U.S. control of Guantánamo Bay came about through the end of the Spanish-American war and the Platt Amendment. This amendment was initiated in 1903 and outlined seven conditions for the U.S. withdrawal from Cuba. The United States intervened at the end of the Spanish-American War, taking credit for Cuban independence from Spain. The Platt Amendment was an amendment to the Cuban constitution that supposedly gave Cuba sovereignty, however it included conditions that allowed for U.S. intervention and the ability for the United States to lease or buy lands in order to establish naval bases. The U.S. was allowed to create up to four naval bases on the island of Cuba, but only ever built one, at Guantánamo Bay. The Platt Amendment was repealed in 1934, which is why the Cuban government considers the U.S. occupation of Guantánamo Bay illegal.
After Bush political appointees at the U.S. Office of Legal Counsel, Department of Justice advised the Bush administration that the camp could be considered outside U.S. legal jurisdiction, military guards took the first twenty detainees to Camp X-Ray on 11 January 2002. At the time, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the detention camp was established to detain extraordinarily dangerous people, to interrogate detainees in an optimal setting, and to prosecute detainees for war crimes. In practice, the site has long been used for enemy combatants.
The DoD at first kept secret the identity of the individuals held in Guantanamo, but after losing attempts to defy a Freedom of Information Act request from the Associated Press, the U.S. military officially acknowledged holding 779 prisoners in the camp.
The Bush administration asserted that detainees were not entitled to any of the protections of the Geneva Conventions, while also claiming it was treating “all detainees consistently with the principles of the Geneva Convention.” Ensuing U.S. Supreme Court decisions since 2004 have determined otherwise and that U.S. courts do have jurisdiction: it ruled in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld on 29 June 2006, that detainees were entitled to the minimal protections listed under Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. Following this, on 7 July 2006 the Department of Defense issued an internal memo stating that detainees would, in the future, be entitled to protection under Common Article 3.
Current and former detainees have reported abuse and torture, which the Bush administration denied. In a 2005 Amnesty International report, the facility was called the “Gulag of our times.” In 2006, the United Nations unsuccessfully demanded that Guantanamo Bay detention camp be closed. On 13 January 2009, Susan J. Crawford, appointed by Bush to review DoD practices used at Guantanamo Bay and oversee the military trials, became the first Bush administration official to concede that torture occurred at Guantanamo Bay on one detainee (Mohammed al-Qahtani), saying “We tortured Qahtani.”
In 2010, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, a former aide to Secretary of State Colin Powell, stated in an affidavit that top U.S. officials, including President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, had known that the majority of the detainees initially sent to Guantánamo were innocent, but that the detainees had been kept there for reasons of political expedience. Wilkerson’s statement was submitted in connection with a lawsuit filed in federal district court by former detainee Adel Hassan Hamad against the United States government and several individual officials. This supported numerous claims made by former detainees like Moazzam Begg, a British citizen who had been held for three years in detention camps in Afghanistan and Guantanamo as an enemy combatant, under the claim that he was an al-Qaeda member who recruited for, and provided money for, al-Qaeda training camps and himself trained there to fight US or allied troops.
Camp Delta was a 612-unit detention center finished in April 2002. It included detention camps 1 through 4, as well as Camp Echo, where detainees not facing military commissions are held.
Camp X-Ray was a temporary detention facility, which was closed in April 2002. Its prisoners were transferred to Camp Delta.
In 2008, the Associated Press reported Camp 7, a separate facility on the naval base that was considered the highest security jail on the base. That facility held detainees previously imprisoned in a global, clandestine network of CIA prisons. The precise location of Camp 7 has never been confirmed. In early April 2021, Camp 7 was shut down due to deteriorating conditions of the facilities. The five prisoners remaining were transferred to Camp 5.
Camp 5, as well as Camp 6, were built in 2003–04. They are modeled after a high security facility in Indiana. In September 2016, Camp 5 was closed and a portion of it dedicated to use as a medical facility for detainees. A portion of Camp 5 was again re-dedicated in early April 2021, when Camp 7 so-called “high value” former CIA detainees were moved there. In Camp 6, the U.S Government detains those who are not convicted in military commissions.Camp 6 – SourceWatch
In January 2010, Scott Horton published an article in Harper’s Magazine describing “Camp No“, a black site about 1 mile (1.6 km) outside the main camp perimeter, which included an interrogation center. His description was based on accounts by four guards who had served at Guantanamo. They said prisoners were taken one at a time to the camp, where they were believed to be interrogated. He believes that the three detainees that DoD announced as having committed suicide were questioned under torture the night of their deaths.
From 2003 to 2006, the CIA operated a small site, known informally as “Penny Lane,” to house prisoners whom the agency attempted to recruit as spies against Al-Qaeda. The housing at Penny Lane was less sparse by the standards of Guantanamo Bay, with private kitchens, showers, televisions, and beds with mattresses. The camp was divided into eight units. Its existence was revealed to the Associated Press in 2013.
A 2013 Institute on Medicine as a Profession (IMAP) report concluded that health professionals working with the military and intelligence services “designed and participated in cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment and torture of detainees.” Medical professionals were ordered to ignore ethical standards during involvement in abusive interrogation, including monitoring of vital signs under stress-inducing procedures. They used medical information for interrogation purposes and participated in force-feeding of hunger strikers, in violation of World Medical Association and American Medical Association prohibitions.
Supporters of controversial techniques have declared that certain protections of the Third Geneva Convention do not apply to Al-Qaeda or Taliban fighters, claiming that the Convention applies to only military personnel and guerrillas who are part of a chain of command, wear distinctive insignia, bear arms openly, and abide by the rules of war. Jim Phillips of The Heritage Foundation said that “some of these terrorists who are not recognized as soldiers don’t deserve to be treated as soldiers.” Critics of U.S. policy, such as George Monbiot, claimed the government had violated the Conventions in attempting to create a distinction between “prisoners of war” and “illegal combatants.” Amnesty International called the situation “a human rights scandal” in a series of reports.
One of the allegations of abuse at the camp is the abuse of the religion of the detainees. Prisoners released from the camp have alleged incidents of abuse of religion including flushing the Quran down the toilet, defacing the Quran, writing comments and remarks on the Quran, tearing pages out of the Quran, and denying detainees a copy of the Quran. One of the justifications offered for the continued detention of Mesut Sen, during his Administrative Review Board hearing, was:
Emerging as a leader, the detainee has been leading the detainees around him in prayer. The detainees listen to him speak and follow his actions during prayer.
The use of Guantánamo Bay as a military prison has drawn criticism from human rights organizations and others, who cite reports that detainees have been tortured or otherwise poorly treated. Supporters of the detention argue that trial review of detentions has never been afforded to prisoners of war, and that it is reasonable for enemy combatants to be detained until the cessation of hostilities.Guantanamo Bay detention camp – Wikipedia