Guantánamo bay detention center Essay

The Guantánamo Bay detention center, located on the island of Cuba, has been the topic of numerous political debates. Arguments have been forward from both sides of the fence. Questions have been raised as to the legality of the actions that the United States government takes in holding what they refer to as enemy combatants, in this facility under questionable conditions. U.S. official on the other hand have attempted to counter these arguments. Countless organizations around the globe have been calling for research into the actions taken by the U.

S. government in this regard and calls have been raised for the closure of the facility in light of the numerous accusations of the poor treatment of these enemy combatants. Based on reports that have reached the media it has been substantiated that the treatment of detainees at the Guantánamo Bay detention center by the United States government does, in fact, go against ethical principles and is a violation on the inherent rights of these individuals.The origin of the Guantánamo Bay detention center will be looked into to determine the original purpose for which it was established. Those original objectives will be matched with the current state of affairs at the center to determine how far the U.S.

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government has diverted. Further a number of arguments that have been put forward for the closure of the Guantánamo Bay detention center will be examined particularly in the context of international laws which govern the operation of such centers and the treatment of detained individuals. A few case based evidences, in support of each side of the argument, will also be presented. Additionally a few counterclaims put forward primarily from governmental officials will be examined to determine their merit.The territory which the Guantánamo Bay detention center, Gitmo for short, occupies has been in the possession of the United States government since 1903 following as a part of the provisions made at the close of the Spanish-Cuban-American war. The territory was acquired for the purpose of a military base and was not the first of its kind to be acquired by the U.S.

In fact bases have been set up in regions over the world where the United States has been involved in military conflict. A base was also set up in the Philippines at this time. The base in Cuba, though it is controlled totally by the U.S. government, is not on U.S. territory. In fact it is leased permanently at an annual cost of 2000 gold colds which is now valued at $4085.

The total size of the base is 45 square miles (Gibbs, et al 22).Army General Geoffrey Miller is commander of the joint task force that is entrusted with running the detainee operations that are centered at Camp Delta. Camp Delta was constructed as a replacement of Camp X-Ray, what Gibbs et al refers to as not a detention center but a ‘holding pen’ (22), which was under operation during the war in Afghanistan. This previous facility received very negative press coverage. Videos showed detainees chained up in undersized cages, kneeling blindfolded. Camp Delta was constructed with improved facilities, however, Gibbs et al argues that because outside photographers are not allowed to capture images of the facility, the old dreary image from the Camp X era still linger (23).The Guantánamo Bay detention center in Cuba received its first detainees in January 2002. Since then both the civilian and military populations have increased incrementally by more than three times its initial size.

Gibbs et al gives a 2007 figure of 6,000 in total. The general grounds and facilities appear to be quite sophisticated. For the comfort of the personnel on base there are Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, KFC and Subway restaurants. There are also gyms, town houses and a college is slated to open sometime in February 2007. Evidently the U.S.

government is aiming to ensure the comfort of its troops at the military base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba by providing them with necessary comforts (23).Outlining the purpose of the Guantánamo Bay detention center in Cuba, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says that “the United States needed a safe and secure location to detain and interrogate enemy combatants” (Agency Group 09). Rumsfeld clarifies that the policy of the government is to detain as few people as possible and points out that the government prefers to expatriate terrorists to their home country rather than hold them as long as the host country can satisfactorily manage the threat these detainees pose (Ibid).It is evident that the main priority of the center is one of intelligence gathering and not solely detaining terrorists and keeping them off the streets. The detention center is run with a specific focus on this priority.

There are four separate camps for individuals detained at Guantánamo. These are Camps Three, Two, One and Four ranging in order of their security level from highest to lowest. All new detainees are housed in Camp Three which is the most restrictive and very small. Based on their behavior inmates may progressively be placed in lower level security cells with more benefits. In 2003 Gibbs et al also noted that there were juveniles being held at Guantánamo, aged 13-15 years (22). They were housed at Camp Iguana, not far from Camp Delta.

