Guantanamo Bay Prisoners

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*Guantanamo Bay Prisoners
Following the events of September 11, 2001 and the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. military transferred more than 660 captives (suspected terrorists or those suspected of supporting the Taliban regime in Afghanistan) to an outdoor-cell military detention facility known as Camp X-Ray (later moved to a similar facility called Camp Delta), located at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. None of the detainees have been charged with any crimes, nor are they given prisoner of war status; instead, the administration refers to them as "unlawful combatants". The U.S. refuses to apply the Geneva Conventions to many of the detainees, who are refused basic rights that POWs would get, such as access to lawyers or trials. In fact, since the base is located off U.S. soil, the administration claims that the detainees have no recourse to appeal at all under U.S. federal law. In 2004, the Supreme Court disagreed, but in response to the decision the Pentagon merely set up military review panels without lawyers or due process. Many groups have questioned the harsh treatment of the detainees, and the administration has hinted at execution of prisoners by low-standard military tribunals.


  • The prisoners were flown 8,000 miles manacled and masked, with earmuffs to block their hearing and goggles to block their site. [MH] In addition, sedatives were used on them. [TT]

  • The prisoners are isolated in individual six by eight cage-like chain-link cells located outdoors and exposed to the elements on three sides. Their only protection from the weather is a low metal roof and their orange jumpsuits. They sleep on mats on the floor, under halogen floodlights that never turn off. [BBC] and [TT]

  • U.S. officials have not offered a breakdown on how many captives were Taliban fighters, how many were al Qaeda and how many were neither. Nor are their identities being made public. [MH]

  • U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld described the prisoners as "unlawful combatants" with no rights under the Geneva Conventions, but said they would be treated in a manner "reasonably consistent" with the conventions. [BBC]

  • President Bush later decided that the Geneva Conventions apply to some detainees, but only the official Taliban troops (not al Qaeda members, nor Taliban militiamen, nor anyone else who participated in fighting without being an official Taliban soldier). The legal distinction has little significance because Bush did not budge from his earlier decision that all the captured soldiers - whether Taliban or al Qaeda - are unlawful combatants, not prisoners of war. The Geneva Conventions provide for hearings to determine a captive's status: one option is as a prisoner of war. If designated a prisoner of war, the Geneva Conventions dictate do's and don'ts for treatment of POWs (including access to a lawyer), but offer little protection for illegal combatants. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer acknowledged that Bush's decision would not change anything for the detainees being held, or any future captives in the war on terrorism. [MH]

  • Interrogations by a host of U.S. military and civilian investigative agencies have been underway at Guantanamo since January of 2002. POWs cannot be threatened with punishment if they refuse to provide information beyond name, rank and serial number; yet unlawful combatants can be subjected to far more intensive questioning. [MH]

  • The use of Guantanamo is carefully calculated - it is technically Cuban territory, leased to the US military - and if the detainees are never brought to American soil, the administration claims they can have no recourse to appeals under U.S. federal law. [BBC]

  • The US military has revealed it is holding juveniles at the facility. The commander of the joint task force at Guantanamo, Major General Geoffrey Miller, says more than one child under the age of sixteen is at the detention center. However, Miller has revealed little more about their welfare. He has refused to reveal how many there are, their exact ages or their countries of origin. The children are being interrogated and will continue to be held at Guantanamo. They have not been tried or convicted of any offence. [ABC]

  • According to Major General Geoffrey Miller, the U.S. floated plans to add a death row and execution chamber to Guantanamo Bay. Prisoners would be tried, convicted and executed by military tribunals without leaving the camp, without a jury and without right of appeal. [CM]

  • President Bush released an executive order in November, 2001 allowing special military tribunals to try non-citizens charged with terrorism. The use of military tribunals would apparently authorize secret trials without a jury and without the requirement of a unanimous verdict and would limit a defendant's opportunities to confront the evidence against him and choose his own lawyer. What's worse, these important legal protections would be removed in a situation where defendants may very well be facing the death penalty. [ACLU]

  • As of June, 2003, eighteen detainees had attempted suicide at the U.S. outpost, some of them repeatedly and most by trying to hang themselves with sheets or pieces of clothing, officials say. Human rights groups have decried the prisoners' indefinite detention and raised concerns about whether conditions or interrogations are driving some to attempt suicide. [KCS]

  • Four men were set free from Guantanamo in October, 2002 after being deemed not a security risk. Speaking from a hospital in Kabul, they told the BBC they had not been beaten, but they had been interrogated intensely and had been locked in tiny cells in sweltering heat for long periods. They had been cut off from the outside world for eleven months. Jan Mohammed was not given a letter from his family until three days before his release. The returned men say there are three kinds of people being held at Camp Delta: real fighters, those forced to fight and innocent Afghans who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. [BBC2]

  • In December of 2002, military sources revealed that a least 59 detainees (nearly ten percent) were deemed to be of no intelligence value while still in Afghanistan, but were sent to Guantanamo anyway. Dozens of the detainees are Afghan and Pakistani nationals described in classified intelligence reports as farmers, taxi drivers, cobblers and laborers; some were low-level fighters conscripted by the Taliban in the weeks before the collapse of the ruling Afghan regime. None of the 59 met U.S. screening criteria for determining which prisoners should be sent to Guantanamo Bay, military sources said, but all were transferred anyway. "There are a lot of guilty [people] in there," said one officer, "but there's a lot of farmers in there too." Some were grabbed by Pakistani soldiers patrolling the Afghan border to collect bounties for Arab prisoners, sources said. [LAT]

