Report

Guantánamo Bay Military Prison: Narratives and Numbers

Published on 04 Nov 2020

Introduction

The Guantánamo Bay Data Project serves as a central source of information on the Guantánamo Bay Military Prison. This project provides a comprehensive picture of the prison, centering the lives of the boys and men detained at the naval base. It depicts the global impact Guantánamo has had on the lives of hundreds of Muslims, their families, and communities as a whole.

Many discussions of the U.S. Guantánamo base focus solely on the role, legal rationale, costs, and management of the U.S. government. However, this project seeks to highlight the trauma inflicted upon those held at the prison and the larger ‘war on terror’ apparatus that has wielded Islamophobia to justify the illegal imprisonment 780 Muslim boys and men, many of whom were subject to torture

This resource provides visualized demographic data on every single person who has been imprisoned at Guantánamo, including age, country of origin, country of repatriation, “non-enemy combatant” status, and listed mental illnesses. We also provide an overview of the history, laws, and policies of the naval prison, a more in-depth discussion of the aggregated data, the status of those who remain imprisoned, and future plans for the prison.

History

The military prison at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base opened on January 11, 2002 and was created in order to house suspected terrorists captured in the US-led global “War on Terror.” Located in Cuba, the naval base was chosen as the site of the military prison due to its uncertain legal status—allowing the U.S. government to argue that those detained at the base were not entitled to certain rights under U.S. laws.

The naval base at Guantánamo Bay is technically not American territory. Due to an agreement it coerced Cuba into signing in 1903—following the 1898 Spanish–American War—the U.S. rents the land from the Cuban government. The current prison at Guantánamo Bay was preceded by one where Haitian refugees fleeing a coup d’état were sent in the 1990s and overseen by then-Attorney General William Barr (who is currently serving his second term as Attorney General in the Trump administration). Cubans seeking asylum were also sent there. At its peak, the camp held around twelve thousand Haitian refugees. Additionally, a separate camp housed around 300 Haitian refugees who were found to be HIV positive in what has been called “an HIV prison camp.” District Court Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. later found this practice to be a violation of the U.S. constitution.

The current prison at Guantánamo Bay is made up of several distinct camps, differentiated by security level, transparency, and individuals who are detained. In total, those imprisoned have been held in 12 publicly acknowledged sites, most of which are currently empty. Some of the most notorious of these sites are Camp Iguana, Camp 7, Camp Echo, and Camp X-Ray. Camp Iguana was initially created for minors imprisoned in Guantánamo. Camp 7 was created to house former blacksite prisoners, and its existence was not revealed until late 2007. It has never been seen by representatives of the media. Fifteen men are currently imprisoned there. Camp Echo was originally a CIA blacksite. Camp X-Ray was the first camp built, and consisted mainly of cells made from chain link fencing. It was images of Camp X-Ray that prompted the first major public outcry against the prison.

Since its inception, 780 individuals have been detained at the Guantánamo Bay prison. The majority of detainees had origins in Central Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. The top five countries of origin—Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan, and Algeria—represent almost seventy-five percent of all detainees. A significant number of detainees also had origins in Western Europe, East Africa, and Southeast Asia.

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To date, Guantánamo Bay Naval Base has imprisoned 780 Muslim men and boys from over 72 countries. 450 of them have come from just three, represented in red in the graphic: Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen.

Laws and Policies

“They couldn't show people what they were really doing, because what they were really doing was illegal and inhumane. It's such a fraud. It reminds me of the special concentration camps set up in World War II. They would take the Red Cross there to see there was an orchestra and all sorts of nice things." -Michael Ratner

As of November 2020, the military prison at Guantánamo has been open for 18 years and ten months. Because of the prison’s location, the U.S. government has claimed that detainees are not covered by the U.S. Constitution. Further, under the administration of George W. Bush, the government created the “enemy combatant” label. Those designated as enemy combatants were then denied even further legal protections, such as the right to have a lawyer, to be informed of the charges against them, and even to be tried. A number of experts, former detainees, and states have described the military prison at Guantánamo as a “concentration camp.”