Each week almost half of the detainees are interrogated; some of these sessions last for as much as 16 hours. As Gibbs et al highlights there are 40 interrogating teams made up of four persons each (24). These persons are two interrogators, a linguist and an analyst. Interrogators are youthful, usually in their mid 20s because it is believed that they are more effective in interrogations.The U.

S. government has highlighted that the detention facility in Guantánamo Bay is achieving its overall objectives. Though not all detainees are able to provide the government with relevant intelligence, there have been some noted successes. One such person is Mohamed al-Kahtani who is currently being held at Guantánamo. According to officials, he, along with other detainees has supplied very valuable intelligence as regards terrorist planning strategies, recruiting and other logistics. Many more, like al-Kahtani, have close ties with known terrorist bodies including al Qaeda.

He has revealed the identities of 20 of bin Laden’s bodyguards and was instrumental in providing information which led to the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is said to be architect behind the September 11 attacks. Additionally al-Kahtani is said to have supplied information which led to the foiling of another major terrorist plot (Agency Group 09).From this standpoint the detention center is achieving at least some of its objectives. From the wide range of detainees held have been noted terrorist recruiters and trainers, bomb makers, suicide bombers among others (Agency Group 09).

Even though the picture painted of the facility seems to present a positive image, the actual treatment of the detainees goes contrary to principles of international law that govern the treatment of individuals detained during conflict. Following on from the World War II conflicts nation states, including the United States, Afghanistan and many others, signed on to the Geneva Conventions. The Geneva Conventions consist of the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 as well as Protocols I and II of 1977. These Conventions entail the humanitarian laws that govern the international arena post-World War II (Gibbs 23). These laws aim at avoiding a repeat of the atrocities committed against humans up to World War II.

These laws detail how wars should be conducted and specify that civilians and Prisoners of War (POWs) should be treated with dignity and respect. The Third Geneva Convention particularly addresses the treatment of POWs and specifies the conditions under which they should be held, the duration of detainment, protects them from being charged as criminals for duties performed in battle and guarantees protection of their legal rights.In 2004 the United Nations Commission on Human Rights carried out and reported on alleged human rights violations at the Guantánamo detention center. Five independent investigators sought to do a detailed study of the facility but were prevented from doing an accurate investigation because of the strict guidelines the U.S. government were suggesting to govern their research. A visit to the center was prevented, and this demonstrates that the government indeed has something to hide. However based on information gathered from declassified government documents, interviews with former detainees as well as lawyers representing current detainees, media reports and reports produced by some NGOs, the investigators have reported that there are considerable violations being perpetrated by the government against these at Camp Delta (UNCHR Report 106).

One of the first aspects of the U.S. treatment of detainees at Guantánamo that have been highlighted is whether or not the U.S.

’ position to hold the detainees is legal. Sweeney observes that the majority of detainees at Guantánamo Bay have neither being charged with nor convicted of a crime (15). The Third 1949 Geneva Convention, to which the United States is signatory, clearly outlines the rules governing the detainment of Prisoners of War and prescribe proceeds for their capture, interrogation, trial and release.

The U.S. government has, however, tried to abscond from its obligations under the Convention by arguing that detainees at the Guantánamo facility are not Prisoners of war (POWs). These detainees have been assigned what Sweeney refers to as an “obscure legal status” (15). They have been called instead criminal or unlawful combatants by U.

S. governmental officials and as Defense Secretary Rumsfeld argues these “do not have any rights under the Geneva Convention.”By using this term the U.S. government is able to claim exclusion from responsibilities of the Geneva Convention.

Sweeney counters this position by arguing that substantial evidence exists to support that the persons detained at Guantánamo Bay are in fact Prisoners of War and as such they should be accorded this legal status with its inherent privileges (16). Even where investigators have been calling for the appointment of a competent tribunal to decide on the matter, the government has ignored such requests. On the other hand the same government is proposing that the U.S. courts have no jurisdiction over the detainees because they are not held on U.

