Guantanamo Turns 20: Low Morale in America’s War on Terror


The detention facility at US Naval Base Guantanamo Bay Photo: VCG

On January 11, 2002, the US military began holding captives from its Global War on Terror (GWOT) in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, beginning one of the longest and darkest chapters in its abusive treatment of terrorist suspects. In the years to come, hundreds of foreign Muslim men, and even boys, would be secretly detained, denied due process and subjected to physical and psychological abuse, some amounting to torture.

According to the New York Times, as of July 2022, the United States had imprisoned 780 men and boys – all Muslims – at Guantanamo since the 9/11 attacks, many of whom were later determined to have little or no connection to al-Qaeda. Nine died at the facility. Although President Obama ordered it closed within a year in 2009, 36 people are still being held.

From the start, Guantanamo has been an arrangement that seeks to circumvent both domestic and international legal oversight. For starters, a detention site located at a U.S. Navy base on foreign soil offers the convenience of complete U.S. jurisdiction and control while avoiding the inconvenience of domestic legal oversight.

At the time, the Bush administration referred to the detainees as “unlawful combatants”, a newly coined term, rather than the traditional “prisoners of war (POW)”. This labeling tactic gives the United States the discretion to decide how these detainees would be treated. Because the United States, one of 196 states that have ratified the 1949 Geneva Conventions, is required to guarantee prisoners of war a minimum standard of care, including safe accommodation, adequate food and medical care , as well as immediate release and repatriation after the cessation of active hostilities. States are required by these conventions to provide the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) with access to detainees and are prohibited from exposing prisoners of war to violence, torture or cruel treatment. .

“Unlawful combatants”, a term not defined in the Geneva Conventions or any other treaty, therefore do not benefit from the aforementioned legal protection. With the authorization of the American administration and the military, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) subsequently created and subjected many detainees to the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” such as beatings, sleep deprivation and food, extreme noise, isolation, intense cold, sexual humiliation, position of stress, simulation of drowning, waterboarding and walling.

For more than two decades, Guantanamo Bay has been at the center of controversy. It stands as a haunting monument to human rights abuses by the United States for national security reasons. Through Guantanamo, the United States suggests to the world that it is acceptable to set aside human rights and the humane treatment of detainees in the name of the fight against terrorism.

More than two decades later, many in the United States still know little about the details of the systemic abuses perpetrated by the CIA and the US military against these foreign Muslims, for reasons.

For starters, successive U.S. administrations have been complicit in these wrongdoings and have chosen to cover up this low moral ground in their war on terror. Only people authorized by the Pentagon can fly to the heavily guarded base. The minutes of military commissions at Guantanamo, a flawed system for persecuting prisoners on the base, have never been released publicly. And requests for transparency from media and activist groups have been rejected on the grounds that non-public information is classified.

The Bush administration has tried to prevent federal courts from reviewing Guantanamo cases. In the face of mounting domestic pressure, the Obama administration reviewed the legal status of each detainee, but concluded that detainees could continue to be held under the laws of war and not be treated as prisoners of war. In 2014, the Senate Intelligence Committee released only a heavily redacted summary of its 2014 report on the CIA’s torture program.

The current administration has no intention of releasing the full Senate report, much less criminally investigating those responsible for creating, authorizing, or implementing the secret detention program and CIA torture. Like the precedents, he also opposes the International Criminal Court including abuses committed by US nationals in its investigation of serious human rights crimes in Afghanistan.

Furthermore, popular culture in the United States has often slowed down and glorified the cruelty and failure of these measures. For example, the 2012 Hollywood hit Zero Dark Thirty and the 2019 Interrogation exhibit at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. trivialized the abuse of suspects and went so far as to suggest, incorrectly, that the torture was working.

Guantanamo is not the only scourge of America’s war on terrorism. Its counter-terrorism campaign has spread to 85 countries with little transparency or oversight. Brown University’s Costs of War Project discovered that with the participation of American allies, the CIA covertly and extrajudicially transferred at least 119 foreign Muslims from one foreign country to another for incommunicado detention and interrogation. severe in various CIA black sites. The U.S. military also detained thousands of foreign Muslim security detainees and POWs. including women and boys – in its detention centers abroad, including Abu Ghraib in Iraq and Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, subjected many people to physical and psychological abuse and denied them access to lawyers and the right to challenge the basis for their imprisonment.

Despite the controversy, the United States has continued its cruel and inhumane practices against terrorism suspects to this day, transferring them to US-run sites overseas where they are subjected to torture.

It is deeply disheartening to see a country that has played such a central role in the drafting of major international human rights instruments failing in its commitments. Before Guantanamo turns 21, bold steps must be taken to turn the tide.

The truth must be told. Justice must be respected. Wrongs must be righted. Those responsible for terrorist attacks must be held accountable before the law and serve their sentences properly to atone for their crimes. The same goes for those who have incarcerated, tortured and killed innocent men and women, boys and girls in the name of the fight against terrorism.

The author is a Beijing-based observer. [email protected]


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