The first group of detainees arrived at Guantanamo Bay on 11 January 2002. Most of these men were previously held in Afghanistan. The 20 Afghan men were taken to Camp X ray. A second group arrived on 13 January 2002. This marked the beginning of the long-term detention of hundreds of individuals apprehended in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere.
When the first group of detainees stepped off the plane they were dressed in turquoise blue face masks and fluorescent orange jumpsuits, their hands in manacles, reported CNN.
The 20 detainees were chained to their seats for the 8,000-mile plane trip and even barred from using the toilets, with special provisions being made so they would not have to get up. They were shaved from head to toe for hygiene considerations. Amnesty International issued a statement shortly afterwards objecting to the heavy restraints on the prisoners during the flight.” Reports that al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners may be drugged, hooded and shackled during the 20-hour flight is worrying,” the group said
The detainees, who left Kandahar the previous day, were initially held in Camp X-Ray which was a temporary facility originally constructed in 1994 for Haitian and Cuban refugees. Camp X Ray consisted of outdoor cells with concrete floors and wooden ceilings surrounded by a chain-linked fence. Here the men were kept in what CNN described as ‘6 by 8 foot cages’ until a new detention centre was constructed.
By the summer of 2002, all detainees had been transferred to a permanent facility, Camp Delta, which in turn consists of a number of separate units for various purposes and applying differing regimes.
A total of at least 780 men have been held at Guantanamo, the vast majority without charge or trial. According to Human Rights Watch nine detainees died at Guantanamo, six from suspected suicide.
Commenting to Al Jazeera on the significance of the Guantanamo anniversary former prisoner Moazzam Begg said: “We have come to a watershed moment in the war on terrorism where the US is negotiating peace in Afghanistan with five former prisoners. Peace could have been achieved a long time ago. If they can bring an end to war inn Afghanistan they can bring an end to Guantanamo.”
The first detainees
The United States occupied Guantanamo Bay during the Spanish-American War of 1898 and established a base there.
Former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld labelled Guantanamo’s first detainees “unlawful combatants” who “do not have any rights under the Geneva Convention.” The Bush administration, who described the men as ‘unlawful combatants’ shortly after they were transferred to Guantanamo asserted that the detainees were not entitled to any of the protections of the Geneva Conventions, while also claiming it was treating “all detainees consistently with the principles of the Geneva Convention.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the only organisation who had independent oversight at Guantanamo, was given access to the first group of detainees on 17 January 2021, six days after they first arrived.
Torture and Abuse
Current and former detainees have reported abuse and torture, which the Bush administration denied. Amnesty International reported that the abuse included keeping men in in extended solitary confinement; threatening them with torture, death, and military dogs; depriving them of sleep; and exposing them for prolonged periods to extreme heat, cold, and noise. On 13 January 2009 Susan Crawford, appointed by Bush to oversee the military trials of Guantanamo prisoners, became the first Bush administration official to concede that torture occurred at Guantanamo Bay.
In June 2016 five independent United Nations human rights experts called on the United States to immediately close the Guantánamo Bay detention centre following three suicides.
The Bush Administration transferred over 500 detainees out of the prison, the Obama Administration transferred 197, and the Trump Administration has transferred one. 40 detainees remain in the prison, of which five detainees have been cleared for transfer. Twenty-six more have been slated for indefinite detention (but are eligible for periodic review of that designation), seven have been charged or are in pre-trial hearings in the military commission system and one is serving a military commission sentence, and one is awaiting sentencing.
The US has transferred 732 to home or third countries, 533 during the George W. Bush administration and 144 during the administration of President Barack Obama and one during the administration of President Donald Trump.
On 23 January 2009 President Obama signed an executive order stating that Guantánamo Detention Camp would be closed within the year. The closing was delayed and the prison remains open.
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