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Center for Constitutional Rights Experts Dispute Government Assertion That Guantánamo Complies With Geneva Conventions
February 23, 2009, New York – The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) released a report on the current conditions in Camps 5, 6, and Echo following the press conference today of Adm. Patrick M. Walsh, the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, who delivered his own report on conditions to the White House on Friday. Adm. Walsh determined in his report that conditions at the base meet the standards of the Geneva Conventions, an assertion the attorneys dispute.
CCR’s report, “Conditions of Confinement at Guantanamo: Still in Violation of the Law,” covers conditions at Guantánamo in January and February 2009 and includes new eyewitness accounts from attorneys and detainees. The authors address continuing abusive conditions at the prison camp, including conditions of confinement that violate U.S. obligations under the Geneva Conventions, the U.S. Constitution and international human rights law.
“The men at Guantánamo are deteriorating at a rapid rate due to the harsh conditions that continue to this day, despite a few cosmetic changes to their routines,” said CCR Staff Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei. “They are caught in a vicious cycle where their isolation causes psychological damage, which causes them to act out, which brings more abuse and keeps them in isolation. If they are going to be there another year, or even another day, this has to end.”
Despite President Obama’s executive order of January 22, 2009, requiring humane standards of confinement at Guantanamo and conformity with “all applicable laws governing the conditions of such confinement,” including the Geneva Conventions, attorneys assert that detainees at Guantanamo have continued to suffer from solitary confinement, psychological abuse, abusive force-feeding of hunger strikers, religious abuse, and physical abuse and threats of violence from guards and Immediate Reaction Force (IRF) teams.
The majority of the men being detained are in isolation. They go weeks without seeing the sun. Fluorescent lights, however, remain on 24 hours a day in Camp 5. According to the report, “improvements” cited by the military are, by and large, public relations activities rather than meaningful improvements in detainees’ conditions.
In a declaration made February 13, 2009, Col. Bruce Vargo, Commander of the Joint Detention Group at Guantánamo, stated that, “There are no solitary confinement detention areas at JTF-GTMO…Detainees typically are able to communicate with other detainees either face-to-face or by spoken word from their cells throughout the day.” By this, say attorneys, he means that the men can yell through the metal food slot in the solid steel doors of their cells when it is left open and through the crack between the door and the floor.
The report details multiple cases of abuse occurring in the last month and a half. For example, “On the afternoon of January 7, 2009, Yasin Ismael was in one of the outdoor cages of Camp 6 for 'recreation' time. The cage was entirely in the shade. Mr. Ismael asked to be moved to the adjoining empty cage because it had sunlight entering from the top. The guards, who were outside the cages, refused. One guard told Mr. Ismael that he was 'not allowed to see the sun.' Angered, Mr. Ismael threw a shoe against the inner mesh side of the cage; which bounced harmlessly back onto the cage floor. The guards, however, accused Mr. Ismael of attacking them and left him in the cage as punishment. He eventually fell asleep on the floor of the cage, but hours later he was awakened by the sound of an IRF team entering the cage in the dark. The team shackled him, and he put up no resistance. They then beat him. They blocked his nose and mouth until he felt that he would suffocate, and hit him repeatedly in the ribs and head. They then took him back to his cell. As he was being taken back, a guard urinated on his head. Mr. Ismael was badly injured and his ear started to bleed, leaving a large stain on his pillow. The attack on Mr. Ismael was confirmed by at least one other detainee.”
One detainee in Camp 6 wrote to his attorney in January 2009, “As I told you, we are in very bad condition, suffering from aggression, beating and IRF teams, as well as the inability to sleep except for a few hours. Soldiers here are on a high alert state and if one of us dares to leave his cell and comes back without any harm, he is considered as a man who survived an inevitable danger."
Hunger strikes continue among a large number of men at Guantanamo. Hunger strikers are brutally force-fed using a restraint chair and often unsanitary feeding tubes, and are beaten for refusing food, a practice that continued within the last month and a half. Force-feeding hunger strikers is considered by the World Medical Association to be a violation of medical ethics and has continued unabated since President Obama’s Executive Order.
Detainees are still denied access to communal prayer: military officials continue to classify hearing a call to prayer through a food slot as communal prayer, which does not comport with the requirements of Islam. There has been no Muslim chaplain at Guantanamo since 2003, despite repeated requests. In addition, the report found that then men are also subject to body search procedures that require the men to subject themselves to a scanner that visually strips the men naked each time they leave their cells for attorney meetings or recreation. This humiliating and degrading experience, particularly given the men’s strong religious background, has led them to stay in their cells all day, refusing attorney meetings and recreation entirely.
The Center for Constitutional Rights issued a series of recommendations to ensure the conditions at Guantanamo satisfy legal standards for the humane treatment of the detainees during the interim period while its closure is being implemented. They are, in brief,
CCR has led the legal battle over Guantanamo for the last six years – sending the first ever habeas attorney to the base and sending the first attorney to meet with a former CIA “ghost detainee” there. CCR has been responsible for organizing and coordinating more than 500 pro bono lawyers across the country in order to represent the men at Guantanamo, ensuring that nearly all have the option of legal representation. In addition, CCR has been working to resettle the approximately 60 men who remain at Guantánamo because they cannot return to their country of origin for fear of persecution and torture.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.