Days ahead of US President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, a panel of experts from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement on Monday calling for the incoming US administration to close the infamous detention facility.
Experts noted that Guantanamo “is a place of arbitrariness and abuse, a site where torture and ill-treatment was rampant and remains institutionalized, where the rule of law is effectively suspended and where justice is denied.”
Officials further indicated that prisoners’ health will continue to rapidly decline as a result of the center’s ever-present inhumane conditions, and that the COVID-19 pandemic will only worsen health vulnerabilities among individuals there.
“We must not forget these detainees, who have been subjected to torture or victims of comparable trauma, and still languish in Guantánamo, in a virtual legal limbo, outside the reach of the constitutional judicial system of the United States,” the experts said.
“The prolonged and indefinite detention of individuals, who have not been convicted of any crime by a competent and independent judicial authority operating under due process of law, is arbitrary and constitutes a form of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or even torture.”
At present, an estimated 40 detainees remain at the facility, with only nine individuals having been either charged with or convicted of a crime, according to the UN panel. At the height of its use, the military camp had several hundred prisoners detained on the grounds.
"We appeal to the US authorities to prosecute, in full compliance with human rights law, the individuals held at Guantanamo Bay or, alternatively, immediately release or repatriate them while respecting the principle of non-refoulement," the experts added. "With a new administration coming into office in the United States and as we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Guantanamo must finally be closed forever."
The panel of experts also called on the incoming Biden administration to quickly launch impartial investigations into allegations of human rights violations at the detention center that have been voiced throughout the years, as well as to implement measures to rectify and rehabilitate prisoners who endured any forms of ill-treatment or torture.
The remarks, echoing previous ones issued on the same day in 2016 ahead of the inauguration of US President Donald Trump, came as the military camp marked the 19th anniversary of the detention center’s establishment, which came in 2002 after Cabinet members informed then-US President George W. Bush that detainees at the site would not be entitled to any protections afforded under the Geneva Conventions that stipulated even detained, unlawful combatants are to be treated humanely.
Calls for the center to close and for all prisoners to be released have repeatedly been voiced by human rights organizations, to no avail. During the his administration, former US President Barack Obama vowed to shutter the detention camp but was met with several roadblocks by Republican lawmakers who had no intention of allowing the facility’s closure.
In fact, Congressional Republicans passed legislation that prevented the use of funds to close or abandon the prison, transfer detainees elsewhere or even build or modify the facility to provide improved shelters. In his final State of the Union address in 2016, Obama stated that the prison was “expensive,” “unnecessary” and “only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies.”
Obama’s “recruitment brochure” remark touched on findings made in the 2014 report released by the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that disclosed details about “enhanced interrogation techniques,” otherwise known as torture practices, that were used by the CIA against suspected terrorists.
The 2014 report itself noted that detainees were subjected to mock burials, aggressive body cavity searches and waterboarding, among other practices. Sketches drawn in captivity by prisoner Abu Zubaydah, who has been held at the facility without charges and has been subjected to waterboarding more than 80 times, provide additional insight into since-outlawed interrogation practices.
The CIA has claimed that by torturing prisoners, it managed to extract information that helped to capture additional terrorists and individuals who played a role in orchestrating the September 11 attacks. However, the Senate report concluded that was not the case, as the techniques were illegal, immoral and ineffective.
Although Biden hasn’t often broached the Guantanamo Bay topic, he has indicated that he is in favor of closing down the facility. In June 2020, Biden’s campaign told the New York Times that he supported shuttering the detention center, but stopped short of explaining how he planned to do so.