She Made a First-of-Its-Kind Visit to Guantanamo

Independent UN monitor was permitted to visit the detention center
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 28, 2023 9:55 AM CDT
She Made a First-of-Its-Kind Visit to Guantanamo
In this photo reviewed by US military officials, the control tower of the Camp VI detention facility is seen on April 17, 2019, at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.   (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Since its 2002 opening, no UN human rights investigators had been permitted to visit Guantanamo Bay. That changed in February, when Irish law professor Fionnuala Ni Aolain was granted access—and what she found was "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment." The UN special rapporteur spent four days at the detention center and met with a number of the 34 prisoners there at the time (the number now stands at 30; her report notes 780 Muslim men have been detained there), as well as met with 9/11 families. The Guardian frames her resulting 23-page report as containing "searing words," as did a Monday press conference.

"After two decades of custody, the suffering of those detained is profound, and it's ongoing," said Ni Aolain. "Every single detainee I met with lives with the unrelenting harms that follow from systematic practices of rendition, torture, and arbitrary detention." She noted that the US owes Guantanamo's inmates an apology, and that the center should be shuttered, per NBC News: "Closure of the facility remains a priority." In a submission to the Human Rights Council regarding the report, the US emphasized that the special investigator's findings "are solely her own" and that "the United States disagrees in significant respects with many factual and legal assertions" in her report. Standout details from said report, which can be read in full here:

  • "In every meeting she held with a detainee or former detainee, the SR was told with great regret that she had arrived 'too late.' She agrees. At the time of her visit only 34 detainees remained at the site. It is evident that the horror and harms of extraordinary rendition, arbitrary detention, and systematic torture, cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment inflicted over time occurred in part because of ... the lack of international law compliant domestic oversight and accountability."
  • She credited the US government for making the "meaningful step" of allowing her visit, knowing it "would put its detention practices, repatriation and resettlement efforts, and treatment of victims and family members of the 9/11 terrorist attacks under close scrutiny. .... It is a sign of a commitment to international law that the visit occurred." The AP notes Ni Aolain said she received access to everything she asked for.

  • Every detainee past and present "lives(/d) with their own distinct experiences of unrelenting psychological and physical trauma of withstanding profound human rights abuse."
  • "She positively recognizes that the current conditions at Camps 5 and 6 include the requisite sleeping accommodations, sanitation, food service, recreational facilities and activities, and communal prayer under internationally accepted standards for the majority of detainees."
  • "Arbitrariness pervades the entirety of the Guantanamo detention infrastructure."
  • She found that several procedures in place "constitute at a minimum, cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment." Among them, the requirement that all detainees are addressed by their Internment Serial Number rather than their name, a "deliberate choice" in place for over 20 years that "undermines each detainee's self-worth and dignity."
  • Ni Aolain experienced "a heartfelt response" by many detainees to encountering a person who wasn't a lawyer or associated with Guantanamo, in some case for the first time in decades, per the AP.
  • She found many detainees showed evidence of "deep psychological harm and distress—including profound anxiety, helplessness, hopelessness, stress and depression, and dependency."
  • She expressed that she is "gravely concerned by the failure of the US Government to provide torture rehabilitation programs."
  • She observed "with profound concern that of the 30 men remaining at Guantanamo, 19 men have never [emphasis hers] been charged with a single crime—in some cases, after more than 20 years of detention in US custody."
(More Guantanamo Bay stories.)

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