S. soil. One begins to wonder just what rights these individuals have and who is responsible for determining them. Detainees are therefore given as much rights as the U.S. government decides to apply arbitrarily.By so doing the government is attempting to avoid being held accountable for its treatment of enemy combatants because the Geneva Convention does not govern these categories of detainees. Enemy combatants are persons who have in one way or the other fought against U.

S. troops. International law does not categorize involvement in such activities as criminal but rather they see it as the combatant’s exercise of his right to defend himself against a presumed enemy. Criminal offenses under international law are those acts perpetrated during combat, such as rape or killing of a civilian, and these are punishable in international courts.The U.

S. government believes that its objective of gathering intelligence in combating terrorist organizations and their activities would be compromised if strict adherence is made to international laws governing the treatment of detainees. In the Guantánamo Bay facility, therefore, inmates often have little or no knowledge of what exactly they are being charged for if at all, no idea of how long they would be detained nor do they know what the penalties are. As Gibbs et al put forward, the procedures of the military tribunals of the U.S. government have yet to be effectively tested to determine their fairness (25).

They add that punishment for crimes is also arbitrary and its severity is often dependent on the country that the detainee is from.Under international law, warring states have the right to detain enemy combatants and interrogate them. They are also permitted to adopt mechanisms for preventing the detainees from reengaging in hostile activities. But even where the U.S. government argues that the provisions of the Convention do not govern the treatment of detained enemy combatants because they are not termed as criminals, states are still governed in their treatment of these detainees with regards to the conditions of the facilities in which they are detained, the duration of detention and protection from inhumane treatment. Despite these facts the U.

S. government under the Bush administration has been unbending in its resolve and has continued to refuse to acknowledge the rights of detainees under international law (Sweeney 16).Detainees held at the facility in Guantánamo Bay do not have the privilege of a lawyer and are further unable to challenge their being arrested (Gibbs, et al 24).

The reported submitted by the United Nations acknowledges that the detainees have a right to contest the U.S. government on the legality of their detention and are also entitled to release if it is found that they are not being held on legally sound grounds.The process of interrogating detainees has also been called into question. The Geneva Convention specifies the information that POW are permitted to supply to interrogators outside the presence of a lawyer. The Convention specifies that only name, date of birth, military rank and serial number are the only information POWs must reveal. While interrogators may request further information there are also rules governing how such information is obtained.

Article 17 of the Geneva Convention, the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights in addition to other relevant United States and international laws, all prohibit the use of physical coercion to extract information from detainees. Forms of punishment employed at the Guantánamo Bay detention center fall into the category of physical coercion.Failure to acknowledge the legal status of detainees as POWs means that the U.S.

does not fall under legal contravention of the Geneva Convention. Nevertheless such treatment is a violation of fundamental human rights and therefore the U.S. government should refrain from continuing human rights violations.

Another area in which the U.S. is violating the precepts of the Geneva Convention is in its prolonged detention of individuals long after the hostilities between the U.S.

and the relevant country has ceased. Article 118 of the Convention specifies that detainees should be promptly released and repatriated as soon as such hostilities would have ended. However, the case of the Afghan detainees still being held at Guantánamo Bay is evidence of the U.S.

’ insistence on non-compliance with these basic guidelines.To quiet the speculation U.S.

government officials have been arguing that the detainees still pose significant threats to international security because of their potential reengagement in terrorist activities after being released. Aside from accusing these detainees of hostilities perpetrated during war, the U.S.

government appears also to be holding them for criminal acts (Sweeney 15). If it is that these individuals are held for criminal acts then proper judicial procedures must be followed. The Convention details that individuals charged with war crimes must be prosecuted and punished. This has not been the case, however. Sweeney observes that to date, none of the detainees at the Guantánamo Bay facility have either been charged with or convicted of any sort of criminal act (16).

