Guantanamo Bay: Shame for the Entire World

Miguel Concha, OP is a Dominican friar and Co-Promoter of Justice, Peace and Care of Creation in Latin America

Four years after the US government began to use the Guantánamo base as a prison; the international society continues to manifest its indignation and calls for this center of violation of fundamental rights to be closed forever. On Feb 14th, the contents of a 50 page report that a group of experts presented to the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations in Geneva filtered out to the press. According to the available information, the group demands the dismantling of this detention center and that all those detained be brought before independent tribunals or immediately freed for lack of formal accusations.

Without delay, the Bush administration reacted, as is its custom in regard to themes that have to do with “the war against terrorism”, denying the truth of the report through the presidential spokesperson Scott McClellan, who tried to lessen the validity of the conclusions of these experts by saying: “It is a discredit to the United Nations that a team makes a report without observing the facts. The team based itself solely on presumptions” This accusation has its origin in the fact that the group refused the invitation that the government offered to them to visit Guantánamo, because it was to be a type of guided visit without the right to interview detained persons, nor to move freely within the base, which violates existing international standards for visits to centers of reclusion. It ought to be taken into account nevertheless, that the group of experts had asked for total and unrestricted access to the base since 2002, a permission that was repeatedly denied and visits that were programmed with anticipation were inexplicably delayed by the government in Washington.

The shameful situation of prisoners in Guantánamo is not an unknown fact in the world. Under the pretext of the war against terrorism, the US government has invented sophisticated explanations that violate the human rights of prisoners, and the prisons of Guantánamo and AbuGarib are only the more plausible examples of how measures directed supposedly toward ending human rights´ violations, have surpassed the limits of the basic dignity of persons. According to a report called “Guantánamo: Inhuman Lives”, presented by Amnesty International the past 6th of February, there are now around 500 prisoners of 35 distinct nationalities, many of whom have been victims of torture and are maltreated. There have been numerous suicide attempts because of this and fear for the physical and psychological conditions increase each day. This document is interesting also because it points out the responsibility of the authorities of the US for the daily suffering of the families of these prisoners all over the world, whose lives have been irreparably affected by the terrorist policy of the United States that is applied at this base.

Guantánamo is not only a legal limbo, unacceptable from whatever juridical point of view, but above all it is, for those affected, a real inferno and shame for the entire world. There is a saying that “all is fair in love and war”. This is not the case when one treats of war because there are certain minimums in international humanitarian law, established in the Geneva Conventions. Among these minimums is the agreement over the treatment of “prisoners of war”. The prisoners in Guantánamo have been classified by the government of the US as “enemy combatants”, a classification that does not exist in international norms and with that, they are skillfully not made subject to the sacred rights of the treaties of international humanitarian rights and of human rights to which they are obliged.

The international reaction over this theme has not let up, not only among the human rights organizations that realize this type of denouncement, but also at the level of State. Such is the case with Germany, which through its head of state Angela Merkel, recommended to President Bush that he close the detention center. In the same way, the Secretary General of the United Nations recently supported the central conclusion of the United Nations report, in declaring that those detained ought to be brought before justice and that the center should be closed sooner or later. The recognition by the US citizenry of these facts, as well as other acts that go against the dignity of every human being, such as videos of torture and forced disappearance, have resulted in an increasing repudiation of the government of George Bush and has generated the impression that in our neighboring country to the north there is a repressive government worse that that existing in the times of McCarthyism.

Translation: Doris Regan, O.P. (Columbus)

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