What is Guantanamo Bay?

Guantanamo Bay, also known as Gitmo or GTMO, is a series of high security prisons run by the U.S military located in Southeastern Cuba on the coast of Guantanamo Bay. The base was first used in the early 1970s for the purpose of holding refugees of Haiti and Cuba who were discovered trying to enter the U.S through the waters under Florida . After 9/11 the U.S government re-established Guantanamo Bay as a holding facility for persons deemed ‘unlawful combatants’, this included U.S citizens and resident suspected of terrorism.

The re-establishment of Guantanamo created a regime of incarceration and interrogation, including torture, that the law could not reach. The English Court of Appeal described the base as a ‘legal black hole’, with the Bush administration arguing from the outset that Guantanamo was outside American legal jurisdiction and that in essence the personnel at the base, which in total is approximately 6,000 service members and civilians,  could treat the detainees as they wished.

Since Guantanamo reopened nearly 800 prisoners have been through the camp, with at least 7 dying in custody. The multiple camps have held residents from countries such as Afghanistan, who are supposed to be linked to terrorist organisations like Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

As of February 2015 it was determined that there are still 122 detainees still in the camp.In recent years, Guantanamo Bay has been the centre of some controversial publicity, especially from human rights organisations and other countries. The detainees are classed as unlawful combatants rather than prisoner of war, therefore the rules on safe and humane treatment of the prisoners do not have to conform to the Geneva Code.Due to this the camp participates in practices such as water-boarding and other aggressive interrogation techniques, and also denial of their basic rights which are available to general prisoners such as allowing to live with their religious beliefs and having access to legal counsel. In addition to this, the media have reported abuse including chaining prisoners to their beds for longer than 24 hours and sexual abuse of prisoners.

In 2013 the detainees at the camp lead a hunger strike in protest. Thirty-seven detainees took part in the hunger strike, as at the time eighty-six detainees being held at the camp had been cleared for release, meaning the government does not have a case against them  or that the detainees even pose a risk, yet they were still being held there.

The hunger strikes eventually led to prisoners being force fed through a tube. This was not the first hunger strike at the camp. In 2005 a hunger strike occurred with around 200 prisoners taking part, lasting for more than 4 weeks. The men were starving themselves in protest to the conditions of the camp and their alleged maltreatment. This hunger strike was the second to occur. The first hunger strike lasted 20 days and ended when the detainees were made a number of promises including better access to books and bottled drinking water. However, the men claimed that they were tricked into eating again through these ‘promises’ which were never fulfilled.

There are approximately 78 detainees who have remained at the camp for 12 years or more even though they have been cleared for release for half of that time. It was determined that prisoners who have been cleared of their charges make up approximately 52% of the detainees at the camp.

 Some of those in custody will have their fates decided by military tribunals, others face indefinite detention. The Guantanamo tribunals were first governed by the 2006 Military Commissions Act, a Bush administrative law. The act established different rules to try terror suspects. Since then, in 2009 Obama amended the rules to strengthen the defendant rights. In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that detainees should be allowed to pursue their cases in federal courts and be heard on the subject of their detention, after years of being denied this access and only able to go through military tribunals.



Since coming into power Obama has vowed to shut the facility. In January 2009 Obama signed an executive order to close the facility within six years, however the camp is still open today. This is due to Congressblocking their attempts to close the camp and refusing to authorize funds to transfer detainees to prisons on the U.S mainland.

The debate on Guantanamo Bay has become increasingly a politically and emotionally charged topic with many American politicians, leaders of foreign countries and world organisations have called for its closure. The future of the base is unknown, but it is still very much in use at the moment. Hopefully in the near future the administration and Congress will be able to work together to ensure that the closure of the base does happen for good.

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