If in fact a POW should be charged with a crime the Geneva Convention stipulates corrected procedures. The POW should be notified of the charge, must obtain legal representation, is able to present a defense and is entitled to a free and fair trial by an independent tribunal (Sweeney 16).The 2004 UNCHR report on the abuses being perpetrated at the Guantánamo facility criticizes the U.

S. government’s approach to the legal rights of the detainees. The report reveals that even when proceedings are taken up against the detainees they are far from fair.

They note that the U.S. administration acts comprehensively as judge, prosecutor and defense, guaranteeing that detainees would not be successful at these proceedings (UNCHR Report 106). This in no way represents a fair trial as the detainees are not independently represented and judged by an unbiased panel.

Therefore to argue that they are criminals is to establish that the U.S. government is not respecting the legal rights of these individuals to access due process.The most serious accusations against the U.S. government in regards to the Guantánamo Bay detention center are the numerous reports of human rights violations.

The Geneva Convention characterizes POWs, not as criminals, but as human beings. They are “sons and daughters, parents and spouses, through whom states conduct war” (Sweeney 17). To ensure preservation of human dignity the Convention specifies that physical, spiritual and psychological needs of the detainees be met as far as possible.Among the requirements specifies by the Convention detainees are required to be housed in a manner similar to what the armed forces are housed in. Additionally sufficient and healthy food, proper clothing and personal care amenities must be available.

Detainees must be able to practice their religion freely and be given access to recreational activities. They must not be forced to work, aid should be provided to them, communication with family should be permitted and they must have access to elected legal representation. Sweeney commends that, for the most part, the U.S. government has enforced these practices in a number of conflicts it has been involved in including the Korean and Vietnam wars (17).

This practice has, however, not extended completely to the detainees being held at Guantánamo Bay and significant violations of the human rights of the detainees have continued despite public outcry for them to cease.A number of cases of human rights violations have been highlighted. Omar Khadr, a Canadian aged only 17 years says was severely wounded by U.S. troops in Afghanistan in July 2002 and later sent to the Guantánamo facility along with his brother.

He was accused by the military of having tossed a grenade that killed an Army medic during the war in Afghanistan. His brother has been released from the facility but he is still being detained and is reporting terrible treatment by the troops in his letters home to his grandmother (Gibbs, et al 25). The U.S. is holding Omar because they feel he could be of value to them since he is the son of Ahmed Said Khadr, who is believed to be one of the chief fanciers of the al-Qaeda terrorist network as well as being a proficient bomb-maker.Furthermore these allegations are not completely groundless. In late 2004 internal emails within the FBI have emerged which confirm violations at Guantánamo Bay.

In one instance interrogators were noted to have disgraced the Quran by placing it on toilets as well as flushing the holy books down the toilet. All this was in an attempt to unsettle the detainees and get them to reveal information (Isikoff and Barry 4).One former detainee, Mohammed Sagheer filed a suit against the U.S. government claiming he was detained wrongfully.

Sagheer, a Pakistani preacher who was in his early fifties at the time he was detained has also accused the wardens at the Guantánamo Bay facility of using unlawful means to extract information from detainees. Sagheer says that drugs were used to control prisoners. He recalls himself along with the other detainees being given tablets that would make them make them hazy and confused. He also reports on guards desecrating the holy books and in one case he was sent into solitary confinement for retaliating against a guard who intentionally trampled his copy of the Quran (Gibbs, et al 24).Thomas Wilner, a lawyer who was representing 12 Kuwaitis who were detained at the Guantánamo Bay facility, has called on the U.S. government to modify its policy with regards to the detainees (Gibbs, et al 24).

Wilner does not accept the argument that the prisoners are well fed as evidence enough of respect for their human rights. He desires that the detainees be given the requisite legal rights that are entitled to as well as adherence to the other violated principles laid down in the Geneva Convention. He wants detainees to have an opportunity to communicate with their families.

