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UN experts say after 20 years of running 'ugly' Guantanamo prison, US must close it down

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
File photo of the notorious US military prison at Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay (photo by AFP)

A group of the United Nations experts have strongly urged the US to act on its promise to close down its detention center at Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay, calling the facility’s 2002-present period of operation “an ugly chapter of unrelenting human rights violations."

The demand came in a statement released by more than a dozen independent UN human rights experts on Monday.

The undersigned voiced outrage that the military prison was still in operation two decades after being set up under Washington’s self-proclaimed “war on terror” campaign.

"Twenty years of practicing arbitrary detention without trial accompanied by torture or ill-treatment is simply unacceptable for any government, particularly a government which has a stated claim to protecting human rights," the UN experts said.

The experts called on the US Government to close the site, return detainees home or to safe third countries while respecting the principle of non-refoulement, provide remedy and reparation for those egregiously tortured and arbitrarily detained by their agents, and hold those that authorized and engaged in torture accountable as required under international law.

The experts condemned the lack of adequate medical assistance and torture rehabilitation to rehabilitate torture victims both at Guantanamo and after transfer—both of which are plainly required under international law.

“The stress that the vulnerability of these individuals and the anguish experienced by their families continue without end in sight,” they said.

‘Unparalleled notoriety’

"Guantanamo Bay is a site of unparalleled notoriety, defined by the systematic use of torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment against hundreds of men brought to the site and deprived of their most fundamental rights," the UN experts said in another part of their statement.

The experts said Guantanamo Bay was also a profound symbol of the systematic lack of accountability for and censorship of the practice of state-sponsored torture and ill treatment and the unacceptable impunity granted to those responsible.

“When a State fails to hold accountable those who have authorized and practiced torture and other cruel inhuman or degrading treatment it sends a signal of complacency and acquiescence to the world,” they said.

There are 39 prisoners left at the facility, down from nearly 680 that it used to hold at its peak in 2003. Most have been languishing there without charge and proceedings for their release have been delayed at the pretrial state for years.

In the past 20 years, the ill-famed prison has come to be known as the symbol of US human rights abuses. Many detainees – mostly Muslim men – were tortured or held for years without charges.

The experts pointed out that between 2002 and 2021, nine detainees died in custody--seven of whom reportedly from suicide. None had been charged with a crime, they said.

Washington’s promises of closing down the site go back to the first tenure of former President Barack Obama between 2009 and 2013.

Obama had made the closing of Guantanamo one of his top priorities and issued an executive order to do so soon after taking office in 2009. However, he failed to achieve that goal by the end of his second term in face of stiff opposition in Congress. His successor, Donald Trump, rescinded Obama’s order to close Guantanamo.

Human rights advocates have also expressed increasing frustration with US President Joe Biden for failing to deliver on a pledge to close Guantanamo Bay, leaving inmates languishing in the notorious offshore prison with no end in sight.

“President Biden has stated his intention to close Guantanamo as a matter of policy but has not taken substantial steps toward closure,” Wells Dixon, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, told the Associated Press. The New York-based organization has a track record of challenging indefinite detentions without charge at the offshore prison.

The prison’s continued existence, critics say, is a reminder to the world of torture methods by the United States that President Obama once said left a “stain on our broader record.”

The critics grew to include Michael Lehnert, a now-retired Marine Corps major general who was tasked with opening the offshore prison but came to view it as antithetical to American values and interests.

“To me, the existence of Guantanamo is anathema to everything that we represent, and it needs to be closed for that reason,” Lehnert said.

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