  • An inmate who spent almost two years in Guantanamo and was later set free without ever having any charges filed against him tried to commit suicide four times. His attempts at self-harm began after he was confined, without explanation, in a sealed punishment cell for a month - not because he had broken camp rules, but because the American authorities had nowhere else to put him while they were finishing new facilities. [GUARD]

  • Jamal al-Harith, a British captive freed from Guantanamo in March of 2003 after two years in confinement without being charged of any crime, says he was assaulted with fists, feet and batons after refusing a mystery injection. He claims punishment beatings were handed out by guards known as the Extreme Reaction Force who waded into inmates in full riot-gear, raining blows on them. Even petty breaches of rules brought severe punishment. Medical treatment was sparse and brutal and amputations of limbs were more drastic than required, he said. Prisoners faced psychological torture and mind-games in attempts to make them confess to acts they had never committed. Those who had never seen an "unveiled" woman before would be forced to watch as hookers brought into the camp touched their own naked bodies. Rice and beans was the usual diet and the water was filthy, he said, and it was often denied as punishment. [MIR]

  • British captive Tarek Dergoul, released in March of 2003 after 22 months in confinement, revealed that dozens of videotapes of American guards allegedly engaged in brutal attacks on Guantanamo Bay detainees have been stored and catalogued at the camp. Dergoul says the repeated assaults by Camp Delta's punishment squad, known as the Extreme Reaction Force, would be prompted by minor disciplinary infractions such as refusing to agree to the third cell search in a day. Lieutenant Colonel Leon Sumpter, the Guantanamo Joint Task Force spokesman, confirmed the existence of the video tapes, saying that all ERF actions were filmed so they could be 'reviewed' by senior officers. [OBS]

  • Sean Baker was a member of the Kentucky National Gaurd unit assigned to Guantanamo Bay. In January, 2003, he volunteered to put on an orange prison jumpsuit and portray an uncooperative detainee in a training drill. Baker said he was ordered to crawl under a prison bunk and refuse to come out. He said he assumed that the MPs taking part knew it was a drill. But a five man "immediate response force" was not told of the exercise and Baker was choked and beaten by fellow military police on the steel floor of a 6-by-8 prison cell. Despite yelling the code word ("red") and repeatedly telling his assailants he was a U.S. solider the beating continued until the jumpsuit was yanked down in the struggle, revealing his military uniform. Baker suffered serious injuries requiring a month and a half hospital stay. According to a September 2003 physical evaluation, "traumatic brain injury was due to [the] soldier playing [a] role of [a] detainee who was noncooperative and was being extracted from detention cell in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during a training exercise." Baker also suffers from seizures caused by the beating. Lt. Col. Jim Marshall said an internal investigation concluded no one was liable for Baker's injuries because the training had to be as realistic as possible. Two members of the immediate response force told investigators that the incident had been taped. One of Baker's sergeants attempted to retrieve the tape but was told it had been lost or misplaced. Later a spokesman instead claimed it was not likely that a video ever existed of the drill involving Baker. [LAT2]

  • In June of 2004, following the Abu Gharib prison scandal in Iraq, the CIA temporarily suspended the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" in its facilities pending a Justice Department evaluation. The techniques include feigning drowning, feigned suffocation, 'stress positions', light and noise bombardment, sleep deprivation, and making captives think they are being interrogated by another government. However, the suspension of these tactics applies only to CIA facilities and will not change things at Guantanamo. [YAHOO]

  • In response to a 2004 Supreme Court ruling that "United States courts have jurisdiction to consider challenges to the legality of the detention of foreign nationals captured abroad in connection with hostilities and incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay", the Pentagon said in July of 2004 it would create military review panels to weigh the legality of detentions at Guantanamo. Some argue that the military review panels fall short of the Supreme Court verdict. Detainees will be allowed to testify at their own hearing but will not be represented by lawyers, and hearings will not be open to the public. Each prisoner will be assigned a military officer to advise them on the proceedings, but the officer will not necessarily have any legal knowledge, and will not be serving as a legal representative. It is unclear whether prosecutors will allow findings obtained through coerced confession. [GUARD2]

  • Sources:
    BBC News - Jan. 2002 Afghan Captives Start Cuba Detention [BBC]
    The Courier-Mail - May 2003 The U.S. Plans Death Camp [CM]
    ABC News Online - Apr. Children Held At Camp X-Ray, U.S. Admits [ABC]
    Miami Herald - Feb. 2002 Treaties Apply To Taliban [MH]
    The Kansas City Star - Jun. 2003 Guantanamo Prisoner Attempts Suicide [KCS]
    The Telegraph - Jan. 2002 Taliban Prisoners Are "Unlawful Combatants" [TT]
    BBC News - Oct. 2002 Afghans Tell of Guantanamo Ordeal [BBC2]
    American Civil Liberties Union - Nov. 2001 Bush Order On Military Tribunals [ACLU]
    L.A. Times - Many At Guantanamo Not Terrorists [LAT]
    The Guardian - People the Law Forgot [GUARD]
    The Mirror - My Hell In Camp X-Ray [MIR]
    The Observer - U.S. Guards Filmed Beatings at Terror Camp [OBS]
    L.A. Times - Ex-Soldier Recalls Beating He Received In Drill[LAT2]
    The Guardian - Pentagon Accused of Evading Court Ruling [GUARD2]

    Further Info:
    Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting - U.S. Reporters Failed To Probe Pentagon's "Unlawful Combatant" Label
    Scott Airforce Base - Military Conduct In War
    The White House - President Issues Military Order - U.S. Rejects Amnesty Charge
    Yahoo News - CIA Halts Interrogation Tactics [YAHOO]

    Originally Written: 06-05-03
    Last Updated: 06-05-03

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