Commenting on the case of two of his clients he says their fathers died while they were being detained and communication was not permitted to them. Some other of his clients have had children being born to them without the privilege of interacting with them.While Wilner accepts the necessity of detention centers such as the one at Guantánamo Bay, he believes that strict adherence should be made to correct processes and principles (Gibbs, et al 24). He suggests that all detainees be told what they are being held for and allowed to put up a legal defense. In some cases persons completely unconnected with the combat have been held by officials because little is communicated to them. Several individuals detained at Guantánamo were quite innocently sold over to the U.

S. military by persons seeking to collect on bounty for terrorist fighters. These individuals were kidnapped by the terrorist leaders and then handed over to the U.S. military. When proper procedures are followed real terrorists would be convicted and innocent persons would not be too greatly inconvenienced by being detained for excessively long periods of time.

But officials have argued that the human rights violations are not as extreme as they are being put forward to be. In fact they suggest that such violations are the exception rather than the norm and that proper procedures are put in place to deal with those personnel who infringe on the rights of the detainees by perpetrating arbitrary acts of violence and disrespect.The U.S. government is reportedly trying to mend fences.

Recently detainees at the Guantánamo facility were permitted to challenge their being detained in the U.S. federal court. Presumably these hearings were conducted fairly. Despite the increased attention given to the military base the U.S. government has still not adjusted its policy towards the detainees.

The government is still refusing to grant detainees the status of Prisoners of War.Other officials have sought to respond to the alleged human rights violations by arguing that the prisoners have been treated humanely. Among the characteristics that qualify treatment as humane officials at Guantánamo Bay have said that the detainees are very well fed and have even put on weight since their arrival at the facilities. Gibbs et al comments on the variety of dishes prepared and the vastness of the menu available to the detainees daily (24). This argument only addresses the meals that are provided and say little or nothing about the other areas in which human rights violations have been noted. Little comment has been on the physical abuse and torture of suspected terrorists.

One former detainee, Shah Mohammed, 21 at the time of his release, gives a very good report of how he was treated by the guards. However Shah Mohammed is not typical of the persons being detained at Camp Delta. He was one who was kidnapped and sold over to the U.S. military for a bounty offered to al-Qaeda fighters. Interrogators discovered quite early that he had little or no knowledge of the operations of the al-Qaeda network; neither did he even know about the bombing of the World Trade centers on September 11 until he was shown pictures of the gruesome scene by military personnel (Gibbs, et al 25).Therefore even though the reports from Mohammed may be used as evidence of the good treatment given to detainees, this evidence is considerably flawed. Most of the persons detailed at Camp Delta are not as innocent as Mohammed and thus have not been treated as nicely.

Further reports from other detainees as to the marvelous conditions at the facility also do not give an accurate picture of the real situation at Guantánamo Bay. Several detainees write home to families that they are being treated excellent and some have even gone as far as to say they are treated much better than they are at home. One such person Airat Vakhitov says he is being treated better than he was before in a Russian sanatorium. His mother is even concerned about his wellbeing not wanting him to return to Russia preferring to have the U.S.

government hold and convict him in the United States (Chavez 424).However, not because conditions in the U.S. center are better than elsewhere is argument enough that human rights are not being violated. It simply means that violations are not to the same extent as in another country. Furthermore the letters sent out by detainees are carefully screened.

This suggests that the government, wanting to improve its image permits only the positive reports to reach outside and censors those reports that cast too bad of a light on the facility.U.S.

officials have also tried to counter the negative press effects of noted human rights violations by taking punitive action against personnel that are revealed to have violated the rights of detainees. One official reports that, in the case of the information leaked from internal FBI emails, 10 interrogators were disciplined for their actions (Isikoff and Barry 4). Additionally officials have argued that whenever infractions occur they are dealt with speedily by the military personnel at the detention center.Chavez reveals that only a small fraction of interrogations at the center have gone wrong (424). She reports on a comprehensive study that was done at Guantánamo which reveals one case of assault and two cases of females making sexually suggestive gestures to the male detainees. The report also details that only five times was the Quran, which is provided by the military, dismantled by guards.Chavez puts forth an argument that most Americans would subscribe to – the detainees are indeed dangerous and therefore they should not be released (424).

