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Will Guantanamo Bay Ever Be Shut Down? - Facts & Infographic

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Where is Guantanamo Bay?

Guantanamo Bay Location

The United States Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay is located to the southeastern coast of Cuba. The US military operates a highly controversial detainment and interrogation facility, the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, within the naval station. Referred to by names such as Guantanamo, G-Bay, or Gitmo, the detention facility is operated by the Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) of the United States military. The camp is divided into – Camp Delta (including Camp Echo), Camp Iguana, and the infamous Camp X-Ray (now reportedly closed). Each of these has been designed for detention and interrogation.


Why Guantanamo Bay?

In response to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, the United States of America embarked on an armed conflict in Afghanistan and initiated what has been called the “Global War on Terrorism”. On November 13, President Bush ordered the Secretary of State to find a location for a detention centre where non-US nationals suspected of terrorism could be held without charges. This would preempt the detainee from seeking the remedy of any American or international court.


What is Guantanamo Bay?

The Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay Cuba had long been considered US territory. The Naval Base had been established in 1898 when US took over Cuba from Spain. The Cuban government had leased the bay area in 1903 to the US. The Treaty of 1934 between the United States and Cuba allowed the US to maintain sovereignity in Guantanamo Bay despite not owning it.


Guantanamo Bay History

In December 2001, the Department of Justice decreed that the federal courts would not consider habeas corpus petitions from detainees at the Guantanamo Bay Cuba base since it is not sovereign US territory. Habeas corpus allows detainees to seek relief from unlawful imprisonment according to the American Constitution. Apart from those captured by the US on the battlefield of Afghanistan, hundreds of suspected terrorists were detained from around the world and have been held prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station since January 2002. In June 2006, the US Supreme Court ruled in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that military commissions to try the detainees constituted under the 2001 Military Order violate US and international law and that Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions applies to detainees at Guantanamo Bay Cuba. Despite many subsequent calls for closure and international criticism, the camp is still operational and detainees have been held without trial or prosecution.

The detainees and various human rights organizations have protested the inability of detainees to claim the remedy accorded by a habeas corpus writ while in the facility. The intervention of various nations has led to the release of 532 prisoners under the Bush administration and 68 under the Obama administration.

In 2005, the Washington Post had released a partial list of detainees by nationality.








































Saudi Arabia


















United Kingdom


United States







Prisoners’ Rights

The indefinite detention of foreign nationals without trial at a naval base, with or without evidence, has been at the heart of a “rights” Guantanamo Bay controversy for over a decade now. The detention camp in Cuba has been asserted to not be on the territory or within the jurisdiction, of the US, giving the administration immunity from its own legal compliance obligations. The detention of alleged terrorists including possible members of the Al Qaeda at Guantanamo Bay has been enveloped in secrecy and silence. The various nations, from which detainees have been held, allege that monitoring of the living conditions of the prisoners have been made difficult and the camp inaccessible by the US administration.


Several countries and international organizations believe that the detention itself is illicit and the conditions of detention inhuman. These are in breach of international humanitarian laws and international criminal laws. While the US interrogated the inmates as part of the global “war on terrorism” but failed to recognize the prisoner of war (POW) status of the detainees. Apart from this, the detainees have been subject to torture, abuse and other forms of cruelty.


By not recognizing the POW status of the detainees, the administration is now presuming to be not bound by the articles of the Geneva Conventions. Supporters of the detention camp administration claim that the protections of the Third Geneva Convention do not apply to al-Qaeda or Taliban fighters - they only apply to uniformed soldiers and guerrillas who wear distinctive insignia, bear arms openly, and abide by the international rules of war.


In February 2008, the Central Intelligence Agency admitted that waterboarding was used on three detainees Abu Zubaydah, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, often referred to as the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks, is a Gitmo detainee since 2006."


At What Cost?

The Guantanamo Bay Cuba detention camp has also attracted immense criticism also due to the high costs of running the facility. A CNN report from May 2013 suggests that the camp operational costs the Pentagon over $150 million a year - approximately a little more than $900,000 per detainee for the 166 prisoners. In sharp contrast, an average federal prisoner costs the US about $25,000 annually. The American government spends only about $60,000 per prisoner at one of the high-security prisons which holds domestic terrorists, such as the "supermax" prison facility in Colorado.


