Guantánamo detention: How harsh is it?
President Obama must decide whether to embrace or change Bush's detention policies.
US NAVAL STATION, GuantAnamo BAY, CUBA
Military officials are vigorously defending their treatment of detainees at the controversial terror prison camp here, rejecting charges by the prisoners and their lawyers that conditions are harsh, illegal, and inhumane.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"There isn't anything we do here that I wouldn't be proud to show my mom or my kids," said Rear Adm. David Thomas, commander of the task force that runs the detention camp.
"The conditions of detention are safe and humane," he said in an interview.
Guantánamo officials and their critics are both waiting to see whether the Obama administration decides to embrace existing detainee policies enacted by the Bush administration or, instead, decides to adopt a more permissive approach favored by human rights groups.
Lawyers for detainees charge that their clients are being held in severe isolation with little opportunity for meaningful socialization.
They say some detainees live in constant fear of aggressive guards organized as quick strike teams. And they charge that the 40 detainees currently engaged in a hunger strike are being strapped – feet, legs, and head – to restraint chairs and left for excessive periods of time as part of military-ordered forced feedings.
"You could take any single complaint and make it seem trivial, but when you add all these things up and that becomes your existence day in and day out, that is what makes it unbearable," says David Remes, a Washington-based human rights lawyer who represents 11 detainees. He says one of his clients likened life as a detainee to "death by a thousand cuts."
The detention camp at Guantánamo is actually a collection of several different camps, each with different characteristics and security levels. The total detainee population is currently 242.
The Guantánamo detention camps exist in a maze of modular buildings that sprawl across a wide field behind a double line of high chain-link fences and coils of what seem thousands of miles of razor wire. All of it sits just above a jagged shoreline and the bright blue Caribbean Sea.
The prison is no Club Med
From the military's perspective it is designed to keep America safe by preventing captured Al Qaeda fighters and supporters from returning to the battlefield. Human rights experts and lawyers for the detainees do not object to that mission. But they have strong objections to how it is being carried out.
They charge conditions of confinement are unnecessarily harsh, driving some detainees to the brink of insanity. They are urging the new administration to adopt a broad reading of international laws designed to protect military detainees during armed conflicts.
On Jan. 22, on his second day in office, Mr. Obama ordered the Guantánamo detention camp closed within a year. He also ordered the defense secretary to conduct an immediate review of conditions at the camps to ensure full compliance with "all applicable laws ... including Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions."