Guantanamo Prison: American Gulag Of 21st Century – OpEd


The Guantanamo Bay military prison or detention center is an integral part of the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The USA has had a naval base on the modern communist island since 1903, and it is the oldest American naval base abroad. Cuban authorities consider the Guantanamo base a classic relic of colonial history, and the socialist government in Havana has never recognized the agreements that led to the establishment of the naval-military base. The Cubans are right because the military base and prison (camp) there are relics of colonialism that remain in operation to this day like Guam, American Samoa, Malvinas, French Guiana.

Unlike those modern colonies, Guantanamo is the most terrible for what happens in a military prison. Of the 780 people held there since January 2002, when the military prison first opened after the terrorist attacks in New York on September 11, 2001, 741 prisoners have been transferred to other locations, 30 prisoners remain in prison, and 9 died during the stay due to the terror of the prison staff. Despite the pompous announcements of Obama and Biden that they will close the prison, it seems that this will not happen soon.

The origin and development of Guantanamo prison

The detention camp for Guantanamo detainees was established in 2002 during the George W. Bush administration as an important element of the “War on Terror” which was the response of the United States of America to the terrorist attack on New York on September 11, 2001. Immediately after the opening of the prison, the existing facilities in Guantanamo for migrants have been converted to accommodate new prisoners. It was officially planned to host radical Islamist militants from Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations in the Middle East, Africa and beyond. The location was not chosen by chance, but planned and very deliberate. The Bush administration has argued that Guantanamo detainees are not on US territory and therefore not protected by the US Constitution, and that the status of “enemy combatant” means they may lose legal protection mechanisms.

At the time of the establishment of Guantanamo in January 2002, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that the prison was established to detain extremely dangerous people, interrogate prisoners in optimal conditions and prosecute them for war crimes. Of course, the practice was quite different. Although the number of prisoners was initially hidden, under pressure from the media and the Freedom of Information Act, the US government admitted that it had detained 780 people. Due to the Bush administration’s interpretation that the prison is not on US territory, military guards brought the first 20 detainees into the prison back in January 2002. The government considered that the detainees were not subject to the protection of the Geneva Conventions. However, the US Supreme Court ruled differently, especially in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld from 2006, according to which detainees should have minimum protection according to the Geneva Conventions.

Current and former detainees have reported abuse and torture, which the Bush administration has denied. Back in 2004, just two years after the start of bringing detainees first from Afghanistan, then Iraq and elsewhere, the Red Cross condemned the system of solitary confinement, exposure to extreme heat and cold, and various other methods of torture. He concluded that the entire system was designed as a torture chamber. At the end of the year, the New York Times also found out about beatings, torture with noise, sexual humiliation, torture with sleep deprivation, trauma suffered by detainees such as PTSD and various psychological disorders.

“Gulag of our time”

A special blow to the American authorities was that already in the middle of 2004, one of the soldiers spoke publicly that only about 20 of the 600 detainees were members of the terrorist Al-Qaeda. In the following years, the Western media wrote about many cases in which it turned out that many ordinary citizens were kidnapped and tortured for years in Guantanamo just because some wrong trail led to them, usually because they were Muslims.

In 2005, Amnesty International called Guantanamo “the gulag of our time” in its report. The following year, the UN called for the military prison to be closed. By the end of 2008, the US had convicted only two detainees. Some have died there to this day, some have committed suicide, and some have spent years in captivity, in some cases even 14 years. In January 2009, the outgoing Bush administration admitted that torture had indeed occurred. Indefinite detention without trial has led Amnesty International to consider the operation of this military prison an unscrupulous violation of human rights, and the US Center for Constitutional Rights a violation of the Due Process Clause of the 5th and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution. Organizations such as Human Rights Watch, the Red Cross, the European Union, the Organization of American States (OAS) and many others have made similar condemnations.

Promises of closure are not kept

In 2009, new President Barack Obama promised and signed an executive order to permanently close Guantanamo. Closing Guantanamo was one of his first promises when he took office as President of the United States. By executive order, Guantanamo was supposed to be closed within a year. Obama also required interrogators to use only techniques contained in the US military’s field manual on interrogation, none of which were considered torture.

However, the prison has not been closed to this day. Congress has always bipartisanly opposed all of the Obama administration’s shutdown plans. Both Democrats and Republicans considered it a threat to national security. Also, the congressmen opposed the transfer of prisoners to some other prisons on American territory. However, during the Obama administration, the number of prisoners was drastically reduced as part of efforts to relocate them to other countries. In June 2009, the number of prisoners was 220, and in January 2017, at the end of his term, 41. Prisoners were transferred all over the world. Of the 693 transferred, about 30% rejoined terrorist activities, confirmed or alleged.

