Guantanamo

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Guantanamo Bay Naval Base (also known as Gitmo) is the 45 square mile U.S. military base in the eastern Cuban province of Oriente.

Contents

Background and Legal Status

The U.S. asserts that it occupies the base under a permament 1903 treaty leasing it from Cuba. Originally deemed strategically important, the base has been used by other purposes by the U.S., including service as a place to intern Haitian and Cuban refugees.

The second Bush Administration originally claimed that neither the Habeas_Corpus_Act nor the Geneva_Conventions apply to the Afghan War and other non-Iraq War prisoners being held in prison camps at Guantanamo Bay. The Bush administration has established military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay to try prisoners. In July 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court found that these tribunals are un-constitutional, see Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. Immediately afterwards, the Defense Department issued a memo stating that Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions would apply to all detainees held in U.S. military custody. However, the passage of the Military_Commissions_Act_of_2006 created a legal avenue for the administration to detain prisoners indefinitely, and try them without due process, using evidence obtained by "aggressive interrogations" (torture).

The administration has acknowledged over 700 prisoners have been held at Guantanamo, including 180 who were released without any charges against them. Ten captives faced charges before military commissions convened under Presidential authority, in 2004, 2005 and 2006. In 2007 three captives who faced charges before the commissions convened under Presidential authority faced new charges fbefore military commissions convened under the authority of the Military Commissions Act of 2006. David Hicks pled guilty following plea bargain negotiation. In early 2008 nine additional captives faced charges. In April 2006, the Defense Dept. released a list of 558 prisoners who have been held at Guantanamo. Later, on May 15th, the DOD released a list of all 759 current or former detainees. (Source: Diverse Group of Detainees at Guantanamo by Ben Fox for AP.)

About a dozen men have been transferred from the CIA to Guantanamo Bay. According to the Washington Post: "Some CIA officials have argued that the facility has become, as one former senior official put it, "a dumping ground" for CIA mistakes."

In June 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that detainees in Guantanamo have basic due-process rights, which led to the introduction of military tribunals. On March 3, 2006, the Pentagon released some transcripts of prisoner testimony before the Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) and Administrative Review Board (ARB). Meanwhile, the National Security Council effectively halted the movement of new detainees into Guantánamo at a cabinet-level meeting at the White House on Sept. 14, 2004.

However, on Sept. 6, 2006, President Bush announced that the last 14 prisoners had been transferred out of the CIA's secret prisons into Guantanamo.

US and International Criticism

The British Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, said "It is time in my view that it should close ... The historic tradition of the United States as a beacon of freedom, of liberty and of justice deserves the removal of this symbol." (May 10, 2006)

On May 19, 2006, the United Nations Committee on Torture condemned conditions at Guantanamo, and called on the US to close it.

A group of 145 members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to President Bush on June 29, 2007 urging him to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and move the detainees there to military prisons in the United States. (Source: Congress letter to Bush: Close Guantanamo)

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has repeatedly called for closing Guantanamo. [1]

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen said that he wants to close Guantanamo because of its damage to America's image. (Source: ThinkProgress.org, Jan. 13, 2008).

Suicide

In June 2006, three prisoners commited suicide in their cells. The camp commander, Rear Adm. Harris, responed by saying "I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us." There have been many previous unsucessful suicide attempts and hunger strikes.

In May 2007, a Saudi Arabian prisoner committed suicide in his cell.

Interrogation

Prisoners at Guantanamo were interrogated by two separate teams. The first team came from the Pentagon's Criminal Investigation Task Force, and consisted of experienced police officers, many of whom had worked on the Cole bombing and other terrorist attacks. The second team was made up of young and inexperienced military interrogators. The second team began by using tactics that were just silly, like dressing up in cowboy suits, but when that failed to get results, they began using torture. Meanwhile, the first team was getting results by building rapport with their prisoners, and they complained that torture was both illegal and ineffective. However, the camp commanders sided with the military team, and at one point Maj. Gen. Miller said "If you want to be on the team, you’ve got to put on the same uniform." (Source: Inside GITMO, Part II - see below).

Torture

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights issued a report stating that "The interrogation techniques authorized by the Department of Defense, particularly if used simultaneously, amount to degrading treatment." They went on to say that in individual cases these acts amounted to torture.

The ACLU has obtained memos from FBI Agents working at Guantanamo Bay who objected to the illegal and abusive interrogation methods. The FBI agents said that the military interrogations "could easily result in the elicitation of unreliable and legally inadmissible information".

Lt. Col. Colby Vokey released an affadavit from a Marine paralegal, which alledged that beatings were commonplace at Guantanamo. (Source: Marine: Gitmo guards bragged of beatings (AP) October 6, 2006.)

The International Committee of the Red Cross said that detainees in the CIA's secret prisons and at Guantanamo "were kept and questioned under highly abusive conditions." (Source: A Moral Nothingness: Red Cross Blows Whistle on U.S. Torture).

The FBI has begun rebuilding the cases against accused Al-Qaeda agents, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, because the evidence that has been obtained through torture will not be admissable in U.S. courts. (Source: FBI rebuilds cases of Gitmo detainees, by Josh Meyer, Chicago Tribune, October, 21, 2007)

Mohammad al-Qahtani

Probably the most notorious prisoner at Guatanamo Bay is Mohammad al-Qahtani, the so-called "20th hijacker". He tried to enter the US in August 2001, but was refused entry and deported, only to be captured later that year in Afghanistan. Although some of the prisoners claim to be innocent men who were kidnapped and sold to the US for bounty, there is no doubt that Mohammad al-Qahtani was an active member of Al-Qaeda who tried to join the September 11, 2001 attacks. On March 3, 2006, Time magazine published an article about Mr. al-Qahtani, and posted his entire, 84-page interrogation log on their website. The log shows that he was frequently abused and tortured. A recent story in Salon claims that Donald Rumsfeld personally supervised his interrogation, and approved his abuse. Statements that he made under torture have been used to implicate many other prisoners, but now Mr. al-Qahtani has recanted his statements, and it is not clear if that evidence will be admissable against the other prisoners. The government is arguing that his treatment was permitted by the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, and this case is expected to go the the U.S. Supreme Court.

In an astonishing move, the Defense Department dropped all charges against al-Qahtani on May 13, 2008. (Sources: US drops charges against Saudi in Sept. 11 attacks - AP, thinkprogress.org - May 13, 2008, more background info.)

David Hicks

David Hicks is an Australian citizen who has been held without charges at Guantanamo for years. His case became controversial in Australia, causing the current, pro-Bush prime minister, John Howard, to fall behind in pre-election polls. So the Bush administration cut a deal, convicting Hicks in a show trial, but giving him a very light sentence, to be served in Australia, which will conveniently lead to his release a few months after the Australian election. (Source: Suspicion Of Cheney Intervention Surrounds Guantanamo Plea Bargain, ThinkProgress, April 2, 2007.)

New Compound

In November 2006, the Bush administration proposed building a $125 million compound at Guantanamo Bay, so that its military tribunals could begin holding trials. However, these plans were scaled down to 1/10th the cost by new Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

Kept without cause

"More than a fifth of the approximately 385 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have been cleared for release but may have to wait months or years for their freedom because U.S. officials are finding it increasingly difficult to line up places to send them..." (Source: 82 Inmates Cleared but Still Held at Guantanamo, by Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, April 29, 2007.)


The way home

Obama has said that he plans to close GITMO.

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