The US military has also announced renovation plans for the detention camp, of which an overhaul of Camp VII alone is likely to cost $50 million. Apart from this, another $170 million is likely to be spent repairing the camp which had initially been constructed hastily as a temporary facility.


The high costs of running Guantanamo Bay Cuba detention camp are attributed to the fact that diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba are next to non-existent and all food and essential articles used in the camp are shipped from the U.S. The military tribunals held at the camp require judges, lawyers, media, and observers to be flown in as well. The high burden placed by Guantanamo Bay detention facility on the American taxpayer’s pocket is a constant cause for criticism.


Cruelty And Concerns

Hunger Strikes

Hunger strikes have plagued Guantanamo Bay Cuba since 2005. In 2005, a number of detainees went on prolonged hunger strikes to protest their living conditions. By the end of the year over eighty detainees were reported to have dropped below 100 pounds weight. Force-feeding inmates was initiated in accordance with the camp’s standard operating procedures. Human rights organizations had expressed much outrage but with little outcome.


In February 2013, again over 25 inmates initiated a hunger strike which spread quickly and by June about 104 of the 166 detainees were starving to protest hostile living conditions, lack of trials and other human rights. Inmates reported increasingly brutal attempts to break the hunger strike including force-feeding with metal tipped feeding tubes and lowering the temperature of the cells to increase discomfort. 44 of the prisoners were force-fed as of June 2013 reports.


A report by Shaker Aamer, a London-based detainee also raised several concerns over the conditions of the detainees. According to Aamer, the weights of inmates were exaggerated in reports and the inmates themselves were shackled during the weighing-in. In June 2013, some detainees filed a lawsuit asking for the force-feeding to be halted before the start of the Islamic fast during Ramadan starting on July 8. The American Medical Association and human rights have criticized the force-feeding since even patients have the right to refuse life-sustaining treatment.


Other Human Rights Violations

A number of current and former prisoners of the Guantanamo Bay Cuba detention facility have complained of abuse, torture, and human rights violation. In 2006, a United Nations report strongly recommended shutting down the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay citing torture as a primary cause. The same year, a UK judge referred to human rights violations at the Guantanamo Bay prison thus - "America's idea of what is torture is not the same as ours and does not appear to coincide with that of most civilised nations."


Apart from intense physical torture, arbitrary detention, unfair trials, maltreatment, and religious persecution have all been named as the abuses meted out at the detention centre. While all religious freedoms are accorded to prisoners in the US, detainees regularly complain about abuse of Islam and denial of the freedom to pray in accordance with the precepts of the religion.


As of early 2012 over 8 inmates had died while in custody. 6 of these were reported suicides, 1 was an apparent suicide, and 1 reportedly by cancer. The Centre for Policy and Research published a report, “Death in Camp Delta”, in 2009 citing inconsistencies in the suicide reports suggesting a cover-up by authorities.


Among the detainees only about 5% have been captured by American troops and the remaining were captured for a bounty of millions of dollars with no due procedure or evidence.


Detention Without Prosecution

The Guantanamo Bay Cuba detention centre has held an estimated 779 prisoners since the prison was set up on January 11, 2002. Among the current 166 prisoners there are nationals from 23 different countries. According to US government records, 92% of them were never Al-Qaeda fighters. The youngest among the detainees held at this camp was 13 years old and the oldest 98 years. Over 21 children were among those detained here. While 46 of the detained men have been designated “too dangerous to be released” but the US government admittedly lacks the evidence required to prosecute them. A total of 89 of the 166 prisoners have been approved for transfer but the Obama administration and the US Congress have effectively halted any action to this effect. The last transfer out of the detention facility took place in September 2012. Currently, the State Department office responsible for finding host countries ready to take in other detainees has also been closed down. According to a June 2013 report the US intends to prosecute in the war crimes tribunal only 20 of the 166 detainees. This came as a sharp drop from the 36 detainees originally named in a 2010 review. This cut also cast doubt on the existence of any evidence necessary to convict the detainees of international war crimes. Most of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay have been held without any charges.