There have been great delays in regards to the trials in part due to disputes over what evidence should be ruled inadmissible because of its connection to torture. Additionally, defense lawyers have struggled to carry out their responsibilities due to government interference. For example, the CIA has forbidden defense lawyers from contacting any person involved with the blacksites in order to interview them. In 2013, lawyers discovered listening devices hidden in smoke detectors in rooms where they met with their clients. The following year two FBI agents approached a contractor working with the defense team and attempted to recruit him as an informant, and in 2015 it was revealed that an interpreter in the Guantánamo courtroom had previously worked for the CIA at blacksites and had lied about that fact in his interview with the defense lawyers. 

Many of the detainees have reported being tortured by the U.S. government both at Guantánamo and at undisclosed blacksites around the world. A clear example of this is the case of Abu Zubaydah, who has been imprisoned for nearly 15 years. Despite being captured by U.S. forces in 2002, Zubaydah did not arrive at Guantanamo until 2006. Reports reveal that during this period, Zubaydah was tortured by the CIA at numerous blacksites around the world. He was the first detainee to be waterboarded (the CIA waterboarded Zubaydah a total of 83 times) amongst other torture techniques, which the U.S. government euphemistically referred to as “enhanced interrogation.” An unclassified 2009 document from the CIA revealed that between 2002-2008, 119 detainees were held under CIA detention with at least 34 subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques.” As always due to a lack of transparency and government secrecy, these numbers are likely incomplete. 

The torture program was designed by two American psychologists, James Mitchell and John Bruce Jessen. The U.S. government paid them “$1,800 a day and in 2005 they set up a private company, which provided most of the interrogators and most of the security staff at the ‘black sites’... The company was paid $81m for its services before its contract was terminated in 2009.” During the January 2020 pre-trial hearings at Guantánamo, Mitchell testified that he “would do it again,” referring to his role in the torture program. He had also defended his role back in 2014, stating “I’m just a guy who got asked to do something for his country by people at the highest level of government, and I did the best that I could.” This was following the release of the Senate intelligence report on the torture, which found that the “techniques” were not an “effective means of obtaining accurate information or gaining detainee cooperation.” and that “interrogations of CIA detainees were brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others.” In 2017, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture noted that, “By failing to prosecute the crime of torture in CIA custody, the US is in clear violation of the Convention against Torture and is sending a dangerous message of complacency and impunity to officials in the US and around the world.”

Guantánamo exists largely outside of the norms of conventional law, and thus has been able to operationally continue despite its violations of detainees legal and human rights. In 2001, then-President George W. Bush created the military commissions at Guantánamo Bay to “try foreign terrorism suspects in proceedings that lack the due process protections of U.S. federal courts.” In 2006, the Supreme Court had ruled the military commission system was unlawful (and violated Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions) because Congress had not authorized it, but in the same year (and again in 2009) Congress responded by passing the Military Commissions Act (MCA), “legitimizing a system of military tribunals that fails to meet fair trial and due process standards.” 

Discussion of Data

Overall, there is very little publicly available information when it comes to the Guantánamo Bay military prison. The U.S. government has maintained great secrecy over Guantánamo as a whole, resulting in difficulty obtaining vital data. We were primarily restricted to using government documentation which was released to the public by Wikileaks in 2011. The information in this data set comes primarily from the Joint Task Force (JTF) documents, which are a set of government intelligence assessments on each detainee. However, not every individual detained at Guantánamo had a JTF, demonstrating how the government’s processing of detainees in the early days of the “WoT” lacked structure and organization. 

