Human Rights Violations in Guantanamo Bay

When I was searching for articles for my social media project, I came across an article in the New York Times entitled “How Will Obama’s Plan to Close Guantanamo Work?”  I was very curious to learn more about Guantanamo Bay after reading this article, and I after more research, I came across information regarding the abuse that prisoners face at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp.  I am very interested in human rights, and prison abuse is in direct opposition of human rights, specifically the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (United Nations).  In recent articles in the New York Times and other media sources, allegations have been made about the mistreatment and poor living conditions of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, and Rikers Island in New York.  President Obama is working to close Guantanamo Bay and move the prisoners elsewhere, but Congress is permitting him from doing so.  Although prisoners of war crimes and terrorism have committed atrocities, their human rights should still be recognized within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp opened in 2002 to house suspected terrorist persons associated with al-Qaeda and the Taliban, following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.  Hundreds of suspects were detained from Afghanistan and Iraq by the United States military without a charge or any means of defending themselves (Nolen 2016), a severe defiance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Guantanamo Bay detention camp opened on the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba under the presidency of George W. Bush.  In the context of detainees being denied basic human rights, the Bush administration “maintained that it was neither obliged to grant basic constitutional protections to the prisoners, since the base was outside U.S. territory, nor required to observe the Geneva Conventions regarding the treatment of prisoners of war and civilians during wartime, as the conventions did not apply to ‘unlawful enemy combatants’” (Nolen 2016).

Many allegations regarding misconduct at Guantanamo Bay have been published since it’s opening in 2002.  Ali Abdullah Ahmed, a Guantanamo Bay prisoner, had aggressive tendencies while he was housed at Guantanamo Bay, and he frequently refused to listen to instructions given to him.  In 2006, Ahmed and two other prisoners hanged themselves in their cells.  “Their deaths in June 2006- the first at Guantanamo- fueled a debate between military officials, who deemed the suicides ‘an act of asymmetric warfare waged against us’ by jihadists seeking martyrdom, and prison critics, who interpreted them as an act of despair by men with little hope of a fair trial or release” (Savage 2011).  Subsequent suicides have been committed by other prisoners of Guantanamo Bay since 2006, and it is a constant talk among prisoners at the detainment camp (Savage 2011).  In a letter to a family member, Ahmed’s brother, also a detainee at Guantanamo Bay, stated that committing suicide is a continuation of the jihad toward the United States (Savage 2011).

In defiance of their unlawful detainment and treatment, prisoners have rallied against U.S. army officials at Guantanamo Bay.  One of the most widely used tactics to advocate for themselves is a hunger strike.  In an article written by Emmeline Buckley et al. (2014) in the Tropical Medicine and International Health Journal, the team describes the ethics that have been abandoned by medical officials at Guantanamo Bay.  They write about the force-feedings of prisoners who go on hunger strikes and medical abuse used to gain information from detainees: “These malpractices include medical personnel involvement in abusive interrogation designed to increase disorientation and anxiety of detainees, using medical information for interrogation purposes, and the force-feeding of hunger strikers” (Buckley, Emmeline et al. 2014).  The United States government responded to this statement and others by saying that it is necessary for them to follow the laws of war, not the laws of medical ethics.  The laws of war do not state that prisoners cannot be tortured through medical methods to obtain information from them.  Medical professionals attempted to argue this until 2013 when Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp stated that they would no longer be reporting the hunger strikes of prisoners.  In 2014, the United States Pentagon issued a report stating that the original “Medical Management of Detainees on Hunger Strike” document was replaced by “Medical Management of Detainees with Weight Loss.”  In the new document, the force-feeding of prisoners is called “involuntary enteral feeding” (Buckley, Emmeline et al. 2014).  The medical community continues to fight for medical ethics at Guantanamo Bay, but abuse continues in various forms at the detention center.  “The events at Guantanamo Bay require urgent attention, both for the benefit of the detainees whose human rights are being ignored and for the sake of the wider global medical community, whose reputation for independence and ethical rigor is being compromised” (Buckley, Emmeline et al. 2014).

