Guantanamo: US condemned for human rights abuses on Cuban soil

Detainees held in Camp X-Ray at the US Guantanamo Bay facility.
Detainees held in Camp X-Ray at the US Guantanamo Bay facility. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The United States regularly accuses the Cuban government of human rights violations, with little or no probative evidence to support its allegations.

However, according to a group of independent experts appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council, the worst human rights violations on Cuban soil take place at the hands of US agents at the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba’s easternmost province.

In a released on January 10, the UN experts strongly condemned the US Guantánamo Bay detention facility, describing it as “a site of unparalleled notoriety, defined by the systematic use of torture, and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment against hundreds of men brought to the site and deprived of their most fundamental rights.”

The detention centre is sited within the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay. The land was first leased by the US from the Cuban government in 1903, for use as a coaling station and naval base. It is the oldest overseas US naval base.

The lease for Guantánamo has no fixed expiration date. That makes for quite an unusual lease in law. In his 2011 book , Cuban revolutionary and former president Fidel Castro argued that the Guantánamo lease has been abrogated by subsequent events, most notably the breakdown in relations between the US and Cuba following the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

The Guantánamo detention centre (Camp X-Ray) was set up by then-US president George W Bush in 2002 to house prisoners captured in Afghanistan after the US invasion following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington (9/11).

At its peak, the centre housed about 780 detainees — mostly Muslim and most detained without trial.

About 39 detainees are still held at Guantánamo without criminal prosecution or trial.

Only 12 detainees are reported to have been charged with, or convicted of, crimes, with only two being convicted by military tribunals. Many of those detained are sick and aged.

Between 2002 and 2021, nine detainees died in custody, two from natural causes and seven reportedly committed suicide. None of these had been charged with, or convicted of, a crime.

According to the UN experts, “two decades of practising arbitrary detention without trial accompanied by torture or ill treatment is simply unacceptable for any government, particularly a government which has a stated claim to protecting human rights.

“When a State fails to hold accountable those who have authorized and practised torture and other cruel inhumane or degrading treatment it sends a signal of complacency and acquiescence to the world.”

They called on the US to close the prison, return detainees home or to safe third countries, make reparations to those tortured and arbitrarily detained by its agents, and hold accountable those responsible for acts of torture, as required under international human rights law.

The UN experts condemned the lack of adequate medical assistance available to the detainees, required by international law.

They also condemned pre-trial hearings held by military commissions to suppress evidence of torture, highlighting their lack of impartiality and transparency and criticising the failures of the US judicial system to protect basic human rights and uphold the rule of law.

They also called out “the failures of the United States judicial system to play a meaningful role in protecting human rights, upholding the rule of law and enabling a legal black hole to thrive in Guantánamo with their apparent approval and support.”

The Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University on January 9 on the costs of US detentions and interrogations since 9/11. It noted that to date no US official has been held accountable for the creation or authorisation of the detention programs.

It called for bold action from US President Joe Biden, starting with the closing of the Guantánamo facility, the appointment of a special prosecutor to hold the authors of the program to account, an official apology and remediation to victims of the facility.

Former US president Barack Obama promised to close the Guantánamo facility, but that did not happen due to strong opposition from Republicans in Congress. His successor, Donald Trump, had no intention of closing the facility and signed an order to keep it open indefinitely.

Biden has promised to close down the facility. Last year the secretive Camp Seven, where highly classified prisoners were kept, was , with the prisoners transferred to other blocks.

Recently, US Department of State spokesperson Ned Price said that the US the Guantánamo facility “eventually” but gave no precise timetable.