Age

 

“When I get my release after seven years, the first child I saw it, my son. At that time, he become eight or nine years. I leave him baby and found him as nine years. The first one I saw it in hospital when they returned me back, in hospital, child is my son, Mohamed. We didn’t see child. We didn’t see family, just letter from them. And even that letters, they put crossing [censorship] some words.” - Sami Al-Hajj, January 2013

Age of Arrival at Guantánamo Bay Military Prison

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As old as 89, and as young as fifteen. The data includes  two detainees without birthdates and unknown ages of arrival.

Half of detainees at the Guantánamo Bay military prison were between the ages of twenty-one and thirty, representing one of the largest age groups. One of the oldest detainees held at Guantánamo was Mohammed Sadiq, an Afghan national who arrived to the prison at age 89. Some of the youngest detainees held at Guantánamo arrived at age 15: Abdul Qudus (929), an Afghan national; Asad Ullah (912), an Afghan national; and Naqib Ullah (913), an Afghan national. The average age of arrival for detainees was twenty-nine and a half years-old.

Mental Illness

“Some prisoners had arrived disturbed — traumatized adolescents hauled in from the battlefield, unstable adults who disrupted the cellblocks. Others, facing indefinite confinement, struggled with despair. Then there were prisoners who had developed symptoms including hallucinations, nightmares, anxiety or depression after undergoing brutal interrogations at the hands of Americans who were advised by other health personnel.”- New York Times, November 2016

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A total of 93 detained individuals were listed as living with a mental illness in their JTF documents. Of those individuals, 40 lived with a combination of two or more mental illnesses. Overall, there were 32 distinct mental illnesses acknowledged, with total occurrences of each mental illness adding up to 143. These figures are believed to be highly underreported.

Twelve percent of detainees—or 93 detained individuals—were documented as living with a mental illness during their imprisonment.  Of the individuals in this category, forty lived with a combination of two or more mental illnesses. Overall, JTF documents listed 32 distinct mental illnesses among detainees, with some listed more than once for a total of 143 instances listed. The five most common mental illnesses listed were Depression, Depressive Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, Personality Disorder, and Adjustment Disorder. Some form of depression—Depression and Depressive disorder—existed among fifteen percent of detained individuals living with a mental illness. Some form of anxiety—Anxiety Disorder, Anxiety, Panic Disorder, or Agoraphobia—existed among twenty percent of detainees living with a mental illness. A number of detainees were also noted in JTF documents as living with Schizophrenia, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Borderline Personality Disorder, and Panic Disorder. 

 “In the case of Guantánamo, some doctors have played a role in the government’s torture apparatus; others are employed by the same government that ordered incarcerated peoples’ torture in the first place. Even if that’s not the case, there is the argument that the consequences of having psychologists attend to the incarcerated people risks providing ‘ethical cover to an illegal detention site where detainees are still being tortured with painful forced feedings, solitary confinement, and the hopelessness induced by indefinite detention without charges.’ - Dr. Maha Hilal

The diagnoses listed in the JTF Assessments for psychiatric disorders among those imprisoned at Guantánamo require additional layers of scrutiny. For one, the role of psychiatrists and psychologists at Guantánamo was both that of torturer and provider of care. In fact, the U.S. military created two mental health teams at the military prison—one led by psychiatrists to provide relief and care, and another, called the Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT, pronounced “biscuit”), led by psychologists who designed torture programs intended to psychologically ‘break’ those detained at Guantánamo. The torture that interrogators inflicted on some detainees at Guantánamo included, according to the Justice Department’s inspector general, “loud music, strobe lights, cold temperatures, isolation, painful shackling, threats against family members and prolonged sleep deprivation.” Former Guantánamo personnel have also disclosed that there were no clear protocols for treating detainees who were designated “enemy combatants,” as opposed to the more conventional category of prisoners of war. Moreover, the frequent rotations of psychiatrists at Guantánamo meant that assignments lasted only three to nine months, making it difficult to “establish rapport” with those imprisoned at Guantánamo. Nonetheless, even if assignments were longer in duration, sufficient mental health care simply cannot be provided while detainees remain imprisoned at Guantánamo. 

