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Guantanamo: It's Our Job to Spread the Word

Guantanamo: It's Our Job to Spread the Word

By Brenda Chestnut-Landeros (2/21/14)

(Editor's Note: This is a student paper written in response to the 1/17/14 Close Guantanamo Now! event at Cal Poly Pomona. Posted with author's permission.)

The United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay was established in 1898 and became a token of power after the United States defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War. Upon gaining control of this portion of Cuba, the question became what to do with it. In 1993, Guantanamo Bay was used as a detention center for the first time. Even though this “safe-house” was told to disband, Guantanamo disregarded closure and continued to detain the Haitians, as well as expanding its jurisdiction and detained Cubans who were attempting to venture to American soil. Many believed the unlawful treatment of those being detained was both cruel and unlawful; this raised questions as to what exactly the rules and protocol are at Guantanamo Bay. According to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, in January of 1995, it was ruled that constitutional rights “bind the government only when the refugees are at or within the borders of the United States.” Unfortunately, this allowed the military to do as they choose, since Guantanamo Bay is located outside United States Territory.

In 2002, the Bush administration began using Guantanamo Bay as a detention center for those believed to be a threat to the United States. From information that I have gathered through various sources it is my understanding that many believe that Guantanamo Bay was chosen as a location to hold those who are thought to be a threat to the United States so the military can use “enhanced interrogation” practices. As we have learned, the detainees are being held in ghastly living conditions, being tortured, abused and held without proof of any connections to terrorist groups or proof of wrongdoing.  Although there are a multitude of issues surrounding Guantanamo Bay, to me the most recognizable issues include the interrogation methods being used, the violation of the detainees’ rights in addition the failure to close the facility as promised. Guantanamo Bay is an American Naval base used to permanently incapacitate people from 40 nations. Because the base is located on Cuban territory, the prisoners are not protected by the American constitution or judiciary: “it is the obligation of the Judicial Branch to make sure the preservation of our constitutional values.” Since the September 11, 2011 attack, there have been 779 detainees, 600 prisoners released (many after years of being held with no charges), 155 currently remain at Guantanamo Bay and 76 of those 155 are said to be approved to go home, 15 of the detainees are said to be children under the age of 18, 9 detainees have died (6 by suicide), and only 6 are facing formal charges.

When the enemy is faceless, as it is in the United States' fight against terror, there is a tendency to violate human rights in order to identify the perpetrators and anticipate further atrocities. Violation of human rights includes detaining suspects without sufficient evidence or cause, denial of access to lawyer, and unfair trials. The prisoners live in 6x8’ cells with only a bed and sink. Detainees are forced to seek permission from the soldiers to use the restroom. Any inmate can be mercilessly interrogated for 2 five-hour sessions during any time of day or night. It has been said that in addition to the physical torture, waterboarding practices, sleep deprivation, being sexually assaulted, humiliated, sensory deprivation, solitary confinement (prohibited under International Law), mock executions, forced medication (the US Military admitted to using high doses of Larium, which causes neuropsychiatric effects), temperature extremes, watching others being tortured, as well as keeping prisoners in a childlike state and the prisoners are kept from their family. The prisoners are being held without clear evidence of guilt; these suspected men and children have been taken into custody throughout the world and believed to be a threat to the security of the United States, however, there is no evidence to support these allegations.

The United States has destroyed its long lasting tradition of keeping human rights protected by allowing the prisoners of Guantanamo Bay to be deprived of the same human right we expect. America is known to be a nation that advocates for human rights; meanwhile, we are not providing these rights to the detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The United States is not adhering to the Geneva Conventions’ strict rules regarding the treatment of POW’s. Under the Geneva Conventions POW’s cannot be harmed, tortured, and must live decently while detained (Stein). Not only is this immoral, it also puts fellow Americans in harm’s way, if we are not adhering to the standards in which prisoners are kept, to protect our soldiers or POW’s.

As Andy Worthington stated, the Bush regime filled the off-shore prison at Guantanamo Bay with those that were thought to be a threat to the United States due to their terrorist connections. In 2009, President Barack Obama made the claim that he would close Guantanamo Bay within a year; five years later Guantanamo Bay still remains open. In January 2014, during President Obama’s State of Union Address the president stated, “With the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay – because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action, but by remaining true to our Constitutional ideals, and setting an example for the rest of the world.” Although this claim was made once before, we can hope that this time he holds true to his word. As citizens of the United States we must continue to fight for the release or fair trial for those being held at Guantanamo Bay.

