A report released by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism called out the United States to completely remedy and repair rights violations of past and present detainees held at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base since its opening in 2002.
Fionnuala Ní Aoláin reported on her “Technical Visit” that occurred in February and focused on three areas: The rights of victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks; the rights of detainees at the Guantánamo detention facility; and the rights of former detainees. She reported detainees are experiencing the effects of systematic practices of torture and unlawful imprisonment, and the U.S. must enforce victim’s rights for justice, remedy, and reparation, which are core requirements under international law.
“The U.S. government is under a continued obligation to ensure accountability, make full reparation for the injuries caused, and offer appropriate guarantees of non-repetition for violations committed post-9/11,” according to the report.
Before being sent to Guantánamo some were torture survivors and those formerly missing from U.S. Central Intelligence Agency-run “black sites.” All of them have been exposed to the physical and psychological trauma associated with indefinite detention, aging, and progressive health challenges.
“For many, the dividing line between past and present is exceptionally thin and past experiences of torture live in the present, without any obvious end in sight,” Ms. Aoláin said. “They have received no independent, holistic, or adequate torture rehabilitation.”
The U.S. failed to provide redress to 741 men released from Guantanamo, the special rapporteur said. Many are lacking a legal identity, education, job training, physical and mental health care. Some continue to experience “sustained human rights violations,” stigma and social exclusion. Currently 30 detainees remain at Gitmo and 19 were never charged after 20 years in U.S. custody.
The special rapporteur emphasized the U.S. is legally obligated before, during and after detainees are transferred to facilitate “fair and adequate compensation” and “rehabilitation.”
Evidenced from their conditions, detainees are subjected to serious physical and mental harms. The system also subjects them to constant surveillance, forced cell extractions, excessive use of restraints, and other arbitrary unlawful practices, Ms. Aoláin disclosed.
The visit revealed insufficient training; lack of healthcare resources; limited contact with relatives, including the failure of meaningful communication. The totality of these practices and omissions have cumulative effects on the detainees’ dignity and fundamental rights. The conditions amounts to “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment,” Ms. Aoláin concluded. “Closure of the facility remains a priority.”
On the issue of families of 9/11 terror victims, she noted that inadequately addressing the prime issue of torture, not only violated the rights of those detained, but it also undermined the road to justice for 9/11 victims.
Ms. Aoláin found the most significant barrier to fulfilling victims’ rights to justice, accountability, and transparency was the use of torture at secret detention sites and Guantanamo Bay where it was shielded from legal scrutiny.
“The cost of torture is the annihilation of the rights of victims of terrorism,” Ms. Aoláin told journalists while announcing the report’s release at UN headquarters.
The 23-page report was released publicly on June 26, which also marked the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, which began in 1987 when The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment was established. The convention was created to reaffirm the equal and inalienable rights of the human family are the foundation of freedom, justice and peace.
In a statement, Michele Taylor, the U.S. ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council, dismissed the conclusions Ms. Aoláin conveyed as “solely her own” and didn’t reflect the official view of the UN.
“The United States disagrees in significant respects with many factual and legal assertions the SR (Special Rapporteur) made,” according to the statement.
The statement said the Joe Biden administration transferred 10 individuals and is seeking locations for other eligible detainees. For those ineligible, periodic reviews are conducted to determine if continued detention is warranted under the law of war.
Despite Ms. Aoláin criticizing U.S. violations, she lauded Washington for the first visit by a UN rapporteur. Critics argue the report displays U.S. hypocrisy as a power that postures itself as a champion for human rights.
“This dramatically demonstrates the hypocrisy of the U.S. as it relates to basic human rights. To have these men shipped off … tortured … this is the epitome of human rights violations,” said Ajamu Baraka, international human rights activist and national organizer for the Black Alliance for Peace.
The fact that Guantanamo remains open is an indictment of U.S. standing vis-à-vis international law, he reasoned. “There’s no other nation on the planet that holds individuals in legal limbo without charges … some cases for decades. It is absolutely outrageous,” Mr. Baraka said.
Mr. Baraka is not optimistic the Biden administration will experience a mea culpa conversion and right the wrongs, in response to the findings.
He said the Obama-Biden administration “pretended” they were going to close Guantanamo, but after “mild pushback,” it was dropped. “We expect the same thing will happen with the Biden administration,” Mr. Baraka said.
The report reopened a demand by rights campaigners to shut Gitmo down. President Biden—seeking reelection next year—has pledged since 2021 to close the facility, however, there has yet to be a timeline. His former boss, President Barack Obama, also promised to close the facility, stating Gitmo was a “stain on our broader record” while arguing for closure in 2016, reported NPR. Later that same year, then-President-elect Donald Trump vowed to keep Gitmo open, declaring to “load it up with some bad dudes,” in remarks.
Some observers say keeping Guantanamo open is financially stupid. It costs $13 million per detainee at an annual cost to American taxpayers of $540 million just to keep it operating.
“At a cost of half a billion dollars per year, Guantánamo is the most expensive detention camp on earth,” according to The Center For Victims of Torture, an advocacy group pushing for closure.
They said Gitmo is the iconic example of the post-9/11 desertion of the rule of law and continues to fuel bigotry, stereotyping and stigma.
“Guantánamo is causing escalating and profound harm to the men who remain there, it undermines U.S. foreign policy, and it threatens U.S. national security,” according to the Center’s website. “Putting an end to the extralegal, abhorrent, and wasteful policies and practices with which Guantánamo will forever be synonymous is a human rights obligation, a moral responsibility, and a national security imperative.”
The report wasn’t unexpected; there were past reports like it. The U.S. and other nations have not effectively addressed Gitmo.
“The issue for the international community,” argues Mr. Baraka, “is what are you going to do, and why is it more nations are not calling out the U.S. for its rogue state status?”
Besides U.S. abuses on Guantanamo Bay, the 45-square-mile territory has been disputed land between Cuba and the U.S., which took it by force in 1898.
“This is another example of the rogue state status of the U.S.,” Mr. Baraka said. That it will just take territory like in Iraq and Syria. “So Guantanamo is just another example of the historic gangsterism of this state,” Mr. Baraka emphasized.
Freedom-loving voices spoke out early on concerning U.S. mishandling the aftermath of 9/11 and targeting Muslims during its subsequent “war on terror.”
The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam warned America not to exceed the limits of justice. For America to triumph, the qualities of beneficence, mercy, and exercising justice must balance her power to destroy and avenge the horrible act of September 11, 2001.
In the scriptures of The Holy Qur’an in chapter 5, verse 8, an admonition states: “Oh you who believe, be upright for Allah, bearers of witness with justice; and let not hatred of a people incite you not to act equitably. …”
Holding detainees without charge or trial for decades exceeded the limits of justice. In a letter dated December 1, 2001, in the midst of America rounding-up people who ultimately ended up at Gitmo, Minister Farrakhan wrote then-President George W. Bush with warning and guidance.
“I have traveled to many countries and have spoken to most of the Heads of State and Government, and not one of them has ever said to me that they hate the American people, but, they have said that they are displeased with America’s foreign policies,” wrote Minister Farrakhan.
He wrote the whole world desires America for true friendship, but America can never be a true friend until and unless she rules with the Wisdom and Spirit of Allah (God) which reflects itself in our love for humanity, truth, and exercising the principle of justice.
“If America turns away from this principle and does what she is doing because she has the power to do it, then, Allah (God) who grants power will take it from America and bring another people in her place,” warned Minister Farrakhan, in words still relevant in 2023.
“This does not have to be, but it will be based on how America conducts herself in this Hour of her greatest trial and her greatest potential triumph,” he said.