On Wednesday, the Pentagon announced it had finally begun re-examining evidence for the continued detention of terrorism suspects held without charge at Guantanamo. The new Periodic Review Board, created two years after President Obama first directed the Pentagon to develop a review process, will evaluate the threat to U.S. security posed by the 80 such prisoners who have been cleared but considered too dangerous to be released. While this development may appear to be a step forward, in reality it may be little more than a means of delaying the concrete action necessary to deliver justice and shut down the horrific military prison that has tarnished the U.S.'s reputation around the world.
Since its establishment in 2002, the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, a United States military prison located in Cuba, has gained a notorious reputation for unlawful imprisonment and inhumane torture tactics utilized on prisoners. These procedures include constant exposure to bright lights, solitary confinement, forced nudity, exposure to cold weather or water, water boarding, and suffocation simulations. What is even more appalling is that of the 779 men who have passed through the prison over the years, only seven have been convicted of crimes. In essence, these men are being treated as dangerous criminals without any legal justification.
These tactics, in addition to failure to provide prisoners with fair trials, are in clear violation of domestic and international human rights laws. Force feedings, such as the ones that took place this summer, have been specifically defined as torture by the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC), something the U.S. has denied. Other violations include provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), American Convention on Human Rights, and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), all of which the U.S. is party to, as well as our very own U.S. Constitution. There is no doubt that torture has been committed at Guantanamo and it is illegal.
Some progress was made at the executive level this summer after a majority of the prisoners went on hunger strike and had to be force fed in order to be kept alive. In response to the increased media attention, President Obama subsequently renewed his pledge to close Guantanamo and appointed a special envoy from the State Department, Cliff Sloan, to work on the issue. In August, two Algerian prisoners became the first men to leave the prison in over two years when they were released to their home country. The first parole-board-like Pentagon hearing for a prisoner held without trial, a procedure also announced two years ago, is set to take place in November.
Trials for the remaining prisoners, however, are not included as part of the review process, according to the statement released by the Pentagon. Detainees can challenge the legality of their incarceration through the U.S. court system, it said. The Board did not expand on how prisoners were expected to receive a fair trial when they had been previously unable to do so. (Thus far, the U.S. government has largely denied granting detainees trials by arguing that international laws which guarantee prisoners fair trials, such as the Geneva Conventions, do not apply in the U.S. war against al-Qaeda).
Examinations of a few cases by outside sources have proven that many of these prisoners are being held without cause and that the few military tribunals granted were in fact shams. A fair trial in an American court would likely expose this fact, revealing the reason why the government has been so staunchly opposed to it. We don't need a review to tell us the system is broken. If the Pentagon insists on beginning with one, however, a time limit should be enforced in order to maintain accountability and prevent it from becoming another means for dragging out the existence of this horrid institution.
Some might argue that the Review Board indicates progress and the United States is now on its way to closing Guantanamo. But after six years of empty promises by Obama to do so, I am not so sure. It is imperative that the U.S. government move beyond reviews and acknowledge the legal violations taking place in the prison and seriously work with Congress and concerned non-governmental organizations to resolve this issue as soon as possible. My worst fear is that after all is said and done, this development will simply be a new chapter in what has become the never ending horror saga that is Guantanamo.
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