Leading article: Ten years on, the shame of Guantanamo remains

Far from a masterstroke, Guantanamo Bay is an enduring blot on America's good name

Share
Related Topics

Exactly four months ago, America and the world commemorated the 10th anniversary of the deadliest and most spectacular terrorist attack in history. Today marks a related and, in some respects, no less sombre 10th anniversary – that of the entry into business of the now infamous prison for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay.

On 11 January 2002, the first batch of 20 captives, picked up on the battlefields of Afghanistan, arrived at the detention centre on the US naval base on the island of Cuba, shackled, hooded and clad in orange jumpsuits. Initially, to a country still traumatised by the 9/11 attacks, the camp seemed a masterstroke. It was unequivocally American territory, yet safely distant from the mainland and, therefore, the George W Bush administration claimed, beyond the reach of the US Constitution and the safeguards contained therein. A perfect place, in other words, to lock away "illegal combatants" not protected by the usual rules of war.

After all, were not these captives "the worst of the worst", in the words of the then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? Were they not men so dangerous and desperate that, General Richard Myers maintained, they would "chew through a hydraulics cable to bring a C-17 [transport plane] down?" Ten years on, such sentiments have never seemed as foolish. Far from being a masterstroke, Guantanamo Bay has proved an unmitigated disaster, unnecessary in its own right and an enduring blot on the good name of a superpower that claims to be a beacon for liberty, justice and human rights.

At its peak, Guantanamo held some 500 individuals. In all, 775 prisoners have passed through, most of whom have either been released or sent back to their home countries. Only a tiny handful have actually been tried and convicted. Much may have changed since 2002: the outdoor cages and bleak interrogation huts that greeted the first arrivals have been replaced by a purpose-built prison. Conditions have undoubtedly improved from the early years, when detainees were abused. Legal protection has also improved: in 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that inmates should be accorded the protection of the US Constitution.

But flagrant injustices remain. Of the 171 prisoners who are still at Guantanamo, a relatively small number – such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others accused of organising the September 11 attacks – can genuinely be counted "the worst of the worst". The rest are small fry, many of them innocent of any crime: some simply sold to US troops for bounty, others guilty of nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yet they remain in a legal limbo that has spurred despair and hundreds of suicide attempts, at least four of them successful. Shaker Aamer, the last British resident still being held at the prison, has been there for a decade but has never even been charged. According to his lawyer, Mr Aamer is "falling apart at the seams".

By his second term, even President Bush had concluded that the damage to America's global standing far outweighed any good Guantanamo might be doing, and that the prison should be closed – but nothing happened. Barack Obama went even further. First, he vowed to shut the facility within a year of taking office, by January 2009. A year later, he proposed to transfer the detainees to an unused federal prison in Illinois. Again, to no avail. In the past year, not a single inmate has been released.

The culprit for this shameful state of affairs? Congress. In an all-too-rare display of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill, Republicans and Democrats have combined to block every initiative from the White House to deal with Guantanamo. Faced with such intransigence, Mr Obama can do nothing – and the canker rotting away at America's reputation endures.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker