The indefinite detention of individuals at Guantanamo Bay prison, “most of whom have not been charged, goes beyond a minimally reasonable period of time” and “constitutes a flagrant violation of international human rights law,” the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and a United Nations (UN) working group on arbitrary detention stated today.
The condemnation also came from Juan Mendez, a UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, Ben Emmerson, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism and Anan Grover, UN Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
The IACHR and UN officials stated indefinite detention by the United States government was a “form of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” and it had been receiving “specialized information on the severe and lasting physiological and psychological damage caused by the detainees’ high degree of uncertainty over basic aspects of their lives.” This includes not knowing:
…whether or not they will be tried; whether they will be released and when; or whether they will see their family members again. This continuing state of suffering and uncertainty creates grave consequences such as stress, fear, depression, and anxiety, and affects the central nervous system as well as the cardiovascular and immunological systems…
Addressing the major hunger strike at Guantanamo, which has brought increased attention to the prison, they echoed the International Committee of the Red Cross and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and noted the prisoners at Guantanamo were on hunger strike because they lack legal protection and are uncertain about their future.
They urged the medical personnel to follow the World Medical Assembly’s Declaration of Malta and “respect” the “autonomy” of prisoners by not unjustifiably engaging in forced feeding of them when they have made an informed and voluntary decision to refuse forced feeding.
The strong statement went on to draw attention to the fact that at least 86 prisoners are being subject to indefinite detention without due process in clear violation of international law because they have been “cleared for transfer” by the US government and were found by “all relevant security-related government agencies or authorities” to not represent any threat to US security. They also said they “deplore the general restriction on transfers imposed since January 2010 on Yemeni nationals, based solely on their nationality and on the political situation in Yemen, which constitutes a clear violation of the principle of non-discrimination.
“This is even more serious considering that 56 of the 86 detainees approved for transfer in the described terms are of Yemeni nationality,” IAHCR and the UN officials declared.
The UN working group renewed a request made on January 22, 2002, which UN Special Rapporteurs and other UN human rights bodies made on June 25, 2004, to be permitted to visit Guantanamo and “hold private, confidential interviews” with prisoners. The IAHCR also reiterated a request to visit the detention center “without preconditions” and be allowed to “meet with the detainees” it wanted to meet, “without any guards or witnesses present and with guarantees that those detainees will not suffer subsequent reprisals.”
They demanded steps be taken to close the facility “once and for all.” Speed the process of releasing and transfer prisoners certified for release. Adopt measures to prosecute, with “full respect for the right to due process.” And, also, investigate fully the “forced feeding of inmates on hunger strike and the alleged violence being used in those procedures.”
Whether the US government under President Barack Obama will respond appropriately to the strong condemnation is insignificant. The statement rightfully shames the government for what it is doing to those imprisoned at Guantanamo.
Consider for a moment that all these human rights officials did not come together in this instance to condemn China. They did not come together to condemn Russia. They were not singling out North Korea, Iran or Burma. They did not condemn a dictatorship for torturing, mistreating and arbitrarily detaining people in one of its gulags. They soundly denounced the United States.
It will take this kind of public shaming and demands for action from the world, along with activism from people around the globe, in order for the Obama administration to make closing Guantanamo a priority.
Last night, on “The Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC, this is how Miami Herald journalist Carol Rosenberg, who has done indispensable reporting on Guantanamo, characterized the state of affairs:
ROSENBERG: For much of the Obama administration and even in the final days of the Bush administration, communal was the norm, meaning that groups of detainees, eight, 10, 12, got to eat together, pray together, watch TV together. The vast majority were considered to be communal captives who are kept in medium security confinement. The guards were on the outside looking in, the detainees were on the inside organizing their own lives.
And when I went back down there about 10 days ago after this raid, virtually every detainee down there is under lockdown, one man to a cell, kept inside as many as 22 hours a day, can be all day if he refuses recreation. The way he got to recreation before during the earlier part of the Obama years until last month, he walked outside his cell, he went outside to a yard and the guards would be keeping an eye on him.
Now, to leave that cell and go to a recreation yard, he has to be shackled by the hand and feet and led with a guard on each side and put into a cage, a cell. For all but a very few number of detainees down there, that is the norm. We have not seen that for the majority of them for years. And they have not experienced that for years. [emphasis added]
According to Ryan Reilly of Huffington Post, as mentioned on “All In with Chris” on MSNBC last night,the conditions are “just awful. They`ve closed every common facility. People are isolated. People are dying or close to dying.”
But, as bad as it may be, prisoners will have to continue their hunger strike, which has been ongoing for over eighty days and steadily growing.” The hundred or so individuals putting their bodies on the line have earned attention, where reporters are asking questions of the White House and president, because they have created a crisis situation for the Pentagon.
Closing Guantanamo is only a priority for the Obama administration if the crisis continues. Should the Pentagon find a way to diffuse and suppress the situation or should people from around the world, including the human rights community, take their eyes off Guantanamo, as has been done before, the situation could easily return to the horrible status quo it was in prior to the hunger strike. Or, it could be much worse, with prisoners remaining in conditions of solitary confinement and hopeless because they do not know when the US will end its “global war on terrorism” and let them go home.