Protests mark tenth anniversary of Guantánamo Bay prison camp

Protesters wearing orange jump-suits and black hoods marched in Washington DC Jan. 11 to mark 10 years since the opening of the military prison at Guantánamo Bay. The grimly attired demonstrators marched down Pennsylvania Ave. from the White House, past the Capitol building, before finishing at the Supreme Court. Thrity-seven members of Witness Against Torture were arrested in a civil disobedience action at the White House, refusing to move when ordered to clear the sidewalk by National Park police. The first detainees arrived at the Guantánamo facility on January 11, 2002—20 men seized as “enemy combatants” in Afghanistan. Nearly 800 prisoners were to pass through the military detention center over the next decade.

Amnesty International marked the anniversary by stating that US practices at Guantánamo “continue to inflict serious damage on global respect for human rights.” Human Rights Watch sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him “to reaffirm his stated commitment to closing Guantánamo by prosecuting detainees in federal court and repatriating and resettling those who will not be prosecuted.” The ACLU stated in a press release: “Guantánamo has been a catastrophic failure on every front. It is long past time for this shameful episode in American history to be brought to a close.” Moazzam Begg, a 43-year-old British Muslim and former Guantánamo inmate, claims he was wrongly detained, abused and tortured in US custody. Begg observed the tenth anniversary by predicting in a CNN interview: “Gitmo will never close. That is a fantasy.”

Currently 171 detainees are held at Guantánamo. The Obama administration originally wanted suspected terrorists to be tried before a federal civilian court, but changed its position after Congress imposed a series of restrictions barring the transfer of Guantánamo detainees to the US. Last March, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism Martin Scheinin called on the Obama administration to hold civilian trials for the accused 9-11 conspirators, saying that the military commissions system at Guantánamo is fatally flawed and cannot be reformed. Earlier that month, the ACLU released a full-page advertisement in the New York Times urging President Obama to uphold his pledge to try 9-11 suspects in civilian criminal court. But moves to try the 9-11 suspects in civilian courts drew intense criticism from Republicans, and led the Obama administration to reconsider the decision. Early last year, Obama actually signed legislation that barred the transfer for Guantánamo detainees to the US for trial.

On Jan. 8, in a small move to appease the demands of human rights groups, chief defense counsel for the Guantánamo tribunals, Col. JP Colwell ordered attorneys under his command not to comply with rules requiring military officials to review all legal correspondence between lawyers and the detainees accused of involvement in the 9-11 attacks. The rules were issued in December by Navy rear Adm. David Woods, commander of the prison facility. Colwell’s e-mail informed all military commission defense lawyers that they are ethically obligated to refuse to follow the rules: “These orders compel you to unlawfully reveal information related to the representation of a client in violation of Rule for Professional Conduct 1.6(a),” which addresses the confidentiality in a client-attorney relationship. (Common Dreams, Jurist, Jan. 12; Jurist, AFP, Jan. 11)

See our last posts on Guantánamo and the detention state.

  1. UN rights chief urges US to close Gitmo
    UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Jan. 23 expressed disappointment that the US government has failed to close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility. President Barack Obama ordered the facility closed by January 2010, but congressional opposition and administrative setbacks prevented the administration from meeting the deadline. In addition, the recently signed National Defense Authorization Act for 2012 effectively codifies indefinite military detention without charge or trial. Pillay said:

    While fully recognizing the right and duty of states to protect their people and territory from terrorist acts, I remind all branches of the US Government of their obligation under international human rights law to ensure that individuals deprived of their liberty can have the lawfulness of their detention reviewed before a court. Where credible evidence exists against Guantanamo detainees, they should be charged and prosecuted. Otherwise, they must be released.

    She also noted that international law requires investigation of alleged human rights violations, which includes the actions that allegedly took place at Guantanmo Bay. Pillay urged the US Congress to take steps enabling the Obama adminstration to close the facility. (Jurist, Jan. 23)