Exactly five years after inmates began to arrive at the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba, the US government says almost 400 prisoners are still being held there.
The men being held there are alleged terrorists and enemy combatants, detained as part of President George Bush’s so-called war on terror.
Prisoners have complained of inhumane treatment, and have even taken their grievances to court, but so far without a great deal to show for it. And despite widespread international criticism of the camp, it remains open today.
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Chained and hooded, donned in orange overalls and locked up like wild animals in outside cages. The staff at Amnesty International headquarters in the Netherlands vividly remembers the images of the first Guantanamo Bay prisoners. Amnesty spokesman Ruud Bosgraaf says his organisation immediately understood that the Americans were looking for a way to interrogate suspects without bothering about human rights.
“We sensed that this was to become an important issue in the relationship between human rights and the war on terror and therefore would be with us for a long time. And we were correct, because now, five years after January 2002, Guantanamo Bay still isn’t closed.”
Pressure on Washington
Worldwide criticism of the treatment of prisoners at the prison reached a climax last year, with German chancellor Angela Merkel publicly demanding it to be closed. Similar appeals followed, from the then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Dutch Defence Minister Henk Kamp, among others. They came after Washington confirmed the existence of more Guantanamo-style prison camps around the globe as well as secret CIA flights to these so-called “black sites” carried out through the airspace of US allies without their knowledge.
Pressure on the US Administration was somewhat eased after 17 October when President Bush put his signature to the Military Commissions Act. The Act served to establish a legal basis for the illegal situation in Guantanamo Bay. It approves the use of evidence obtained by force, prevents suspected “enemy combatants” from appealing their cases in US federal courts, and takes away the protection of the Geneva Conventions.
A story of mistreatment and torture
President Bush hailed the Act as a great step forward in the war on terror, but it’s unclear what it has achieved so far. It certainly hasn’t improved the plight of the prisoners held at Guantanamo. Some 400 out of an estimated 800 were released in recent years, often without any charges filed against them. One of them is Moazzan Beg, who returned to London after being held for two years.
“They ordered for me to be hog-tied with my hands behind my back to my legs with a hood on my head, to be kicked and punched and beaten and dragged around, threatened with further and worse torture, to be sent to Egypt. But I think the worst of it was that they used the sound of a screaming woman next door. I was led to believe it was my wife, because I had no idea what had happened to her and they certainly made me believe that it was her, and they waved pictures of my children in front of me.”
Five years after the opening of Guantanamo Bay, vigils and demonstrations have been held across the world to back up calls for its closure. President Bush has received a worldwide appeal, urging him to ensure that all detainees are either released with full protection or charged and brought to a full and fair trial in the US courts.