For the first time ever, the US has allowed an independent UN investigator to visit its Guantánamo Bay detention facility, and her assessment of the treatment of the 30 men still held there is damning.
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For the first time ever, the US has allowed an independent United Nations (UN) investigator to visit its Guantánamo Bay detention facility, and her assessment of the treatment of the 30 men still held there is damning.
In her report, the investigator, Irish law professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, said the detainees are mistreated in a variety of ways. These include being exposed to near-constant surveillance and an undue use of restraints. They also have inadequate access to their families and, of course, have not had fair trials.
“The totality of these practices and omissions have cumulative, compounding effects on detainees’ dignity and fundamental rights, and amounts to ongoing cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment,” Ní Aoláin concluded.
She added that the closure of Gitmo, as the facility located on a US base in Cuba is also known, “remains a priority.”
However, Ní Aoláin praised the Biden administration for allowing her to visit in the first place and noted that many improvements had been made.
“The US government has led by example by being prepared to address the hardest human rights issues,” she said. “I affirm the openness of the technical visit, the spirit of positive constructive dialogue that sustained it, and the singular importance of access to all detention sites affirmed by it.”
Overall, that does not change the fact that Gitmo remains a blight on the US human rights record. Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the US began holding detainees there to prevent having to grant them the same rights that they would have enjoyed if they had been imprisoned in the US. In the intervening years, hundreds of detainees have been held there, and many were subjected to torture.
None got a fair trial.
But not just the few remaining detainees are suffering but also those who have left Gitmo.
“The vast majority of former detainees continues to experience sustained human rights violations. Once transferred they have been left to fend for themselves, vulnerable to penury, social exclusion, stigma, and governmental inference,” Ní Aoláin said. “The US government does not have an adequate system to address the well-being of those transferred, or the failure of governments to respect their rights.”
In its response, the Biden administration said it was important for countries to “open themselves to the scrutiny of outside observers.”
However, it disagreed with many of the investigator’s findings and expressed its belief that the “conditions of confinement at Guantanamo Bay are humane and reflect the United States’ respect for and protection of human rights for all who are within our custody.”
Specifically, the US says that the remaining detainees “live communally and prepare meals together,” and that they have access to medical care and legal counsel while also being able to communicate with family members on a regular basis.
In addition, the Biden administration also indicates that it wants to reduce the number of detainees and is looking to find “suitable locations” for those eligible for transfer.
That day can’t come soon enough for the UN inspector.
“The time is now to undo the legacies of exceptionalism, discrimination, and securitization perpetuated by Guantánamo’s continuing existence,” Ní Aoláin said.