After three years of injustice, America must dismantle this illegal detention centre

Share

It is now three years since the US government first began flying suspected terrorist fighters from Afghanistan to its military base in Cuba. But justice is still as distant for the inmates of Guantanamo Bay as it was in January 2002. Every day that these men have been held without charge has been a fresh stain on America's history.

It is now three years since the US government first began flying suspected terrorist fighters from Afghanistan to its military base in Cuba. But justice is still as distant for the inmates of Guantanamo Bay as it was in January 2002. Every day that these men have been held without charge has been a fresh stain on America's history.

After three years, we still know astonishingly little about the day-to-day functioning of Guantanamo. The US military only allows journalists limited access to the base. But the information that has reached the outside world has been shocking. The US military has admitted to 10 substantiated instances of abuse or mistreatment of prisoners. Thirty-four inmates have attempted to commit suicide. Leaked documents also allege that one prisoner was shackled and left to lie in his own faeces. This supports allegations of torture from four British inmates who were released. All of this suggests that the abuses being perpetrated at Guantanamo Bay are similar in nature to those committed at Abu Ghraib in Iraq.

There is also reason to believe that the US military has turned a blind eye to abuse. It has come to light that FBI agents warned the US government about such incidents two years ago and that the Pentagon did nothing. Although an investigation has - finally - been established, the military has its defence prepared already. It argues that many of the cases are old and involve interrogation techniques that have been phased out. This is about as credible as the argument that the torture at Abu Ghraib was the work of "a few bad apples", rather than a calculated programme to degrade prisoners.

Three years on and even the practical purpose of Guantanamo must now be questioned. Out of more than 600 original prisoners, a grand total of four have been charged. This does not suggest that the US military has collected a mass of damning evidence. Otherwise, it would surely have secured a host of convictions. And Steve Rodriguez, the civilian in charge of interrogations at Guantanamo, has admitted that "the majority of individuals that are here today ... are not of intelligence value".

Yet the real outrage at Guantanamo is not that it has been a less than effective tool in defeating global terrorism. The greatest disgrace is that it has become, in the words of Amnesty International, an "icon of lawlessness". To the Pentagon, the inmates of Guantanamo are not "prisoners of war", protected by the Geneva Conventions, but "non-enemy combatants". They have only the legal protections that the US government wishes to grant them. This means they have no right to know the evidence against them and no right to consult a lawyer. They have been cast into a terrifying legal black hole.

The fact that the US Supreme Court ruled in June that the prisoners can challenge their imprisonment in federal courts provides a glimmer of hope. Almost 70 detainees have filed cases in the US District Court challenging the legality of their detention. It is to be hoped that the American judiciary will be as categorical as our own law lords have been in condemning the shameful reintroduction of internment without trial. A US district judge has already ruled that inmates cannot be tried before a military tribunal, unless the procedures conform to standard US military codes.

There have been some modifications to the infrastructure of Guantanamo Bay over the years. The open-air cells have given way to prefabricated structures, which afford the 550 inmates more protection from the elements. There is even talk of setting up a psychiatric wing for distressed inmates. But the US government has given few indications that the days of Guantanamo are numbered. A $4m security fence is being erected to reduce the need for infantry troops to be stationed there. It is becoming a worryingly permanent feature. But if the US is at all concerned with recovering its reputation as a respecter of human rights, it will begin making plans to tear this symbol of injustice down. Three years is more than enough.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: A huge step forward in medical science, but we're not all the way there yet

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
David Cameron has painted a scary picture of what life would be like under a Labour government  

You want constitutional change? Fixed-term parliaments have already done the job

Steve Richards
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album