These pervasive inadequacies in psychiatric care at the prison have both inflicted and exacerbated trauma, resulting in serious implications for those detained. For instance, psychiatrists “frequently had to speak through fences or slits in cell doors, using interpreters who also worked with interrogators,” and other times had to rely on other detainees to translate conversation, a serious breach of confidentiality. Moreover, according to a report by the Center for Victims of Torture and Physicians for Human Rights, due to psychiatrists’ “inability or unwillingness to ask detainees about torture or other traumatic experiences” they experienced at the hands of U.S. military or intelligence, incomplete medical histories “ led to misdiagnoses and improper treatment.” Additionally, due to the “history of medical complicity in torture” at Guantánamo, “many detainees distrust military medical professionals which has led repeatedly to detainees reasonably refusing care that they need.”

Finally, it is not clear from the JTF Assessments alone what criteria those evaluating the detainees utilized, nor the level of training the evaluators received in order to work in a place as uniquely notorious as Guantánamo. Some psychiatrists who worked at Guantánamo have disclosed that they were conditioned to despise and fear those detained. For instance, a former mental health team staff described how they were prepped to think the absolute worst of those detained: “You heard all these things about how terrible they are: Not only will they gouge your eyes out, but they’ll somehow tell their cohorts to go after your family. I became extremely hateful and spiteful.” Finally, in some cases, military doctors have flatly disagreed with independent evaluations by psychologists of those detained. This raises additional serious questions around undercounting—just how many detainees at Guantánamo live with psychiatric disorders worsened or as a result of the torture they experienced at Guantánamo that was not accounted for in the JTF Assessments? It is therefore clear that the JTF Assessments provide neither reliable, credible, nor complete records of the mental health of the Muslim men and boys who have been imprisoned at Guantánamo.

Enemy Combatant Status

Enemy Combatant Status Among Guantánamo Bay Military Prison Detainees

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Under the administration of George W. Bush, the government created the “enemy combatant” label, which allowed the government not only to justify detention at Guantánamo, but also deny detainees protections granted under the Geneva Convention. Nearly 26% of detainees have been declared non-enemy combatants.

“The ‘enemy combatant’ definition in use exceeds what is permissible under the Geneva Conventions; and scores, perhaps hundreds of men do not fit even within its broad reach. In brief, they were not soldiers. They engaged in no hostilities. In the chaos of wartime, many in Afghanistan and Pakistan were sold for money or as part of tribal or local grievances; others were picked up far from any battlefield.” the Center for Constitutional Rights, April 2007

Nearly twenty-six percent of detainees were assessed or retroactively assessed as non-enemy combatants. Fifteen percent of non-enemy combatants had a mental illness listed, and almost ninety-percent were repatriated to their country of origin. Through using the term enemy combatant, as opposed to ‘prisoner of war,’ the American government not only justified detention at Guantánamo, but could deny detainees protections granted under the Geneva Convention. Such protections include minimum conditions of detention concerning “accommodation, food, clothing, hygiene and medical care” and protection “against any act of violence, as well as against intimidation, insults, and public curiosity.” In 2009, the Obama administration decided to abandon use of the term, however, it still exists in war lexicon. As further explained by Peter Jan Honigsberg, Professor of Law at the University of San Francisco, “although originally intended as the United States’ designation for al Qaeda and Taliban captives, [the term enemy combatant] is now often indiscriminately applied to alleged terrorists throughout the world.” As an example, in the January 2020 killing of Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani, lawyers from the White House, Department of Justice, and Department of Defense deemed Soleimani an enemy combatant, thus adding further justification to the attack. 

