With many U.S. citizens focused on the aftermath of the government shutdown and debt ceiling battles and the Affordable Care Act, the illegality of Guantanamo Bay Detention Center has been pushed to the back burner. There are still 164 prisoners being detained at Guantanamo. Oddly enough, 86 of these prisoners have been told they’re cleared for release — some as long as five years ago — yet they’re still incarcerated. These men are held without being informed as to why and have been given no notice or hope of trial. The ongoing torture at Guantanamo Bay violates not only the principles of the Constitution through the Sixth and Eighth Amendments, but also basic human rights and the Geneva Convention. The Guantanamo issue has not gone away; it has just been swept under the rug. The inhumane torture is real, current and must be stopped.
In March 2013, details of a hunger strike began leaking out of the prison walls. The reason the prisoners went on hunger strike “is disputed,” according to The New York Times, but in transcripts by several prisoners, they explain that they were offended when the guards stormed their cells, tore their belongings apart and engaged in the sacrilegious and disrespectful act of rifling through their Korans. Additionally, several prisoners reported they were striking because they were cleared for release, yet are still being held. To combat the hunger strike, the guards have taken it upon themselves to physically force the prisoners to eat. Twice daily they enter the prisoners cell, strap them to a chair — reminiscent to an electric chair — and force an invasive catheter down their noses to their stomachs, scratching their innards along the way, before pumping liquid food into the prisoners’ stomachs. The transcripts report that the men experience immense pain. A graphic, animated video created by two British journalists depicts force-feeding scenes from the transcripts.
Force-feeding of this nature is considered cruel and unusual punishment and would likely not be tolerated within the continental U.S. prison system. But these aren’t the only forms of torture that the prisoners experience. Reports outlined by the Center for Constitutional Rights explain beatings, solitary confinement and other disgusting torture methods. How is our government getting away with this abusive punishment that is inflicted on people who may or may not even be responsible for any terrorism? The answer is that they shouldn’t be.
The Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits holding prisoners without telling them the nature of their accusation, and it also provides for a “speedy and public trial,” which obviously these prisoners have been denied. The Eight Amendment provides for no use of cruel or unusual punishment. Guantanamo, however, originally got beyond these parameters through loopholes. In 2002, the Bush administration proclaimed that Guantanamo Bay, based on its geographical location, could be considered outside of U.S. legal jurisdiction, and thus outside of the U.S. protections for prisoners. The “enemy combatants” of the global War on Terror were to be kept and tortured there — and no one could save them. According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, U.S. military intelligence officers have been reported as saying, “You are in a place where there is no law — we are the law.”
But what about international laws designed to protect prisoners from this type of punishment through the Geneva Convention? Interestingly enough, the Bush administration strangely claimed that the Geneva Convention did not apply to the U.S. conflict with al-Qaeda. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, disagreed. The Boston University News Service writes that in four separate cases, the Court, “held that international law applies to Guantanamo detainees, that they cannot be held indefinitely without trial, that constitutional habeas corpus protections apply to them … ” Furthermore, Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions was upheld for all individuals in conflict. Thus, fair and humane treatment must be given to the prisoners at Guantanamo — see Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. So, while this battle seems to have been legally won, that was seven years ago. The government has still not abided by these decisions and the men continue to sit in Guantanamo, being tortured daily.
Contrary to public opinion, this debate has not grown cold. In May 2013, President Barack Obama promised to take steps towards closing Guantanamo by transferring cleared detainees to other countries, yet four months later he has yet to fulfill this promise. On Oct. 7, 2013, the ACLU and other humanitarian organizations sent a letter to the President, urging him to close the prison and end the torture. Guantanamo Bay has become an enigma: a legal quagmire of embarrassing and disgusting violations of human rights that has been stealthily avoided since 2002. The Supreme Court’s decisions must be respected and the torture must be stopped.
Maura Levine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org