She goes on to suggest that Guantánamo is the safest place for the government to host these terrorists as few Americans would agree to house them on home soil. Not entering into the debate as to the potential risk posed to Cubans unrelated to these activities, her argument is not completely justified. If the detainees have not been accused of a crime there is no way to determine whether or not they are guilty. Most critics are not suggesting their unconditional release but that more attention be paid to ensure that all are treated fairly as prescribed by international law.Several organizational bodies and nations worldwide have called for either the unconditional closure of the Guantánamo facility or a revision of its policies toward the detainees it holds. Among these is Amnesty International which held world-wide demonstrations in January of this year calling for the closure of the facilities (Izenberg). Amnesty International has equated the Guantánamo facility to the Russian gulags in their treatment of detainees (Chavez 424).

Though this metaphor may not be completely accurate it does say that the U.S. has to adopt more humane strategies at this facility. Israel also joined the organization is its protests.

The National Council of Churches along with its online site has also been calling for the U.S. government to close the Guantánamo Bay facilities. This call came in response to suicide committed by three detainees in late 2006 (NCC Urges Closure 18).

Additionally the International Federation of Action by Christians has joined in this call and has extended a further call for detainees to either be given a fair trial or released (Zagorin, et al 16).The UN panel that monitors compliance with the Geneva Convention has also called on government to close the facilities or at best to refrain from using torturous interrogative techniques (Zagorin, et al 16).Whatever arguments have been put forward by the United States government in support of maintaining its currency policy instrument towards the detainees held at the Guantánamo Bay center, there is no doubt that there are essential issues that need to be resolved. While officials have attempted to soften the effect of negative publicity on the detention center, their efforts have not served to convincingly excuse the human rights violations that have continued. Even officials are adamant in refusing to adhere to particularly one human rights issue and that is treating the detainees as either prisoners of war or charging them with some criminal act. Barring either the U.

S. government must release the detainees unconditionally.Evidence exists to prove that the troops stationed at Guantánamo bay have not been as respectful of other rights as they ought to. While the government is suggesting that the facility is essential they must not excuse the violations. They must aim to remake the image of the facility by taking through a process of reconstruction as they did with Camp X-Ray.REFERENCESAgency Group 09.

“Secretary Defends Guantánamo Bay Detention Center.” FDCH Regulatory Intelligence Database 14 June 2005.Chavez, Linda. “Joe Biden is Clueless about Guantanamo.” Human Events 61.

20 (13 June 2005): 424.Gibbs, Nancy, et al. “Inside ‘The Wire.’” Time Canada 162.23 (12 Aug 2003): 20-25.Isikoff, Michael, and John Barry. “A Scandal Spreads.” Newsweek 145.

19 (9 May 2005): 4-5. (Atlantic Edition)Izenberg, Dan. “Israelis to Join Amnesty Int’l Protests Against Guantanamo Detention Center.”  World News Connection 10 Jan 2007.“NCC Urges Closure of Guantánamo Center Following Suicides.” Christian Century 123.14 (11 July 2006): 18.Sweeney, Michael J.

D. “Detention at Guantanamo Bay.” Journal of the Section of Individual Rights ; Responsibilities 30.1 (Winter 2003):15-17.UNCHR Report. “Does the Treatment of Prisoners at the Detention Facility in Guantánamo Bay Violate International Law?” Pro.

International Debates 4.4 (Apr 2006): 106-108.Zagorin, Adam, et al.

“Gitmo Comes Under Fire.” Time 167.22 (29 May 2006):16.;


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