Countries of Repatriation

“I lost over seven years of my life in detention by the US , from when I was 17. They took my family from me, my education, the years I would be building my life. I am trying now to rebuild, but I carry the stain of Guantanamo with me wherever I go, whoever I meet, whatever I do. It keeps me from being able to live like a normal person and have the same basic rights, even almost two years after my release. My detention was wrong, the things the U.S. government said about me were wrong, and I should have the chance to clear my name.” - Muhammed Khan Tumani, Former Detainee, April 2011 

Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates were the top five host—or third—countries of repatriated Guantánamo detainees, receiving nearly sixty-five percent of detainees. Under President George W. Bush, 533 former detainees were repatriated, while under President Barack Obama 197 were repatriated. President Donald Trump took a departure from the Obama administration era of Guantánamo policies, halting transfers and openly opposing efforts to close the prison. Since he took office, only one detainee has been repatriated to finish his war crimes sentence at a rehabilitation center in Saudi Arabia.

Of the forty individuals still detained at the Guantánamo Bay prison, five were previously cleared for transfer under the Obama administration. One such detainee is Muieen Abd al Sattar (309), a 45-year-old stateless Rohingya. A total of nine detainees died while in custody. Among those who died, three were Yemeni nationals, three were Saudi nationals, and three were Afghan nationals. Three deaths were recorded on June 10, 2006 alone.

“The idea seemed to be to get them out of Guantánamo at almost any cost … They were dropped into strange lands, with cultures, religions and language far different from their own, and where they were bound to be treated like pariahs.” - David Remes, Lawyer to Several Guantánamo Detainees, September 2016

Of the detainees who were repatriated to a known country, nearly twenty-two percent were sent to a country outside of their origin where they did not hold citizenship. In the top five countries of repatriation—Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Oman, and the UAE—the number of detainees who were citizens was split. Repatriation among non-citizens was ninety-seven percent in Oman, ninety-six percent in the UAE, and eleven percent in Saudi Arabia. Only two detainees repatriated to Afghanistan were non-citizens, and all detainees repatriated to Pakistan were citizens of Pakistan. 

Destinations of Repatriation Among Guantánamo Bay Military Prison Detainees

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Nearly 22% of detainees were sent to a third country not of their origin and where they do not hold citizenship. Ten detainees were repatriated to an unknown country. This graph does not include the nine detainees who have died while in custody. 

War, domestic instability, and humanitarian crises complicated repatriation back to the country of origin for a significant number of detainees. As an example, due to the civil war in Yemen, the U.S. tried to avoid resettling nationals back there. Of the Yemeni nationals who have been repatriated, nearly eighty percent have been repatriated outside of Yemen. Only eighteen percent of Libyan nationals were repatriated to Libya. According to an October 2007 report from the Center for Constitutional Rights, further at-risk countries include Algeria, China, Russia, Syria, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Uzbekistan, and stateless Palestinians. Furthermore, in certain countries, “the dangers of repatriation are individualized such that some nationals can safely return while others cannot.” Certain detainees refused to be repatriated to their country of origin due to fear of torture, imprisonment, or death. One such detainee is Omar Hamzayavich Abdulayev (257), a Tajik national, who announced through his lawyer in 2009 that he was “so fearful of return that he’d rather spend the rest of his life on this remote base in southeast Cuba.”

"When they brought me to Serbia they make my life worse. They totally kill my dreams. It's making my life worse. ... Not because I like Guantanamo, but my life become worse here. I feel I am in another jail," Mansoor al-Dayfi, Former Detainee, February 2017

While residing in countries outside of their origin, detainees have faced uncertain legal statuses, distance from relatives, and difficulty in finding work, learning the language of the host country, and marrying and starting families. Furthermore, receiving countries have typically “agreed not to let the former detainees travel for two or three years, leaving ambiguous what would come next.” There is also the risk of statelessness, particularly for detainees who have had their citizenship revoked. 

