Jan. 10, 2007 – Five years after the United States imprisoned the first detainees in outdoor, wire cages at the US military facility at GuantÃ¡namo Bay, Cuba, hundreds of people still languish there, and most have never been charged with a crime. Calling GuantÃ¡namo an "abomination," human-rights groups, anti-war activists and civil-rights attorneys are using tomorrowâ€™s fifth anniversary of the prison to again demand legal rights for the detainees and a shuttering of the prison.
"There is simply no place in a democracy for offshore penal colonies in which people have no rights," said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR).
An estimated 759 people have been imprisoned in the GuantÃ¡namo facility since the US military first started transporting people there on January 11, 2002, according to figures from the Department of Defense. Only ten have ever been charged with a crime, and about 395 remain in the facility.
Despite a US Supreme Court ruling in 2004 upholding detaineesâ€™ rights to challenge their detentions in the US civilian courts system through the legal action known as habeas corpus, Congress stripped that legal right in September 2006 with the passage of the Military Commissions Act. That package, in part, took away habeas rights for any non-citizen the US government determined was "properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination."
"There is simply no place in a democracy for offshore penal colonies in which people have no rights."
CCR led the legal battle to provide attorneys to detainees swept up in the Bush administrationâ€™s "war on terror" and litigated the historic Supreme Court decision in favor of detainees. During a press conference Tuesday, Ratner said CCR never expected to still be fighting for the basic right to due process and a fair trial for detainees in US custody.
"In our view, GuantÃ¡namo is a complete and total failure," said Ratner. "Itâ€™s become iconic for everything the US has done wrong in the war on terror."
The prison facility is not just known for indefinite detentions. Detainees and former detainees have complained about abuse and torture, and last week, much of that harsh treatment was once again substantiated by internal documents released by the FBI.
The documents, exposed by a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, relay FBI agentsâ€™ accounts of detainee treatment. Agents said they saw detainees in "interrogation rooms" chained hand and foot to the floor and forced to urinate or defecate on themselves. They noted a detainee left nearly unconscious next to a pile of his own hair. Another was gagged with duct tape that "covered much of his head," reportedly for reciting the Koran.
CCR attorney Gitanjali Gutierrez, who has been to the prison camp numerous times â€“ including as recently as December â€“ said physical and psychological abuse of detainees continues, although now it is more "sophisticated and subtle." Detainees are deprived of sleep and darkness, Gutierrez told reporters, or they are provoked by military police while trying to pray.
Dozens of groups have planned demonstrations and vigils around the globe Thursday as part of an "International Day of Action to Shut Down GuantÃ¡namo."
"Iâ€™m findingâ€¦ that many of our clients are increasingly having difficulty in assisting us in pursuing their legal rights or assisting us in the litigation because of their hopelessness, or their inability to concentrate," said Gutierrez. "[This makes] the client meetings very, very ineffective."
Department of Defense officials continue to maintain that GuantÃ¡namo is needed and that detainees are treated humanely. In an interview Wednesday on C-Span, Charles Stimson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, said the only interrogation technique used at the prison is the "direct approach" of conversation.
"We canâ€™t lower ourselves to where the enemy would take us. We have to remain the paragon of human rights that we are," said Stimson.
While acknowledging it is unrealistic that Congress will cut off funding for GuantÃ¡namo anytime soon, CCR attorneys say they would like to see hearings to investigate the militaryâ€™s interrogation techniques as well as legislation that restores detaineesâ€™ rights to a fair trial. CCR is hoping the US Supreme Court will reaffirm detaineesâ€™ rights to challenge their detention in federal court.
Meanwhile, a broad coalition of groups has planned demonstrations and vigils tomorrow as part of an "International Day of Action to Shut Down GuantÃ¡namo." Events are planned in dozens of places, including GuantÃ¡namo Bay; Washington, DC; Ottawa, Canada; Dublin, Ireland; Melbourne, Australia; Tel Aviv, Israel; and Managua, Nicaragua.
In addition to shutting down GuantÃ¡namo, organizers of the Day of Action are calling on the United States to either charge or release all detainees and to restore their habeas corpus rights. They also want an end to torture and mistreatment, and reparations paid to detainees and their families for human rights violations.