Guantanamo Bay, a symbol of utter shame - GulfToday

Guantanamo Bay, a symbol of utter shame

A view of the prison.

A view of the prison.

Guantanamo Bay prison, the American prison situated on the Cuban island, has turned 21 on January 12. It has been a symbol of arbitrary arrest and denial of justice as most of its 800 prisoners, all of them Muslim men, were captured by the American forces after the United States walked into Afghanistan at the end of 2001.

The men who were captured and sent to Guantanamo were not prisoners of war. The Americans fought no army because Al Qaeda under Osama Bin Laden was a non-state actor, and those arrested for their alleged membership of Al-Qaeda had therefore no legal status. The organisation was held responsible for the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in New York and Washington. They were classified as enemy combatants. And as they were not prisoners of war as defined in the Geneva Convention, they were shown to have no rights of any kind.

The treatment of these prisoners included torture of any kind and any degree, and it was left to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), America’s premier spy organisation, to define its own limits. So, torture practices like waterboarding were allowed, and they were described as a method of enhanced interrogation. The CIA claimed that the torture practices it deployed helped to prevent terror attacks of the September 11, 2001 kind. But there is no proof that this was indeed the case.

It was evident right from the beginning that the US did not follow any rules, laws or conventions in its treatment of the 800 men cooped up in Guantanamo. Human rights organisations in America like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) could not succeed initially to convince the courts that denying prisoner rights to the men in Guantanamo violated both American and international jurisprudence. It was only much later that the American courts agreed that their trials cannot be arbitrary, and that they enjoyed the rights that any prisoner did under American law. The US government argument that the Guantanamo did not come under the jurisdiction of American courts was thrown out.

But over the years, it became evident that the men were innocent, and that they were not members of the Al Qaeda, and they were released. Those who came out revealed the inhuman conditions of the prison, and the torture and humiliations that they were subject to. Surprisingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, no Western government criticised the US for the plight of the Guantanamo prisoners. Had there been such a place in any other country, Europe and America would have imposed economic sanctions against that country. But as it was America that had violated the human rights, there was a shameful silence in the Western world.

Barack Obama, when he became president in 2008, had promised to closed down Guantanamo prison but he dragged his feet. And the prison was emptied of its inmates because no tenable charges could be brought against them. The remaining 35 who remain there have no cases registered against them. On Wednesday, on the occasion of the 21st year of creating the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, 160 international rights groups wrote to US President Joe Biden to close down the prison. The letter said, “Guantanamo continues to cause escalating and profound damage to the aging and increasingly ill men still detained indefinitely there, most without charge and none having received a fair trial. It has also devastated their families and communities.”

Guantanamo Bay stands as a symbol of shame because it is in a country which claims to be the oldest democracy in the world. But it has to be said that it is the secret and tentative trials held by military courts that found there was no evidence to convict them.

Related articles