Resettlement agreements with a few countries have fallen apart within recent years. In April 2018, Senegal deported two former Libyan detainees back to Libya. According to reporting from the New York Times, “after a traumatic journey, the Libyans apparently fell into the hands of a hard-line militia leader who has been accused of prisoner abuse — and then they vanished.” In October 2020, several UN human rights experts called on the UAE to halt plans to forcibly remove former Yemeni detainees to Yemen, stating “their forced return put their lives at risk and violated international human rights and humanitarian law.” The eighteen detainees, who were supposed to be going through an Emirati rehabilitation program, were “allegedly forced to sign documents consenting to their repatriation, or otherwise remain indefinitely in Emirati detention.” 

Guantánamo Today

“You might say things are better here in Guantanamo than they used to be. I am no longer kept in solitary confinement in a freezing, empty cell, as I was for the first four years…. But the mental anguish, the pain and humiliation of being shackled for no reason—that never changes.” -Abdul Latif Nasser (February 2020)

Forty men currently remain imprisoned at the Guantánamo Bay military prison. Their average age is 49, and their average length of imprisonment is 16 years. Twenty-eight of these remaining 40 men are forever prisoners, held in indefinite Law-of-War detention and charged with no crimes—just five have been recommended for transfer pending security conditions in host countries. Only seven of the remaining 40 Muslim men have been charged in the Military Commissions System, and just two have been actually convicted. This means that since the Guantánamo Bay military prison opened in January 2002, 0.9% of the 780 Muslim men and boys who have been imprisoned have been charged in the Military Commissions System, and 0.3% have been convicted. 

During the Bush Administration, the U.S. Goverment released 533 Muslim men and boys, or 68% of the total number of those imprisoned. During the Obama Administration, 197 Muslims or 25% of the total imprisoned population were released. During the Trump Administration, just one individual has been released. Nine Muslims have died at Guantánamo since its opening in 2002. They are Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif (156), Ali Abdullah Ahmed (693), Abdul Rahman Ma'ath Thafir al Amri (199), Awal Gul (782), Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Saleh al Hanashi (78), Abdul Razzaq Hekmati (942), Inayatullah (10028), Mana Shaman Allabardi al Tabi (588), and Yasser Talal al Zahrani (93). The youngest, Yasser Talal al Zahrani, was 21. The eldest, Abdul Razzaq Hekmati, was 69.

The 731 Detainees Released, by U.S. Presidential Administrations

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This graph includes the 731 men who have been released, to date. It does not include the 40 men who remain detained, and the nine men who died while imprisoned. 

As Guantánamo Bay military prison nears its nineteenth year, the men imprisoned are aging. Seventeen of the men currently imprisoned are in their fifties, sixties, and seventies. In addition to typical middle-age health conditions, many of those imprisoned live with medical conditions resulting from torture. According to reporting by Carol Rosenberg in April 2019, “a number of the detainees are already living with what their lawyers say are the physical and psychological aftereffects of torture, making their health especially precarious as they head toward old age.” Despite its aging population, the prison shows no sign of shuttering. In fact, the Pentagon has requested $88.5 million to “build a small prison with communal hospice care capacity.” Moreover, because the military does not have geriatric or palliative care physicians, the former head of the Joint Task Force-Guantánamo had committed to sending a team from Guantánamo to learn from the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) about its own aging, sick, and dying incarcerated population. BOP, however, has its own disturbing track record in this regard.

In addition to the Pentagon preparing for geriatric, hospice, and palliative care at the prison—signalling continued, long-term use of the base to imprison the Muslim men—President Donald Trump has also stated that he has no plans to the close the base. In fact, Trump has promised to not only keep the Guantánamo Bay military prison open, but to imprison even more people there: “Guantánamo Bay, which by the way…we are keeping open. Which we are keeping open…and we’re gonna load it up with some bad dudes, believe me, we’re gonna load it up.” In 2018, Trump followed up on his campaign promise by signing an executive order (E.O. 13823) overturning former President Obama’s directive to close the prison and authorizing the U.S. Government to “transport additional detainees” there.

