Guantanamo, Bagram and Illegal U.S. Detentions

The United States’ detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have become emblematic of the gross human rights abuses perpetrated by the U.S. Government in the name of fighting terrorism.

At Guantanamo, the U.S. government sought to hold detainees in a place neither U.S. nor international law applied.

But no one can be held outside of the law.

Guantanamo must be closed the right way: detainees must either be promptly charged and given fair trials in U.S. federal courts, or be released. Illegal detention at other U.S. facilities, including those in Afghanistan, must end.

Guantanamo, Bagram and Illegal U.S. Detentions

The United States’ detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have become emblematic of the gross human rights abuses perpetrated by the U.S. Government in the name of fighting terrorism.

At Guantanamo, the U.S. government sought to hold detainees in a place neither U.S. nor international law applied.

But no one can be held outside of the law.

Guantanamo must be closed the right way: detainees must either be promptly charged and given fair trials in U.S. federal courts, or be released. Illegal detention at other U.S. facilities, including those in Afghanistan, must end.

In Rasul v. Bush (2004) the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal courts had jurisdiction over detainees in Guantánamo, allowing detainees to file petitions seeking habeas corpus - the centuries old right to challenge the legality of one's detention. In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006) the Court found that Article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions applied to Guantánamo detainees. In 2006, Congress passed the Military Commissions Act (MCA), which stripped federal courts of the right to hear habeas corpus cases by or on behalf of any Guantánamo detainees. But on June 12, 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Boumediene v. Bush that detainees held at Guantánamo are entitled, under the U.S. Constitution, to habeas corpus.

More than six years after the first detainees were transferred to Guantánamo, only six people have had their cases adjudicated – the majority taking plea deals rather than fighting their case in a courtroom heavily stacked against them. Only a handful of others have even been charged.

Approximately 240 inmates still remain in Guantanamo, some of whom are now in their ninth year of detention. These men have been subjected to a wide range of interrogation tactics that constitute ill-treatment, including stress positions, sensory deprivation, prolonged isolation, the use of 20-hour interrogations, hooding during transportation and interrogation, stripping, forcible shaving, and "using detainees individual phobias (such as fear of dogs) to induce stress."

Incredibly, of those still being held approximately 60 individuals have actually been cleared for release but the United States has either failed to find a safe haven for them or, in the case of 27 Yemenis, refused to return them to their country of origin. The indefinite and arbitrary nature of the circumstances of their detention has led to a steep decline in the mental health of many incarcerated at Guantánamo. There have been numerous suicide attempts and hunger strikes. In June 2006, after the apparent suicides of three inmates, many detainees were moved to isolated cells in "supermax" facilities known as Camp 5 and Camp 6. There, they lost the ability to eat or exercise communally. They have very limited contact with anyone but their jailers and almost no access to sunlight or fresh air. A fourth detainee died of an apparent suicide in March 2007 and a fifth in June 2009.

The detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay have also diminished the United States' reputation, providing a magnet for criticism from allies and enemies alike. In the years since Amnesty International has called for closure of the detention facilities, a growing number of high-ranking U.S. officials from both political parties, allied governments, and the United Nations have issued calls for the prison's closure.

The detention facility at Guantánamo Bay isn't the only prison where the United States is holding detainees from the "war on terror" - detention facilities in Afghanistan are also used to detain those captured by the U.S. military. Most detainees are held unlawfully, without warrant or charge, and with no legal representation to challenge their detention. Even when Guantánamo is closed, the push for detainee human rights must continue.

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