It is now 20 years since the infamous Guantanamo Bay detention facility was established. There was repeated talk about closing it and several US administrations made promises to do so, but everything remained the same and the conditions of detainees there also did not change. Oliver Salle report after his visit to Guantanamo.
The case of detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi is typical of other detainees in the notorious US detention camp, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Slahi was born behind the walls of the Guantanamo prison for 14 years. Inside, he was tortured for 70 days and was interrogated 18 hours a day for three years.
Ould Slahi, who also lived in Germany before his arrest, was suspected of playing a leadership role in al-Qaeda and involvement in the September 11 terrorist attacks, but there was no evidence for those accusations. He was never charged or charged during the 14 years he spent at Guantanamo.
The Mauritanian, now 50, was eventually released; He was not compensated for his stolen years of life.
Attorney Nancy Hollander is still dealing with her most prominent cases today; Last year, the case found its way to the cinema screen as a British-American co-production, entitled “The Mauritanian”. Ould Slahi’s crime was to participate in a terrorist camp in Afghanistan, and to answer a call from Osama bin Laden on a satellite phone, Hollander recalls.
The lawyer says that Guantanamo has made the United States a country that “does not respect the principles of the rule of law”, speaking of a “disastrous situation”. This applies not only to the thirteen detainees who were held without charge and then released years ago, but also to the alleged perpetrators of the September 11 attacks, the so-called “eternal prisoners”, who are also awaiting trial until today, after 20 years after the attacks.
Systematically bypassing the legal system
This lack of rule of law is no accident, as it was the goal of the then US administration under George W. Bush, says Guantanamo expert Daphne Eviatar of Amnesty International. “They set up a prison outside (US) territory to deliberately bypass the US legal system,” Eviatar explains.
In an Amnesty International report on the situation at Guantanamo, Eviatar denounced widespread human rights violations, including indefinite detention without charge, as well as torture of inmates. It is true that there is no publicly available information here, but Eviatar can rely on various investigations, including one conducted by the US Senate Intelligence Committee after dozens of detainees at Guantanamo were brutally tortured.
The US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba has been in existence as a naval base for more than 100 years. It was not expanded to include a detention camp until January 2002, a few months after the September 11 attacks, which gave Guantanamo a dubious reputation, ever since.
Anthony Natale, who is defending alleged al-Qaeda terrorist Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri in court, speaks publicly about his disappointment with Guantanamo. “We have given up everything that would make this country a free country, with equal rights for all.”
Press censorship and compulsory attendance
If you want to have your own image of Guantanamo, you have to overcome many obstacles. The first is usually Cuban airspace, which weekly charters from Washington are not allowed to cross.
The plane must first fly around Cuba from the east and is only allowed to take a path to the military base when approaching it. And from the air there is a first look at the infamous base. At the foot of a barren mountain range is Guantanamo Bay, in the west is the airport, and in the east is the naval base, the military court “Camp Justice” and the detention camp.
A very short time ago, we got approval to visit the site, after a security check that lasted for weeks, and the “ground rules” had to be signed before traveling. It outlined what to expect as a journalist at Guantanamo: no freedom of movement and, above all, no freedom of the press.
We are not even allowed to view the prison from the outside and all information from the inside is subject to the utmost secrecy, regularly driving the prisoners’ lawyers to desperation. Nancy Hollander fought in court for seven years to ensure that her client, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, was allowed to publish his “Memoirs at Guantanamo”.
Life under torture prison
When you think of Guantanamo, you think of torture and barbed wire first and foremost. In fact, the concentration camp and the military court are only a small part of the base. The naval base is very similar to a small American town.
They took us on a visit to the new high school, which cost 65 million dollars and only recently opened, and has the latest technology. Here 220 children of all ages are supposed to have as normal a childhood as possible, although the supposed 9/11 suspect is awaiting trial only five kilometers away. Principal Emilio Garza explains that the concentration camp is still not included in the curriculum here.
There is a supermarket here, residential areas reminiscent of American suburbs, and the only McDonald’s branch on Cuban soil. Latin American pop music is broadcast on GTMO radio, and in the souvenir shop, visitors can buy “Rockin in Fidels Backyard” T-shirts. There is a presence of the “Lider Maximo”, or “Supreme Commander” (ie: Fidel Castro).
Dressed in camouflage, presenter Annalize Candelaria brings into the microphone at 8 a.m. the morning program, which includes entertainment, music, and even serious topics like suicide. Above all, it is about “strengthening the morale of the troops,” Candelaria says.
GTMO doesn’t talk about the interrogations before the military court, nor about the internment camp, because it simply isn’t “part of the culture” at the naval base, Candelaria says. In fact, the majority of the 6,000 people who live in Guantanamo do not have access to all the court and prison facilities there. “We only know what we read in the media,” Candelaria says.
Plan, plan, then plan
It is an unforgettable “birthday” that falls on the Guantanamo prison on January 11, and raises above all the question of why this camp continues to exist today, despite the clear violations of human rights and the rule of law, especially after the end of the war on terror since Withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, which ended with the basis of the existence of the concentration camp.
The first plans to close Guantanamo came at the end of the George W. Bush era. Barack Obama promised to close several times, then quickly lost the majority in Congress to the Republicans, who in turn enacted a law “No person who has been imprisoned at Guantanamo will be allowed to come to the United States for any reason,” says Nancy Hollander, adding: Therefore, the transfer of prisoners to The US mainland is legally impossible.
No attempt to turn words into action.
Then President Donald Trump changed tack and announced that he would keep Guantanamo open in the future. According to the Republicans, Guantanamo continues to protect against terrorist attacks, and the transfer of prisoners to the United States is very dangerous. Opponents of Guantanamo, in turn, argue that the camp’s existence alone is a reason for the radicalization of Muslim youth.
The next shift in Guantanamo policy came under President Joe Biden, who announced after taking office through his spokeswoman that he intended to close the camp during his tenure.
And when the US Senate Intelligence Committee met again recently, no representative of the Biden government attended. This shows, above all, where the government’s priorities lie, which “has not yet made any attempt to translate its words into action”, says Nancy Hollander.
Arrested despite no evidence
In fact, the Biden government may now face bigger problems than the Guantanamo camp, with its failed infrastructure program and looming midterm elections with its support plummeting in the opinion polls. So what the future holds for “Gitmo” (the acronym for Guantanamo) is not entirely clear.
It is possible to release some prisoners, as planned. It is possible, through agreements with their countries of origin, to return others there. So Daphne Eviatar of Amnesty International is optimistic about the future. “As the number of inmates shrinks, it also becomes clear how ridiculous everything is.” Because it is also clear that, apart from known moral reasons, a prisoner costs the American taxpayer $13 million annually.
It would be cheaper to have a prison in the US, which in turn, regardless of legal obstacles, is not the answer, says Nancy Hollander, who is calling for the immediate release of prisoners from Guantanamo. “We cannot simply keep people imprisoned for 20 years without being prosecuted because there is supposedly not enough evidence against them, but at the same time we claim that they are still more or less dangerous.”
The question about the future of Guantanamo can no longer, for a long time, be answered with rational arguments. Like many other things in the United States, it has become a game of politics, casting a shadow over the “eternal prisoners” who have been awaiting trial for 20 years.