País, which had access to the classified documents, reported that the US administration did not even know why some of the prisoners had been moved to Guantánamo, and in many cases it was concluded that the detainee posed no threat, although they were still kept in detention.

One 89-year-old man with senile dementia and depression, for example, was imprisoned because a satellite phone had been found in the residential block where he lived.

The reports also explain the Pentagon’s assessment system for trying detainees, based, in the main, on suspicion and the accusations of fellow inmates.  Despite failing to obtain any reliable evidence to corroborate the offences they are charged with, 143 people have spent more than nine years imprisoned in Guantánamo.

Eight dead prisoners

Inayatula, an Afghani, has recently been added to the list of prisoners found dead at Guantánamo under suspicious circumstances, who now number eight.

The US military put his death down to suicide.  They allege that Inayatula, who is accused of being a member of al-Qaeda’s logistical wing, was unconscious and not breathing when the guards found him, and that they were unable to revive him.

In the midst of the controversy over interrogation methods at Guantánamo, Inayatula’s autopsy will reveal whether or not he was yet another victim of Barack Obama’s policy failures.

(Translated by Susan Hubbard – Email:

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