After over seven years of unlawful executive detention, the approximately 240 men who remain imprisoned at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba continue to be held in inhumane conditions that violate U.S. obligations under the Geneva Conventions, the U.S. Constitution, and international human rights law. Most of these men have never been charged or had an opportunity to challenge the legality of their detention in a habeas hearing.
On January 22, 2009, within days of his inauguration, President Barack Obama issued several key executive orders concerning Guantánamo and U.S. policies on executive detention. The executive order specific to Guantánamo, among other things, requires the closure of the prison within one year, and mandates a review of the status of all of the men held there. Furthermore, the order requires “humane standards of confinement” during this review and detention “in conformity with all applicable laws governing the conditions of such confinement, including Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.” It also tasks the Secretary of Defense with conducting a full review of conditions of detention at Guantánamo, to be completed within 30 days of the order.
The applicable laws governing conditions of confinement at Guantánamo include Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, but also the more specific provisions of the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions. Other relevant laws include international human rights treaties the United States has ratified protecting prisoners against unsafe or unhygienic conditions, torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and treaties protecting the rights of juveniles in detention. In addition, the Fifth and Eighth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution prohibit cruel and unusual punishment and protect prisoners against treatment that shocks the conscience, including unsafe conditions, the denial of social or family contact, and prolonged isolation. The First Amendment protects prisoners’ rights to religious texts and books.
Currently at Guantánamo, the majority of detainees are being held in conditions of solitary confinement in one of two super-maximum facilities – Camps 5 and 6 – or in Camp Echo. The conditions in these camps are harshly punitive and violate international and U.S. legal standards for the humane treatment of persons deprived of their liberty. Solitary confinement, sensory deprivation, environmental manipulation, and sleep deprivation are daily realities for these men and have led to the steady deterioration of their physical and psychological health.
In addition, detainees are subjected to brutal physical assaults by the Immediate Reaction Force (IRF), a team of military guards comparable to a riot squad, who are trained to respond to alleged “disciplinary infractions” with overwhelming force. Detainees have also been deprived of virtually all meaningful contact with their families, and have suffered interference with and abuse related to their right to practice their religion.
Contrary to statements by the military, conditions at Guantánamo have not improved for the majority of detainees and are still in violation of the law. In this report, we describe the current conditions of confinement for the men at Guantánamo and make recommendations for bringing Camps 5, 6 and Echo into immediate compliance with “all applicable laws” governing the conditions of confinement of detainees, as required by President Obama’s Executive Order.
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) has represented men detained at Guantánamo since the prison opened in 2002 and has been responsible for organizing and coordinating over 500 pro bono lawyers across the country to represent hundreds of other detainees. CCR attorneys have traveled to Guantánamo over 40 times since 2004 to meet with detainees. The factual information in this report is based on direct accounts from detainees and their attorneys, including recent accounts received in January and February 2009.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.