According to Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the treatment and detention of detainees at Guantanamo Bay has actually worsened since President Obama took office in January of 2009. The following is a summary of some of the main issues raised in the report released on 23rd February, 2009 entitled Current Conditions of Confinement at Guantanamo: Still in Violation of the Law. Read The full report.
Treatment of Concern
The majority of men held in Guantanamo Bay are held in maximum security facilities, Camp 5 and Camp 6 as well as Camp Echo. The small cells are made from steel and concrete. Food is delivered through a metal slot in the door. If the men yell loud enough, they can speak with each other, but to do so risks punishment. Weeks can go by without the men seeing sunlight. The everyday reality for these men is sensory deprivation, environmental manipulation and sleep deprivation, not to mention the daily psychological and physical torment. Toothbrushes, blankets, soap and deodorant are considered privileges, so can be taken away as a form of punishment. ‘Recreation’ for ‘compliant detainees’ consists of two to four hours outside the cell, sometimes in the middle of the night so the men do not see sunlight or have any contact with any living thing. In Camp 6, ‘recreation’ time is spent in a pen surrounded by two storey high concrete walls with wire across the top.
“I am in my tomb.”
Abdelli Feghoul, camp 6 who was cleared for release in 2006
The psychological effects of solitary confinement can include hallucinations, extreme anxiety, hostility, confusion and concentration problems. The physical effects include muscular atrophy, weight loss and impaired eyesight.
Temperature in the cells is kept at an uncomfortably cold level. This has caused ongoing health problems for many of the men. Lights are kept on 24hours a day in Camp 5.
Due to the lights being kept on at all hours, the men find it impossible to sleep. As aforementioned, some men are woken at 2am for ‘recreation’ time. Bed sheets are considered ‘comfort items’ and are often removed as a disciplinary technique. There is constant noise in the camps which makes sleep impossible.
Immediate Reaction Force (IRF) and Physical Attacks
Detainees live in a constant state of fear due to the risk of physical violence. In January 2009, there have been two documented IRF incidents outlined in the CCR report. The first involved Yasin Ismael being beaten and assaulted whilst in ‘recreation’. Mr. Ismael describes how his nose and mouth was blocked whilst they hit him. After the beating took place and they were returning him to his cell, one of the guards urinated on him. In mid-January, IRF teams were reportedly entering cells more than fifteen times a day. In a letter to lawyers, a detainee describes one man being deliberately cut on his hands with scissors. When guards were asked about this, they said that they were attempting to cut off plastic shackles. Many detainees are afraid to leave their cells, including to see lawyers, due to the risk of physical attack.
Abuse of Psychologically ill Detainees
Solitary confinement has caused many psychological problems in the men detained in Guantanamo. A combination of the extreme solitary, sensory deprivation and over stimulation due to the lighting and noise has caused severe depression and in some cases led to instances of self harm and suicide attempts. Detainees who have been identified as suffering from psychological distress are often isolated and mistreated which has only served to exacerbate symptoms. Suicide attempts have been labelled as “manipulative self-injurious behaviour”. It has also been documented that members of the medical staff have assisted or been present during beatings by guards. Some have laughed at the men whilst they were being beaten. The men have been denied access to test results and information about treatment they are receiving, including medication. In January of this year, Mr Khan Tumani, who was detained at the age of 17, smeared excrement on the walls on his cell after years of psychological and physical abuse. When he did not clean up the excrement, the IRF team was sent in to beat him severely. It is reported that so much pepper spray was used on Mr. Tumani that at least one of the guards vomited.
Many of the men are currently engaged in hunger strikes in protest of the treatment they are enduring or in response to beatings of others. ‘Restraint chairs’ which are marketed as a ‘padded cell on wheels’ were introduced to Guantanamo in December 2005. A tube which is about the thickness of a finger is inserted into the nose and pushed into their stomachs. The formula is then pumped into the tube which is sometimes as much as 1.5 litres. Such large amounts can cause nausea, vomiting, bloating, diarrhoea and shortness of breath. The men are kept strapped to the chair for an hour after to make sure they do not purge the formula. This is a very painful experience and the men are not given any sedatives or pain killers during the procedure. The force feeding takes place twice a day, reportedly with the same tubes covered in the bile and blood of other men. It has also been reported that the detainees are kept in these chairs for days at a time and given laxatives so that they are more inclined to start eating again1. If they still refuse, they are kept in the chair without being cleaned. This is a gross violation of human rights according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Conventions.
Camp 5 and 6 have new body search procedures which require the men to be subjected to a full body scan which reveals the naked image of the men to the guards. To avoid the humiliating and degrading experience, many of the men are refusing to leave their cells. The men are denied the right to pray communally as prescribed by Islam. There has also not been a Muslim chaplain available to any detainee since 2003.
Forced Separation of Family Members and a Denial of Adequate Family Communication
Separation of family members within Guantanamo has only served to heighten the psychological suffering of the men. Limited telephone access has only been granted recently to detainees. Mr. Tumani, who was mentioned previously was captured with his father. They have been held separately and denied any communication with each other for the majority of the seven years they have been imprisoned. More generally the detainees have extraordinarily limited access to family members through International Committee of the Red Cross(ICRC) letters which take months to reach family members. For the first time in six years, detainees are now allowed one phone call per year which is totally inadequate under human rights standards.
The information outlined this report was compiled utilising testimony obtained by lawyers who represent some of the detainees in Guantanamo Bay.
You can read Amnesty International's response to the U.S. Department of Defense report claiming detainees are held in a manner consistent with the Geneva Conventions here
- See "Exclusive: Lawyer says Guantanamo Worse Since Obama" at http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSTRE51O3TB20090225?sp=true
U.N Commission on Human Rights. Situation of Detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
Human Rights Watch. Locked up Alone: Detention Conditions and Mental Health at Guantanamo.
Human Rights Watch. By the Numbers: Findings of the Detainee Abuse and Accountability Project.
Physicians for Human Rights Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture by the U.S.
Human Rights Center, International Human Rights Law Clinic & Center for Constitutional Rights. Guantanamo and its Aftermath: U.S. Detention and Interrogation Practices and their Impact on Former Detainees