The Obama administration’s deadline to submit a plan about how to deal with the Guantanamo Bay detention camp is fast approaching. In accordance with the controversial 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Congress is expecting the White House to share details about Guantanamo by Feb. 23, 2016.
Now, it is highly probable that you’ve heard of the world’s most notorious prison, “Guantanamo Bay detention camp” aka “Guantanamo” aka “Gitmo” — but it is also highly probable that every time you heard about it, you thought, “Why and how is that place still in existence?” Well, Guantanamo is a little more complicated than most people think. Let’s break it down.
Guantanamo Bay is an American naval base-turned-detention camp located on the Southeastern tip of Cuba. In 1903, the American government signed a lease that granted them access to this site and allowed them to use it as a coaling station for U.S. Navy ships.
In 1934, former Cuban president/dictator Fulgencio Batista signed the Cuban-American Treaty, assuring the American government that Guantanamo’s lease would not be terminated without mutual consent from both countries. After Batista was overthrown during the 1959 Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro unsuccessfully tried to regain this piece of land.
Fast forward a little more than 40 years and we have 9/11. The American government and its Western allies started their “War on Terror” and in early 2002 — Guantanamo Bay was turned into a detention camp to imprison suspected terrorists.
Nearly 800 prisoners have spent time at Guantanamo Bay — all males, all Muslims. Ages of prisoners have ranged from 13 to 89, so yes, that means children have been detained at Gitmo too.
The boys and men were sold to the U.S. military for the price of anywhere between $3,000 to $30,000 dollars each. They were then brought to the infamous prison under suspicion of being terrorists — but nearly all of the prisoners were in fact noncombatants with no ties to Al-Qaeda or the Taliban.
As a matter of fact, only three detainees have been convicted by American military commissions in the last 14 years. Nine men have died in U.S. custody at Guantanamo, four of them under the Obama administration. There are 91 men currently imprisoned there, 34 of whom have been cleared for release.
Fourty-seven of these 91 men are being unjustly held for indefinite detention without any charge or a trial — and according to Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, when a detainee asks for a just trial or a lawyer, you should tell them, “Shut up. You don’t get a lawyer.”
Treatment of Prisoners
Photos of men in orange jumpsuits chained to the ground have circulated around the web for years. That horrific image, however, is only the tip of the iceberg. The prisoners at Guantanamo endure an incredible amount physical and mental torture.
Waterboarding, sleep deprivation, isolation, threatening dogs, temperature extremes and sexual assault/humiliation are only some of the methods used to interrogate and torture prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
Many of the prisoners at Gitmo have often gone on hunger strikes to protest their treatment, in which scenario they are forcefully fed in an extremely painful and inhumane way.
Detainees who have been released from Guantanamo complain of carrying deep psychological scars that prevent them from leading normal lives or integrating back into society. One of Guantanamo’s high-profile detainees, Omar Khadr, was arrested as a child and imprisoned in Guantanamo for 10 years, an experience he discusses in his documentary, “Omar Khadr: Out of the Shadows.”
Reasons to Close Guantanamo
Apart from the fact that Gitmo is literally America’s hub for practicing grave human rights violations, there are, in fact, a couple of other reasons that should compel everybody to show interest in the closure of this facility.
First of all, American taxpayers are paying an incredibly heavy price to keep Guantanamo Bay running. According to a Pentagon report, the annual cost to operate Gitmo in 2014 was approximately $397 million. That means that each U.S. taxpayer is paying about $78,000 annually to keep this prison functioning.
This enormous sum of money could undoubtedly be used to tackle a host of other problems that American citizens face on a daily basis, such as health care or Veteran affairs. Furthermore, Guantanamo Bay is (unsurprisingly) a hugely effective recruiting tool for actual terrorist and combatant groups.
The detention camp is frequently mentioned in propaganda generated by groups such as Al-Qaeda and most recently by ISIS. President Barack Obama has admitted that Guantanamo is “a propaganda tool for our enemies and a distraction for our allies.”
Why is it Still Open?
During Obama’s campaigning period, he repeatedly promised that if he was elected, Guantanamo Bay, which he called “a sad chapter in American history” would be shut down. However, when he actually took office in 2009, he was unsuccessful in following through with his plan.
Seven years later, Guantanamo Bay detention camp continues to operate without providing prisoners with their right to a fair trial, as the location of Guantanamo places it outside the reach of American law. One of the reasons that the prison has not been shut down is that if detainees are released from Gitmo, they have to have a destination ahead of them.
Not all prisoners have countries that are ready to accept them and the American government is not willing to transfer Guantanamo’s detainees to the United States. Furthermore, members of the American Congress, specifically of the Republican party, have shown no interest in shutting down the facility and have consistently rejected any proposals to do so.
When Obama was running for office, his contender from the Republican party, John McCain, expressed his mutual interest in closing Guantanamo but post-elections, politics got in the way of this and nobody ever made it happen.
To be fair, even though a lot of the credit for Gitmo’s prolonged existence goes to resistance from the American Congress and from the military, Obama actually has had the executive power to veto all proposals against closing Guantanamo Bay all along, but he simply has not exercised this power.
What Can You Do to Help?
The first step to solve any problem is to understand the problem. Getting this far in this article means that you now understand basic information about Gitmo. Your next step should be to raise your voice.
Partly why the government has been slow and ineffective in responding to the problem at Guantanamo is the lack of pressure from average citizens. The fact of the matter is that if the government is under the impression that people do not care about a particular issue, it won’t either. Talk about Guantanamo Bay with your friends, family, colleagues and on social media.
Keep up with the news and keep pressuring your local leaders to take action. Linked below are some of popular petitions you can sign to send a message to the government that you have not forgotten about Guantanamo Bay.