Last week marked the 10th anniversary of the creation of the infamous Guantánamo Bay. This place created by G. W. Bush but still in existence today under the presidency of Barack Obama is a symbol of of blatant human rights injustice and human rights violations.
The first flashbacks that come to our minds when we speak of Guantánamo Bay are of chained and shackled detainees, wearing orange jumpsuits, their heads bent down, transported in cages like ferocious animals.
On this U.S. naval base near Cuba, in the middle of the ocean, 779 detainees had once been held. The vast majority of these detainees were held there without charge or criminal trial. About 600 hundred of them were eventually released. However, 171 detainees, mainly Yemenis, are still being detained at the camp.
Human rights organizations all over the world decried and condemned the creation and continued existence of Guantánamo Bay, as well as the treatment afflicted on detainees. The horrible treatment consisted of psychological torture, sexual harassment and religious intimidation.
Many Western politicians spoke against Guantánamo Bay, except Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who never uttered a word about it and is still silent on the issue. His silence is more troubling especially knowing that Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen and a child soldier who was brought to the camp as a minor, is still detained there without any political commitment from the current government to bring him home.
In 2006, Mrs. Merkel told the German magazine Der Spiegel: "An institution like Guantánamo can and should not exist in the longer term."
President Obama was a big disappointment for many human rights activists. He didn't fulfill his promise to close the institution, even after he declared in 2009 that, "I made the decision to close Guantánamo because I do not think it makes America safer." He never brought the American officials who conducted torture in front of American courts to face justice. Worst yet, at the end of 2011 he signed a bill that would allow the indefinite detention of American citizens.
Of course, Obama can hide behind the powerful obstruction of Republicans for many of his policies. He can also claim that the economic situation is taking most of his energy but so far he can't claim to be remembered as the American president who has put an end to this shame and travesty.
The French president Nicholas Sarkozy, in a gesture to mend fences with the American administration, offered to take some of the released prisoners from Guantánamo. Lakhdar Boumediene, an Algerian citizen and a former Guantánamo detainee now living in France wrote in an opinion piece that was published in the New York Times on January 7: "During that time my daughters grew up without me. They were toddlers when I was imprisoned, and were never allowed to visit or speak to me by phone."
His words summarize the human tragedy of Guantánamo Bay. They clearly show that the prison destroyed lives, broke relationships, humiliated hundreds of people and most of all, shook the faith of many citizens in the concepts of due process and justice for all. The past 10 years were stolen from the lives of all innocent detainees at Guantánamo.
Justice can only be served through justice and accountability.
This piece was originally published in Prism Magazine.
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