In a 2003 speech, President Bush promised the world that “freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation”.
Ironically, one year earlier the Bush administration opened a prison that contradicted this very statement. The facility, located in Cuba and known as the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center, has been used to indefinitely detain hundreds of men under America’s “War on Terror.” For decades, the detention camp has forcibly stripped individuals of supposedly “inalienable” human rights.
As atrocious as it sounds, this detention center is still open today. To understand Guantanamo’s grotesque legacy and the reasons why it needs to be closed, it’s important to first understand its historical context.
The Guantanamo Bay detention center was created by the Bush administration in 2002 as a way to detain potential threats to global security. As American forces expanded into nations like Afghanistan and Iraq in response to the 9/11 attacks, they sent over 780 “perceived threats” to the detention center. While the prison was framed as a force for good in the protection of international security, that was simply a blanket used to conceal injustice.
In many cases, the U.S had no concrete evidence that those detained were of any real threat to international security or even actual terrorists. In 2013, the U.S detained 22 Uighur refugees fleeing Chinese persecution, because they were perceived as criminals.
Furthermore, the practices at this facility have broken many international and domestic laws. In 1949 America signed Article 13 of the Geneva Convention promising “to return all prisoners of war to their origin after the conflict ended.” As well, a 2001 supreme court ruling solidified how the “freedom from indefinite detention represented the core of American Liberty” .
However, the prison has been known to violate these legal obligations. The Bush administration’s characterization of detainees as “unlawful enemy combatants” as opposed to “prisoners of war” meant that the United States could ignore obligations under the Geneva Convention and hold prisoners indefinitely without charging them for a crime. The strategic placement of the prison in the Guantanamo Bay of Cuba created a legal loophole that meant that detainees were not entitled to the same legal rights they would have otherwise had on the United States’ soil.
The impact of this indefinite detention can be reflected in the intensified human rights abuses. Investigations from Amnesty International found that “American military officials used torture and ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ to gain information about terrorist organizations”.
Additionally, prisoners were prohibited from interacting with their families and were put in dirty, cramped enclosures of open air fencing. In fact, 7 detainees have taken their own lives while tens have gone on hunger strikes to protest “terrible circumstances.”
While both the Bush and Obama administrations have implemented solutions to reduce the number of inmates in Guantanamo facilities, the prison still exists today and holds 30 prisoners. 30 people who have had their dignity, rights, and lives stripped away. Considering that the American government has little to no evidence to charge these inmates with actual crimes, it’s sickening to hear about this continued indefinite detention.
In 2018 Trump signed an executive order to keep the detention center open, reaffirming the United States’ stance on human rights. Biden has expressed his interest in permanently closing Guantanamo Bay’s detention sites, yet clearly this isn’t a priority given how the prison is still open today.
If the American Government truly believes these detainees are a threat to global security and have the evidence to prove it, then they must immediately allow access to fair court proceedings. However, the Biden administration cannot continue to sit back, watch, and wait while people who haven’t been proven as guilty under the law continue to be held in Cuba.
Regardless of America’s past failures, it’s important to remember that the future is still uncertain and thus, holds the promise for potential reform. But one thing is certain: the prisoners of Guantanamo, the world, and history will be watching to see what America does next.