As the Pentagon plans for specialized medical infrastructure at the military prison, the rise of the covid-19 global pandemic shines a spotlight on just how little prepared the base is for the medical needs of those imprisoned. According to August 2020 reporting in New York Times, the Pentagon informed Congress that “it could maintain just four of the 40 detainees on ventilators,” and its covid medical team is staffed with only four I.C.U. nurses—described by the aforementioned reporting as “far below a standard of care that requires one such nurse per ventilated patient around the clock.” Before the Defense Department issued a directive ordering “commanders at all of its installations worldwide to stop announcing publicly new coronavirus cases among their personnel,” at least one military personnel tested positive for covid-19 at the base. Reporting in May 2020 by NPR additionally reveals that a member of the guard force that oversees the imprisoned Muslim men tested positive for covid-19. Since May, however, no further details about the spread of covid among the imprisoned men has been made public.

The critical lack of medical infrastructure at Guantánamo Bay is compounded by the fact that while base staff and personnel can travel to the U.S. mainland for medical treatment, the men imprisoned are legally barred from doing so. In light of this, in May 2020, a group of U.S. Senators wrote to the Secretary of Defense requesting information on how the U.S. Military is “safeguarding” the health of the 40 remaining imprisoned men: 

Given the incidence of COVID-19 at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, the serious and deteriorating health conditions of detainees, the deficient infrastructure to care for complex medical needs at the prison facility, and the strict prohibition on detainee transfers to the United States even temporary transfers for urgent medical reasons we are concerned that our military personnel responsible for detention operations, as well as the detainees themselves, are at a heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 and suffering severe health consequences.

Furthermore, the already delayed legal proceedings at the Guantánamo Bay military prison have been brought to a standstill by the global pandemic. According to reporting in NPR, the latest U.S. military court judge, Col. Stephen F. Keane, who as of September 2020 is now the fourth judge to preside over the legal proceedings at Guantánamo, has canceled all hearings until next year for the five defendants charged in the 9/11 attacks. The judge also pushed back the start of the trial until August 2021—a date that many attorneys at Guantánamo describe as unrealistic. 

Since its opening, the military court and prison at Guantánamo Bay has cost $6 billion in U.S. taxpayer money since 2002. Its current annual costs are $380 million.

Conclusion

As Guantánamo Bay military prison nears its nineteenth year, forty men currently remain imprisoned. All 731 Muslim men and boys who have been released from the prison were released without any charge. In total, over 98% of detainees were not charged with any crime related to the 9/11 attacks.

The overall data demonstrates how the United States wrongfully detained hundreds of Muslim boys and men, all of whom were denied protections guaranteed under the Geneva Conventions and wider international law. Additionally, the nationalities of the detained boys and men exemplify the global nature of the U.S.-led “Global War on Terror.” The impact of the illegal imprisonment of hundreds of individuals has reverberated to all corners of the globe. While the majority of those imprisoned have been released, many have not been able to return to their home countries, instead having been repatriated to third countries. In terms of the prison itself, it remains open functioning on an annual cost of $380 million.

The Trump Administration has made plans to update the prison’s infrastructure with palliative and hospice care for an aging population. At the same time, consistent bureaucratic delays and now the covid-19 global pandemic have drastically altered the timeline for the military commission trials. Together, these factors indicate that the Guantánamo Bay military prison will not be closing anytime in the near future. Whatever the fate of the military prison may be, the horrors and torment of Guantánamo will live on in those who have been detained there.

Methodology

Background

In response to the September 11, 2001 attacks, the U.S. Government launched its Global War on Terror (GWOT), a multi-state regime of seemingly never-ending wars, military occupation and intervention, torture, drone strikes, surveillance, mass displacement and death. One of the many components of the GWOT is the U.S. Military’s prison at Guantánamo Bay. Since its opening on January 11, 2002, 780 boys and men, all of whom Muslim, have been imprisoned and tortured there. 

