12 Years of Guantanamo Detentions, 12 Years of Double Standards

January 10, 2014

12 Years of Guantanamo Detentions, 12 Years of Double Standards

In retrospect, the entire detention and interrogation strategy was wrong. We squandered the goodwill of the world after we were attacked by our actions in Guantánamo, both in terms of detention and torture

Major General Michael Lehnert (ret.), first commander of detentions at Guantánamo (2002), December 2013

As the US detentions at Guantánamo enter their 13th year, the world should take the USA to task for its abject failure to live up to the international human rights standards it so often demands of others. The recent flurry of detainee transfers from Guantánamo - nine in December 2013, transfers which followed a mass hunger strike at the base during the year - cannot disguise the fact that under its flawed "law of war" framework the USA has yet to fully recognize its human rights obligations in this context, let alone apply them. Instead this US detention regime continues to undermine principles of criminal justice and remains an affront to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international instruments, the very same standards against which the USA yearly assesses the human rights records of other countries.

Twelve years after the first detainees were brought to Guantánamo, strapped down in planes like cargo, more than 150 men remain held there, most of them held without charge or trial. A few face trial under a military commission system that does not meet international fair trial standards.

Meanwhile, impunity for crimes under international law committed by US personnel against current and former Guantánamo detainees is a festering injustice that leaves the USA in serious violation of its international law obligations on truth, accountability and remedy.

Any other country responsible for creating and maintaining such a human rights vacuum would surely have drawn the USA's condemnation. Instead, every year that this notorious prison camp has been in operation, the USA has continued to trumpet its commitment to human rights principles.

Even as it authorized torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment against detainees held at Guantánamo and elsewhere, or denied them access to lawyers and the courts, the Bush administration criticized other countries for such abuses. Among the many targets of its criticism was the government of Cuba, including for comparable abuses against detainees committed in the very same country in which the USA was operating the Guantánamo facility.