UC Berkeley Report Details Shattered Lives of Released Guantánamo Detainees

Washington, D.C. — Detainees released from U.S. detention in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba and Afghanistan live shattered lives as a result of U.S. policies in the “war on terror,” according to a new report by human rights experts at the University of California, Berkeley done in partnership with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). The report is available below.

The report, Guantánamo and Its Aftermath: U.S. Detention and Interrogation Practices and Their Impact on Detainees, based on a two-year study, reveals in graphic detail the cumulative effect of Bush Administration policies on the lives of 62 released detainees. Many of the prisoners were sold into captivity and subjected to brutal treatment in U.S. prison camps. Once in Guantánamo, prisoners were denied access to civilian courts to challenge the legality of their detention. Almost two-thirds of the former detainees interviewed reported having psychological problems since leaving Guantánamo.

“The nightmare of Guantánamo did not end with the detainees' release. Men never convicted of crimes or given the opportunity to clear their names are suffering from a lasting 'Guantánamo stigma,' and are unable to find work,’” said Laurel Fletcher, Director of the International Human Rights Law Clinic at UC Berkeley School of Law and co-author of the report.
Researchers conducted interviews with released detainees in nine countries. The comprehensive study also includes in-depth interviews with key government officials, military experts, former guards, interrogators and other camp personnel.

“Guantánamo, like Abu Ghraib, has become a stain on the reputation of the United States,” said Eric Stover, director of the UC Berkeley Human Rights Center and co-author of “Guantánamo and Its Aftermath.”

The authors call for an independent, nonpartisan commission to lift the shroud of secrecy from Guantánamo and other detention sites. They further argue that the commission should have subpoena power and, if applicable, recommend further investigations of those allegedly responsible for any crimes committed at all levels of the civilian and military chain of command.

The authors warn that such a commission should not be undercut by the issuance of pardons, amnesties, or other measures that would protect those culpable from accountability. President-Elect Barack Obama has called for the closure of Guantánamo. The UC Berkeley report asks for even broader remedies.

“There is no doubt that these men and their families have suffered the gravest consequences of the Bush Administration’s so-called war on terror,” said CCR Executive Director Vincent Warren. “Overturning the legal atrocities at Guantánamo and the countless warrantless infringements of basic rights of detainees is only one step in undoing the damage done to these men and their families.”

Over half of the study respondents who discussed their interrogation sessions at Guantánamo (31 of 55) characterized them as “abusive.” Detainees reported being subjected to short shackling, stress positions, prolonged solitary confinement, and exposure to extreme temperatures, loud music, and strobe lights for extended periods—often simultaneously. The authors conclude that the cumulative impact of these methods, especially over time, constitutes cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment and, in some cases, rises to the level of torture.

“Carefully researched and devoid of rhetoric, the UC Berkeley report adds a new chapter to America's dismal descent into the netherworld of prisoner abuse since the tragic events of 9/11,” said the Honorable Patricia Wald, who served on the U.S. Court of Appeals and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. “It provides new insights into the lingering consequences of unjust detention,” Wald added.

Most detainees interviewed for the study were not vengeful toward America, but simply expressed a desire for justice and an opportunity to clear their names.

"We cannot sweep this dark chapter in our nation's history under the rug by simply closing the Guantánamo prison camp," Stover said." The new administration must investigate what went wrong and who should be held accountable,” said Stover.

Of the more than 770 detainees who have endured Guantánamo since it opened in 2002, over 500 have been released without formal criminal charges or trial. So far, of the 250 or more who remain in detention, only 23 have been charged with a crime. Two have been convicted and one has pled guilty.

The Human Rights Center investigates war crimes and other serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. HRC’s empirical studies recommend specific policy measures to hold perpetrators accountable, protect vulnerable populations, and help rebuild war-torn societies. More information at the HRC website.

The International Human Rights Law Clinic designs and implements innovative human rights projects to advance the struggle for justice on behalf of individuals and marginalized communities through advocacy, research, and policy development. More information at www.humanrightsclinic.org.

CCR has led the legal battle over Guantanamo for the last six years – sending the first ever habeas attorney to the base and sending the first attorney to meet with a former CIA “ghost detainee.”  CCR has been responsible for organizing and coordinating more than 500 pro bono lawyers across the country in order to represent the men at Guantanamo, ensuring that nearly all have the option of legal representation. CCR represented the detainees with co-counsel in the most recent argument before the Supreme Court in 2007, which resulted in the landmark decision declaring habeas corpus a victory for the prisoners there.


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.


Last modified 

December 17, 2009