Human rights activists marched from the White House to the Supreme Court building earlier this month to protest the perpetually delayed closure of the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay.
The group demonstrated against President Obama’s failure to uphold his original campaign promise to shut down the facility upon his election. This month marks the ten year anniversary of the military site’s use, which continues to elicit strong responses from supporters and detractors over its procedures’ legality and constitutionality.
According to third-year global studies and economics major Armand Amin, Human Rights Board’s Persian Student Group co-president, public apathy toward the facility jeopardizes basic human rights.
“I believe it’s extremely important that we recognize and understand that what our government has undertaken with Guantanamo and various other CIA black sites directly works against the human rights agreements that the international community created in order to protect itself from the recurrence of the atrocities of the mid-20th century,” Amin said.
In 2002, the Bush administration instituted a policy allowing the government to detain prisoners affiliated with terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda without trial at Guantanamo Bay.
Amin said the detention camp’s operations violate several international laws established in the Geneva Conventions regarding the treatment of prisoners.
“Essentially and technically, the imprisonment without trial of individuals during wartime is a violation of the Geneva Conventions,” Amid said. “It is very disturbing when the world’s largest military power deploys its troops in a region and boasts of freedom and independence, only to violate those principles during its occupation in the region.”
According to Amin, many dismiss the notion that prisoners deserve humane treatment due to possible connections to terrorist groups.
“I have no ideological ties to those in Guantanamo, but I do share a humanitarian link with them,” Amin said. “I understand that those detained in Guantanamo have families. I understand that if conditions were different, if Afghanistan and the Middle East weren’t under the constant military pressure and influence of imperial forces, many of those detainees would not have chosen to affiliate with violent extremism. I believe that Guantanamo is just another extension of those conditions — conditions that perpetrate torture and deny individuals the right to due process. At the end of the day, a ‘terrorist’ is still a human being.”
The alleged mistreatment of prisoners and denial of protections guaranteed under the Geneva Conventions have stirred international disapproval.
According to political science professor Christopher Sprecher, who specializes in international relations, the base provides an indefinite holding place outside U.S. legal jurisdiction.
“Basically, if you look back, it’s a place to take captured insurgents — Taliban or Al Qaeda — particularly from Afghanistan but then later from Iraq, to put them in a place and subject them as enemy combatants,” Sprecher said. “Because they’re viewed as terrorists, they’re not under the hospices of the Geneva Conventions and therefore we can hold them without trial for a long time and put them under military justice.”
Sprecher said frequently proposed alternatives include trying prisoners in military tribunals or sending them back to Afghanistan for its government to hold the trial.
The detainees’ extrajudicial status blurs the appropriate line of actions for the government to take, Sprecher said.
“The argument that tends to be made is that if you are a combatant under the Geneva Conventions’ rules, you are wearing a uniform of a country, you are in the regular armed forces and therefore if you are captured in the battlefield you are accorded certain rights,” Sprecher said. “If you are a non-combatant, someone who is an insurgent or terrorist leader, you do not have such rights accorded to you because you are not considered a state actor.”
Political science professor Gayle Binion said the judicial structure regarding insurgents requires adjustments to allow fair trial.
“From the perspective of someone concerned with civil liberties and constitutional rights, and not a specialist in international relations, I think most pressing with respect to Guantanamo is the long overdue pressing need to develop due process principles that are applicable to detainees,” Binion said. “The principles in the Geneva Conventions should be a ‘floor’ … and not simply ignored as largely inapplicable.”