Broken Promises

The shutdown of Guantanamo had been a major promise in the 2008 US Presidential election campaign. Even in 2006, Senator Obama vehemently advocated the shutting down of the facility, trying the detainees in court, and returning habeas corpus rights to the Guantanamo Bay Cuba prisoners. In Congress, Senator Obama co-sponsored the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act of 2007 and the Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007. Both the pieces of legislation were intended to grant habeas corpus rights to detainees at Guantanamo Bay Cuba. As the president, Obama issued an executive order directing the Central Intelligence Agency to close the base within a year and transfer the 245 detainees (as of Jan 2009), but was unable to follow through that order with the Congress . On January 7, 2011, President Obama signed the 2011 Defense Authorization Bill, which restricts the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to foreign countries. This largely impedes the closure of the facility despite earlier promises.


In his speech on May 23, 2013, at the National Defense University, Obama reiterated his pledge to shut down the Guantanamo Bay Cuba detention facility and transfer all detainees. The feasibility of the president's pledge, however, is a much debated issue. “President Obama’s decision to lift his own ban on detainee transfers to Yemen suggests he may finally have the political will to follow through with his pledge to close Guantanamo,” said Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch. According to some it shall be impossible to shut the facility till the fate of the prisoners who are deemed "too dangerous" is decided.


Guantanamo Bay Facts

  • First prisoners arrived at Guantanamo: 11 years ago (January 11, 2002)
  • Detainees in Guantanamo now: 127
  • Guantanamo inmates on hunger strike (2013): 104
  • Hunger strikers force fed (2013): 44
  • Prisoners who have died in custody: 8
  • Children the US has held at Guantanamo: 21
  • Prisoners released by the Bush administration: 532
  • Prisoners released by the Obama administration: 111
  • Current annual cost to US taxpayers: $150 million

"Human rights concerns in Guantánamo Bay remain an unfinished story. How long before the US government closes the book on Guantánamo, ends the use of unlawful detention in other facilities, and meets its human rights obligations?" - Amnesty International

The number of detainees in the Guantanamo Bay Detention facility is currently down to 127, down from 166 when we had last researched our post. While US President Obama has remained consistent in his determination to fulfill his 2008 campaign promise – to shut down Guantanamo Bay. Through the course of the Obama administration, 111 prisoners have now been transferred out of the detention facility including those who were swapped in exchanged for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an American held in Afghanistan as a POW (2014).

The latest set of transferees includes three Tunisians and two Yemeni nationals and all five repatriated to Kazakhstan. Meanwhile the fate of the remaining 127 detainees still remains anyone's guess. Though holding significantly lower number of detainees than in the post 9/11 “war on terror” era, Guantanamo Bay is far from over. Despite an executive order from President Obama in 2009, the facility has not been shut down, mainly due to Congressional opposition.

The recent decision to transfer these five Guantanamo Bay prisoners – Adel Al-Hakeemy, Sabri Muhammad Ibrahim Al Qurashi, Abdullah Bin Ali Al-Lufti, Asim Thabit Abdullah Al-Khalaqi, and Muhammad Ali Husayn Khanayna – has exposed the Obama administration to a slew of criticism. The wisdom of setting free detainees who are believed to be the ‘worst of the worst’ is now in question. Obama’s commitment to the security of Americans has been questioned and the decision to turn free sworn anti-American jihadists has been picked apart.

“ What sign did these terrorists give that they were no longer a threat to the United States? Did they renounce their commitment to jihad? Did they promise, cross their hearts, to seal a promise to be good, and board the plane with a salute to Old Glory? Why should they? ” – The Washington Times, Editorial

On the flipside is the theory that about 92 percent of the Guantanamo Bay inmates were never al-Qaeda fighters. Humanitarians point out that hatred and cruelty and violent methods can do more harm than good in the long run. The establishment of ISIS in US-occupied Iraq is enough proof that the detainment does not ensure safety of either Americans or people elsewhere, it is said. While the rights and wrongs of the situation are still being debated by both the Congress and the public, it is clear that Guantanamo Bay is still far from being shut down.

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