Why Is Guantánamo Bay Still Open?

The establishment of Guantánamo Bay.

Guantánamo Bay was opened by the US government in the wake of the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Centre. Located in southeastern Cuba, the land has been leased to the United States since 1903. But the establishment of the military camp in 2001 has come to epitomise the US War on Terror. Guantánamo’s first prisoners were detained in January 2002 and since then up to 700 have been incarcerated therein. Most prisoners have been accused of being involved in ‘terrorist activity’ during the 2001 incursion into Afghanistan, either operatives of the Taliban or Al-Qaeda, the latter of which claimed responsibility of the 9-11 attacks. But the more ambiguous label of ‘enemy combatant’ is vague and hard to define.

Human rights abuses.

The illegality of the arbitrary and indefinite detention of Guantánamo’s prisoners is undeniable. Many detainees have never actually been formally charged with a crime and have been refused the right to counsel or trial. Grave human rights violations have occurred under the euphemism of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’. Widespread instances of torture include waterboarding, forced nudity and stress positions. Lights are kept on day and night to cause sleep deprivation and facilitate interrogations. Inmates are forbidden to meet up in groups of over three and the general atmosphere is that of isolation and silence. Despite the United States’ position as a global advocate for democratic and civil rights, reports of torture in Guantánamo Bay have violated the rules of the Geneva Convention, which stipulates the protection of non-combatants during armed conflicts. The failure of other nations to hold the United States accountable on a global scale has also been a factor in the continued existence of Guantánamo Bay.


The Bush Years.

During the Bush presidency, the administration reasoned that the Guantánamo detainees were not governed by the Geneva Conventions because they were not Prisoners of War (POW). It was argued that because these ‘enemy combatants’ were not acting on behalf of an authorised government (The Taliban), they did not fulfill the requirement of POW. But the Bush administration cut corners around the law and absolved American soldiers of accountability when making arrests abroad. This occurred through a few select memorandums, which depicted US intervention in Afghanistan as an international conflict instead of an armed one, thereby bypassing restrictions of the Geneva Convention. These memorandums also incriminated key members of the Bush administration, including White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, Vice President Dick Cheney as well as the US Justice Department.



During Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, promises to close Guantánamo Bay were apparently received with cheers by Guantánamo’s prisoners. Despite the length of his eight-year presidency however, Obama failed to close the military camp. He cited political obstructions and resistance of the Senate, eventually ceding that the “path of least resistance” was to just leave it open. Nevertheless, compared to President Trump, who said he’d  “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding”, there was at least a narrative of progress, even if it turned out to be nothing but empty rhetoric.


The United States must uphold the rule of law and value the basic human right of protection from torture. Grave human rights abuses have characterised the treatment of Guantánamo’s prisoners and consequently called into question the status of the U.S as a global promoter of human rights, as well as its constitutional foundation, which was been maneuvered to maintain the existence of Guantánamo Bay.


Sister Samia Majid is an Imams Online Writer. She is a third year English and History university student, and British Muslim who enjoy dissecting politics and it’s relation to Islam.


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