Donald Trump did not intend to close the prison that many human rights activists call the most shameful chapter of modern America. In January 2018, Trump signed an executive order to keep the detention camp open indefinitely. In May 2018, the Trump administration returned one prisoner to Saudi Arabia. In early February 2021, President Biden announced his intention to close Guantanamo before his term ends. Instead, the US Department of Defense continued to invest several million dollars in expanding Guantanamo Bay’s military commissions and facilities, including a second courtroom. Nevertheless, the Biden administration released 10 prisoners, bringing their number to 30 in May 2023. Two military airfields, a naval port with 50 ships, 1,400 buildings and 8,500 military personnel is a sure sign that the Guantanamo military base will remain in at the hands of the USA as well as the prison there.

A prison for Muslims

A total of 780 Muslim men and boys were imprisoned in Guantanamo, but only 8% of them were considered Al-Qaeda fighters by the US. In fact, most of those detained were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, after which they found themselves in prison without charge or trial. Instead of a court and an indictment, they found themselves in the cells of a notorious prison due to harsh interrogations, torture and hunger strikes. At Guantanamo, the United States judiciary has initiated regular trials against only 12 prisoners. Regarding the nationality of the prisoners, 29% are Afghans, 17% Saudis, 15% Yemenis, 9% Pakistanis, 3% Algerians and 27% others, such as Somalis, Tunisians, Kenyans, Libyans, etc.

Strict security measures prevail in the prison. Prisoners live in small cells with window panes, almost all of them stay in solitary confinement. Even when it comes to personal things, they are left to their guards because they are tied up – whether they want to watch television, take a shower or when they are force-fed. And every minute they are exposed to the gaze of their guards. The military base is fenced with barbed wire and protected by minefields to hide the truth of what is happening inside. Imprisoning prisoners indefinitely without trial, horrific torture methods (including waterboarding, solitary confinement, beatings, exposure to extreme temperatures and loud music, chaining…) are considered the greatest violation of human rights and freedoms by a country that likes to call itself the leader of the “free world” and democracy.

Terrible revelations of the CIA

In 2016, the CIA declassified 50 documents detailing the methods used to torture detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison. The document was made public after a lawsuit by the non-governmental organization ACLU. And while President Obama called such methods “torture”, the CIA called it “enhanced interrogation”, that is, “enhanced interrogation techniques”. The document thus suggests to the interrogators that they first threaten the detainees with the fact that they will be locked in a box with stinging insects, and then they will indeed be locked in a cramped box and indeed with a multitude of insects, but harmless ones, which still inflicts a heavy psychological blow on the detainee, only that in this case in case he survives. Elsewhere, the document suggests a false burial. The prisoner is told that life will bury him, after which he is indeed stuffed into a coffin, albeit with hidden air inlets.

One of the most censored documents is dated August 12, 2002, and in it “suggests” to CIA interrogators that “discussions about the legality of torture are of no use,” which would mean that more than one CIA officer in the field was sick of being beaten to death. suspects. One official even sent an e-mail to headquarters, saying he didn’t want to wait for someone to summon him to court for apparently illegal methods. And in very graphic language. “Such methods are like waiting for a train wreck to happen, and I’ll definitely be looking to jump off that train before it does,” he wrote. The documents also contain a previously known memo from President George W. Bush dated June 7, 2006, in which it is stated that the president was “concerned” after seeing a photo of a detainee in a cell chained and in diapers to defecate. Many of those who went through the tortures of Guantanamo innocently, subsequently suffered from PTSD.

Methods of torture

The CIA states in the documents that the methods, including the infamous waterboarding, are designed to put suspects under increased psychological and physical pressure, but that the torture must take place under constant medical supervision and that the interrogations must be stopped as soon as there is a danger of permanent damage. psychological and physical consequences. That it didn’t really work that way in practice is shown by the case of Afghan militant Gul Rahman, for whom the documents state that the CIA tortured him by exposing him to loud music, sleep deprivation, shackles in a cell with a diaper, and exposure to cold. According to the document, Rahman eventually died in his cell from hypothermia.

Prisoners often suffered daily torture such as, for example, waterboarding. The guards would put some sort of cloth on the detainee’s head and then slowly pour water to simulate the feeling of drowning and cause him to panic. The guards also tortured the prisoners by putting them bound and blindfolded into a soundproof and temperature-insulated room, and then they let them scream and make noise through headphones for hours. To torture them by depriving them of sleep, they often used the music of heavy metal groups, such as Metallica, by playing their songs at full volume through the speakers. Or they would interrupt their sleep in the middle of the night. They also used music from the children’s series “Barney and Friends” or “Sesame Street”. As ridiculous as such a method may seem at first glance, it should be known that it was often about people who had never heard heavy metal in their life or knew about the concept of children’s series, so they could not associate such music with anything, put it in 

Matija Šerić

Matija Šerić is a geopolitical analyst and journalist from Croatia and writes on foreign policy, history, economy, society, etc.

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