The Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp is a detainment and interrogation facility located within Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. It was established in 2002 by the Bush Administration with the purpose of holding detainees from the war in Afghanistan and later Iraq
Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp has been controversial both in the US and the rest of the world. Critics maintain that the prisoners are being denied basic human rights and justice by being held for so long without trial. Also, they claim that the interrogation techniques used in the camp must be defined as torture. Prisoners have reported severe beatings, mock execution, and near asphyxiation from water (water boarding). Other techniques used to extort information from the detainees have been sleep deprivation, forced positions, exposure to extreme temperatures and forced nudity.
Pentagon officials have acknowledged that the interrogation techniques at times have been more arduous than normal. However, they insist that there has been no torture authorized at Guantanamo, and that the prisoners are treated humanely.
Opponents of the camp refer to the Bill of Rights (1791) in their fight to close the camp. The 6th Amendment states that every prisoner is entitled to a “speedy and public trial” while the 8th Amendment concludes that no one shall be exposed to “cruel and unusual punishment”. In other words, the actions in the camp are in violation of the US Constitution. Also, they are in breach of the Geneva Convention. This treaty specifies the rules regarding “proper” or “civilized” conduct in warfare, and it specifies how prisoners of war are to be treated.
The defenders of the camp on the other hand, claim that Guantanamo Bay has been a success. They believe it has helped keeping America safe, and interrogations have brought invaluable information which has prevented further attacks on American soil. The prisoners are treated humanely and in accordance with the Geneva Convention. The US government has classified them as “unlawful combatants”, and they are therefore denied prisoner-of-war status (POW), which means they can be kept indefinitely without a trial. They also fall outside the protection of the US Constitution since the detainees never have been within territory over which the US has sovereignty, thus they have no access to American courts.
When Barack Obama was elected President in 2009 he promised that the Detention Centre would be closed within a year, but after over two years in office this has proven to be a very difficult promise to keep. Today, there are about 170 prisoners left in the detention camp, and no one knows when or if they will ever be released.
Tasks and Activities
Reading for Information
Work together in groups of three. Read one article each and take notes as you read. Compare notes afterwards.
- Write an informal letter to an American friend where you express your opinion about the Detention Centre, whether or not the US can justify their policy, and what you think should be done with the camp.
- Use the text you have written, make it formal and change it into a Letter to the Editor.
You can read about style here.
Watch the animation How to Write a Letter to the Editor
Reading StatisticsStudy and discuss the statistics from 2009 below.
- Which country has the most positive view on torture?
- Which country has the most negative view on torture?
- What is US public opinion on torture?
- Are there any numbers here you find surprising?
- In what way do the European countries stand out?
- Norway is not on the chart. If it had been, which country do you think we could best compare it with?
- Imagine the Norwegian police were expecting a terrorist attack in Norway, and the time and place could only be revealed through torture of a suspect. In your personal view, would torture then be acceptable?