Military officials at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp state that the abuse of prisoners is used to obtain from them information regarding the crimes they have committed as terrorists and war criminals.  Survivors of Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp have reported that they have been confined in solidarity for over a year, severely deprived of sleep, subjected to long periods of inhumane temperatures, beaten to the point of swelling and bleeding, and they were threatened to a transfer to another country where they would be tortured (Center for Constitutional Rights 2006).  Prisoners have also stated that they were tortured in other countries prior to being transported to Guantanamo Bay, sexually assaulted, raped, threatened of rape, denied the right to medical treatment for serious ailments/medical conditions, and they were often bound by chains on their hands and feet, sometimes so tightly that bleeding ensued (Center for Constitutional Rights 2006).  These extraordinarily harsh conditions have caused serious physical and mental health problems to the prisoners.  Many suffer from extreme anxiety and stress.

A prisoner by the name of Mohamedou Ould Slahi was housed in Guantanamo Bay for twelve years.  In his time there, he secretly kept a diary of his prison life before guards took the journal from him.  After the journal was seized, a legal battle of seven years ensued regarding the release of the book.  It was finally released and is now published and available in bookstores around the world.  In his diary, he described the torture he faced as a prisoner, in the form of physical and sexual abuse.  In one entry described by the New York Daily News (Golgowski 2015), Slahi describes the sexual encounter he was forced to take part in with two female prison guards.  The women forced themselves on him and when he prayed out loud, they became infuriated and punched him very forcefully in his mouth.  This punch left him with a swollen, bloody lip (Golgowski 2015).  As his entries continue, they become more and more violent regarding the beatings he suffered through to force information out of him.  He describes one beating that resulted in him gasping for air.  He also describes an instance in which he was beaten physically and threatened with violent dogs that would tear him apart.  Slahi includes in his entries, the lengths of the beatings, often they lasting for three hours or more before another party came to torture him in a different way.  In Golgowski’s news article (2015), she mentions that Slahi said he did not ever tell the prison guards the truth while he was at Guantanamo Bay.  He instead told them what he thought they wanted to hear.  This is an interesting aspect of both torture and Anthropology, which James Dawes discusses in his book That the World May Know in Chapter 2 entitled “Interrogation”.  “Even those who truly merit refugee status will lie if they believe another story will be more likely to succeed, if they believe they will harm somebody by telling the truth, or if they wish to hide how they managed to enter the country” (Dawes 2007).  It also encompasses the Peace and Justice theme of Logic, Language, and Discourse.  Dawes (2007) discusses various forms of interrogation used by various organizations to determine whether or not someone is eligible to be a refugee.  He also discusses the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the UNHCR, and the HRA, which are organizations that document torture that occurs in various settings, including that of a prison.   Dawes discusses the language that interrogators use and how it affects the person being interrogated.  Being violent and harsh with the person being interrogated, typically does not result in information that is helpful or true, or any information at all.

Dawes (2007) discusses the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the work they do within a prison setting.  ICRC members visit prisons such as Guantanamo Bay to ensure that prisoners are being treated in manners that follow international laws and regulations.  They keep records of the prisoners being housed at the detainment facilities to ensure that none of them escape, and for safety reasons such as in the event that a prisoner or a prisoner’s family needs to contact them.  In very severe cases of poor prison conditions, the ICRC steps in to provide prisoners with medical relief and food.  Dawes (2007) describes the most important work that ICRC members do as “they interview prisoners to obtain information about conditions of detention.”.  Reports generated from interviews with prisoners are passed on to higher authorities within the government, in addition to demands for the fixing of neglect and abuse instances.  In an interview with Patricia Danzi, the head of operations for the American region of the ICRC, she describes the work that the ICRC does in Guantanamo Bay.  She says that part of their mission is to keep families connected while prisoners are detained in the prison for often times over a decade.  The ICRC relays family messages and also gives prisoners the opportunity to have a video chat with their families.  Seeing and being able to talk to their families is often very beneficial for a prisoner.  The ICRC also works on transfers within prisons.  Often times, prisoners are cleared for transfer to another prison, possibly one in the country where they are from, but they are not transferred for many years.  The ICRC works to ensure that there is movement in the status of the transfer, within a year of the transfer clearance.  Danzi also talks about the global impact that Guantanamo Bay has and the historic weight it holds for many people worldwide.  The ICRC is the only organization allowed within the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp, and thus they take their work within its boundaries very seriously.


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