Despite ongoing media coverage, the Guantanamo Bay prison remains a fairly unfamiliar topic to most people. Prior to taking Dr. Loo’s Social Work 318 class in the Fall of 2013, I was unaware of the wrongdoings going on at Guantanamo Bay. I was completely in the dark about the violations of the basic human rights being denied to those that are currently being detained.   Due to the extensive media coverage, America is more fixated on what is taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan than the activity at Guantanamo Bay. As a society, we are not familiar with the identity of the prisoners, their wrongdoing, the charges against them, or the possibility of their release. As both Andy Worthington and Dr. Dennis Loo stated at the “Close Guantanamo Now” tour, it is our job to continue to spread the word and fight for the closure of Guantanamo Bay and protect human rights. We must make others aware of the wrongdoings and fight for the basic human rights of others to not be violated, just as we would fight for the rights of our fellow Americans.


0 # Cal2009 2014-02-23 02:10
The issue of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay is a very hotly debated topic, and rightly so. The treatment of the inmates held there is unconscionable. The fact that almost all of these individuals are have been detained for years, many more than a decade, without any proof of participating in terrorism in any way is detestable. It amazes me that all Americans have not yet stood up against these atrocities. If you allow one group of people to be mistreated and abused without standing up for their rights, it only makes it easier for the next group to be abused. We as people need to stand up against these atrocities and push for Guantanamo Bay to be closed.
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0 # Katgrl15 2014-02-23 03:49
Even though human rights are extremely important sand should not be violated, I believe that the more crucial problem within Guantanamo Bay is not the violation of human rights but the inhumane living conditions. As Americans we value our rights and are entitled to having our freedoms but I think that Guantanamo really crossed the line with their torturous methods of punishments against in fibulas that are undeserving of it. In essence the tortuous conditions could be considered a subdivision of human rights, but inhuman rights seem vague and too broad of what should be exams at Guantanamo Bay. Being held against your own will is one issue but to be physically and mentally abused is a serious problem because that can long term negative effects. These effects could consistent of mental disease to brutal scars or paralysis. I believe that human rights in a political aspect should not be violated but punishment methods should be addressed first and the rest will fall into place.
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0 # KT10 2014-02-23 06:31
One question I had while reading this article, why aren't the people in charge of Guantanamo being charged as criminals by organizations like the UN? It's sort of ironic that they're arresting some guilty people of crimes they committed, while they themselves are the criminals going against the law. my question is why aren't they being prosecuted by lawyers, don't they have rights to put them on trial. Our government is guilty of crimes, going against human right acts,and abusing innocent people yet they go into other countries and accuse them of crimes and run their country.I think we should focus more on domestic problems and fix our own government. Our country is so big on freedom and constitutional rights, they're depriving these criminals of them, so it's very hypocritical to some of these American 'criminals'.
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0 # sintricity08 2014-02-23 23:25
People who have the power to create places of torture such as Guantanamo, are not going to be challenged about their legitimacy. They have the power and force to coerce and persuade people to keep them from getting into trouble and until that power begins to crumble with in itself, they will remain unchecked and unchallenged by laws people like us can be affected by.
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0 # CH 2782 2014-02-26 09:24
KT 10, I agree with your comment above. I am also puzzled in the way the system is trying to "help" its people. I feel the system is responsible for the damages these institutions are causing towards its prisoners and its people. In my SW 318 class, we discussed about the legal system and how “we do not make-up the system, the system makes and shapes us.” If it was up to an individual who determined the decisions, we might try to argue and persuade that person, therefore, how can you persuade or try to go against the system? In Life without Parole by Victor Hassine, David is a prisoner in Graterford prison who blamed the system for the explosion of prison rape in prison. “[As for the system], I still don’t trust them because they are the true predators and rapers of the people” (Hassine 83). The system was the source of him becoming a raper.
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Elaine Brower 2

Elaine Brower of World Can't Wait speaking at the NYC Stop the War on Iran rally 2/4/12