As the prison now approaches its third decade of existence, 40 men remain imprisoned—31 are imprisoned indefinitely without charges nor trial. In light of this, the Bridge Initiative perceived a need to create a centralized resource of visualized data and concise information regarding the 780 Muslim men and boys who have been imprisoned at the Guantánamo Bay military prison. 

Data Sources

The primary data source for this data set was the New York Times’s Guantánamo Docket website. The Times describes the project as “an interactive database of documents and analysis from The New York Times about the roughly 780 men who have been detained at Guantánamo as enemy combatants since January 2002.” The Times’ database includes documents from three main sources that were leaked by Wikileaks in April 2011: the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, the Administrative Review Boards, and the Joint Task Force (JTF) Assessments. More information about these sources can be located at the Guantánamo Docket.

In addition to the Times’s Guantánamo Docket, we have also used supplemental documents to help fill in any information missing from the government documents centralized by the Times. Such supplemental documents include an archived U.S. Department of Defense document titled “List of Individuals Detained by the Department of Defense at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba from January 2002 through May 15, 2006”; a document archived by the Miami Herald titled “Detainees Found to No Longer Meet the Definition of "Enemy Combatant" during Combatant Status Review Tribunals Held at Guantanamo”; and an archived database by the Washington Post titled “Guantanamo Bay Detainees Classifed [sic] as ‘No Longer Enemy Combatants.’” We also utilized the UC Davis Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas’ The Guantánamo Testimonials Project

Categories

The data this project from the collected from the Times’s Guantánamo Docket and additional supplemental documents included name, Internment Serial Number or ISN, country of origin/citizenship, country of repatriatiation and whether the country was the individual’s country of origin/citizenship, date of birth, date of capture, date of arrival at Guantánamo, date of release, number of years at Guantánamo, whether the individual was listed as an “enemy combatant,” and listed mental illness. 

Whenever the JTF Assessment was unclear, we referred to the aforementioned supplemental documents. For example, there were many cases in which the JTF Assessment did not provide a clear date of arrival (and 21 individuals who did not have a JTF Assessment listed at all), and in these instances we deferred to the UC Davis source which filled in the gaps. For the date of capture category, if a less specific entry was provided, such as mid-December, we would note the date as the twentieth of that month. For the date of birth categories, at times only a year was provided in both the JTF Assessments and the DOD document. In these cases we referred to the DOD document to provide a more precise date; however, if both sources provided only a year, we listed the first day of the year. We also utilized the DOD document whenever there was a disparity for a date of birth of more than a year between the DOD document and the JTF Assessment.

Limitations

The information in the U.S. Military documents leaked by WikiLeaks (the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, the Administrative Review Boards, and the Joint Task Force Assessments) are important in terms of understanding what happened to the 780 Muslim men and boys who have been imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay. However, in using these documents alone, the picture is far from a complete one. The testimonies of the 780 men and boys themselves, and in some cases, their families, provide a far more complete and accurate account of what they experienced while imprisoned by the U.S. Military. Moreover, utilizing information from solely the U.S. Military’s accounting poses serious ethical concerns. The U.S. Military has committed unconscionable human rights violations against those imprisoned at Guantánamo, flouting numerous well-established international laws and conventions. And in countless cases, the personal testimonies of those imprisoned at Guantánamo directly contradict the narratives listed in the U.S. Military’s JTF Assessments. In some instances, the authors of the JTF Assessments used disparaging, generalizing, and orientalist language to describe Islam and Muslims. Bearing this in mind, additional research by the Bridge Initiative would center the personal testimonies, and in some cases, those of their families, of those 780 Muslim boys and men who have been imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay military prison. 

Researchers

Nena Beecham, Senior Research Fellow

Emily Crnkovich, Research Intern

Kris Garrity, Senior Research Fellow

Mobashra Tazamal, Senior Research Fellow

Beya Yazici, Research Intern