Photograph of a sign that says, "Welcome to Guantánamo Naval Station", on November 5, 2023, in Guantánamo (USA). EFE/ Marta Garde

Guantanamo: 21 years of frustrated search for justice

Marta Garde

Guantánamo Naval Base, Cuba, Nov 7 (EFE). – More than two decades after Guantánamo received its first inmates in 2002, the US prison on Cuban territory is dragging on, with the passage of time and obstacles to justice, while the possibility that one day it might be closed, seems to wither with time.

In the same week that a new preliminary hearing was held for the possible trial of self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohamed and three alleged accomplices, Brigadier General Jackie Thompson, coordinator of the defense teams at the base, sums up the post-9/11 history of the prison, saying: “Guantánamo is a symbol of what not to do.

The military base is reached by a Pentagon-chartered flight that circles the eastern tip of Cuba to avoid entering the country’s airspace, then visitors must take a ferry across the bay that gives the prison its name, confronting two clashing realities.

The tree-covered hills, facing the intense blue of the Caribbean Sea, contrast with the prison, which looks like an industrial complex surrounded by barbed wire fences, checkpoints, restricted area signs, and the desalination, electricity, and gas plants that allow it to be self-sufficient.

Photograph of the McDonald’s restaurant, November 6, 2023, Guantanamo Naval Base (USA). EFE/ Marta Garde

The residential area, unlike the rest of the island, includes a McDonald’s, a bowling alley, a golf course, a swimming pool, a gym, a post office, a multifaith chapel, a school, a supermarket, three free outdoor movie theaters, and even a souvenir shop.

Abandoned to oblivion

Camp X-Ray, immortalized by its sun-baked cages crammed with prisoners in orange jumpsuits, remains abandoned and overgrown with weeds.

The prison that put Guantanamo in the crosshairs of human rights advocates is still off-limits, and pictures of the area are forbidden, even to local residents.

The prison once held some 780 prisoners, 30 of whom now remain in Camps 5 and 6, the former housing “high-value” detainees, such as those accused of the September 11, 2001 attacks, and the latter for lower-profile prisoners.

Photograph of a sign in Guantánamo Naval Station, on November 5, 2023, in Guantánamo (USA). EFE/ Marta Garde A

Military commissions have brought charges against eleven detainees, ten of whom are awaiting trial.

Sixteen have been recommended for transfer to a third country, and another three are the so-called “forever prisoners” who have not been charged and are not eligible for transfer.

They arrived at Guantánamo as part of the “war on terrorism” launched by former Republican President George W. Bush (2001-2009) after 9/11, in which nearly 3,000 people died, but many of their cases are stalled because of the questionable methods used to extract information from them.

“The United States was trying to see if there would be another attack, and the decision makers became involved in the enhanced interrogation techniques program, which some call a torture program. Their decision is the reason we’re still here today,” Thompson stresses.

His priority, he says, is to save the lives of those who could be sentenced to death, to manage the repatriation of those who can choose that option, and to ensure respect for humane conditions of detention.

Humanitarian criticism

The UN Human Rights Committee on Friday expressed concern about the lack of a timeline for closing the facilities and the fact that some detainees have remained there for two decades without being tried or charged.

In its fifth periodic report on the United States, it called on the country to end this system of indefinite detention, provide prisoners with fair trial guarantees, and expedite the transfer of those who qualify and the closure of the prison.

Photograph of the Guantánamo Naval Base, on November 5, 2023, in Guantánamo (USA). EFE/ Marta Garde

Daphne Eviatar, director of the Security with Human Rights Program at Amnesty International, told EFE, Guantanamo is synonymous with torture, violation of those rights and indefinite detention without trial or charge.

However, the prison’s fate is linked to the will of the presidency and Congress, but neither the administration of Barack Obama (2009-2017) nor that of Donald Trump (2017-2021) or that of Joe Biden have considered it a priority.

A Defense Department official admitted to EFE that it is not easy to close the detention center.

The law prohibits the use of funds for this purpose and the transfer of detainees to the United States, and there is also political resistance: in 2009, when Obama tried to put an end to it, the Senate rejected it en masse, with 6 votes in favor and 90 against.

Meanwhile, Guantanamo is moving forward.

In Camp Justicia, where the military commissions that try these prisoners are housed, barracks are being built to accommodate the increase in people who would mobilize the camp for the possible 9/11 trial, an event whose date has yet to be determined.EFE

mgr/mcd (foto)(vídeo)