Thursday, September 22, 2011
I had a rare opportunity today to spend the day at Guantanamo Bay observing US Government operations there. There are currently 171 detainees at Guantanamo Bay, four of whom have been convicted. The rest await trial by military commission. At its height, the facility had as many as 670 detainees there at one time. No new detainees have been brought to Guantanamo Bay since 2008.
Long gone is the infamous Camp X-Ray, which was only used during the first three months detainees were brought to the US Naval Base beginning in 2002. Now most of the detainees are housed in Camp V where they have access to TV, books, classes and many other amenities. The base has a cultural advisor who helps to ensure religious beliefs are respected such as prayer times and appropriate
diets. Detainees who are disciplinary problems or higher risk are housed in other camps with higher security. Some of the detainees are engaged in periodic or prolonged hunger strikes. Others throw "cocktails" of bodily fluids at the guards. The US military personnel at the base clearly have a difficult job trying to maintain order and discipline while treating the detainees as humanely as possible under the circumstances
We also toured Camp Justice which was built in 2008 to conduct trials by military commissions. It is a state of the art courtroom equipped with impressive technology, space for media and for the families of both the defendants and the victims. The legal staff at Guantanamo Bay anticipates charges being filed soon against one of the alleged bombers of the USS Cole and the five detainees believed to be responsible for the attacks of 9/11. Once charges are preferred, the official trials will begin.
Much legal uncertainty remains. Moving forward with military commission trials will certainly be a step in the right direction for detainees who have been held for years without formal charges. However, the possibility of indefinite detention lingers. The Obama Administration is in the process of creating review boards to periodically review individual cases to determine whether continued detention is necessary. But it remains unclear whether all detainees will be released even after serving any sentences if security concerns remain.