“It is well past time to demand the closure of the prison, accountability from U.S. officials, and reparations for the torture and other ill-treatment that the detainees have suffered at the hands of the U.S. government,” said one campaigner.

by Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams

Human rights advocates on Monday renewed their calls for the swift closure of the U.S. prison at Naval Station Guantánamo Bay in Cuba after a United Nations expert released the findings from her historic trip to the infamous facility.

The prison was established in 2002, after then-President George W. Bush launched the War on Terror in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks. On the campaign trail and since taking office, President Joe Biden—who is seeking reelection next year—has indicated he wants to close the facility. His administration was the first to allow a visit by a U.N. expert earlier this year.

guantanamo bay entrance

Irish attorney and law professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the U.N. special rapporteur (SR) on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, focused on three key topics: “the rights of victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the rights of detainees at the Guantánamo detention facility, and the rights of former detainees.”

Allowing U.N. access to the prison “is an important signal from the United States government to the international community that the Guantánamo detention facility is on a path to de-exceptionalism,” her report states. “It opens the possibility to address the profound human rights violations that have occurred there and the irreparable harms to the lives and health of the 780 Muslim men who have been detained there, including 30 men who remain.”

“For many of the detainees she spoke with, the dividing line between the past and the present is exceptionally thin—for some nonexistent—and their past experiences of torture live with them in the present, without any obvious end in sight including because they have received no torture rehabilitation to date,” the publication continues, adding that despite improvements since 2002, current conditions amount to “ongoing cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, and may also meet the legal threshold for torture.”

According to the report, which was released on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture:

“In every meeting she held with a detainee or former detainee, the SR was told with great regret that she had arrived “too late.” She agrees. At the time of her visit only 34 detainees remained at the site. It is evident that the horror and harms of extraordinary rendition, arbitrary detention, and systematic torture, cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment inflicted over time occurred in part because of an exceptional and international law deficient legal and policy regime; the permeation of arbitrariness across subsequent detention practices; and the lack of international law compliant domestic oversight and accountability…

“The SR reaffirms the right to remedy and reparations for victims of serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, underscoring that such rights encompass preventive and investigative elements, as well as the right to access justice, remedy, and reparation. The U.S. government is under a continued obligation to ensure accountability, make full reparation for the injuries caused, and offer appropriate guarantees of nonrepetition for violations committed post-9/11. The world has and will not forget. Without accountability, there is no moving forward on Guantánamo.”

The document also praises the U.S. government, saying that “it is a sign of a commitment to international law that the visit occurred, was highly cooperative, constructive, and engaged at all levels of government, and is reported upon.”

In its formal response, the U.S. government said it provided Ní Aoláin with “unprecedented access” and her team with “detailed information both prior to her visit and in response to her questions.” The statement notes the “significant progress” the Biden administration has made in reducing the Guantánamo population, highlights ongoing military commissions and transfer efforts, and reaffirms the president’s intention to close the facility.

The statement also stresses that while the administration is reviewing the U.N. expert’s recommendations, the government “disagrees in significant respects with many factual and legal assertions” in her report, and claims that the U.S. is committed to “safe and humane treatment” for Gitmo prisoners, who “receive specialized medical and psychiatric care.”

Pointing to Ní Aoláin’s report, Center for Victims of Torture policy analyst Yumna Rizvi said Monday that “the government is obligated to provide rehabilitation, and the detainees are entitled to it, but the government is continuing to choose not to meet its obligation.”

“It has an opportunity to do so, and to lead as an example, especially as the largest contributor to the U.N. Voluntary Fund for the Victims of Torture,” Rizvi added. “However, the U.S. continues to turn its back on what is right. The government’s response to the report is a denial of the existing reality as it relates to medical care of detainees. The government must address these issues immediately before the worst possible outcome occurs, the responsibility of which will fall squarely on its shoulders.”

Amnesty International secretary general Agnès Callamard—a former U.N. special rapporteur—said the “scathing” U.N. report highlights “the urgent need for President Biden to finally close the detention facility at the Guantánamo Bay military base, and to end the unlawful practice of indefinite detention without charge or trial.”

“It is well past time to demand the closure of the prison, accountability from U.S. officials, and reparations for the torture and other ill-treatment that the detainees have suffered at the hands of the U.S. government,” she argued. “There remains a shocking lack of access to justice for those currently or previously detained—and many have complex and untreated healthcare needs as a result of their ill-treatment.”

“The military commissions created for Guantánamo Bay detainees, including those alleged to have planned or assisted the September 11 attacks, have been a complete failure through which the United States government has intentionally skirted U.S. and international law and abused the rights of those still imprisoned at the facility—jeopardizing the rights of survivors and families of victims of the attacks to receive justice,” she added.

Wells Dixon, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights and council to several Gitmo detainees, similarly declared that “the Biden administration needs to get out of its own way on Guantánamo closure.”

“It makes no legal or policy sense for the government to continue to fight in court, to detain men it no longer wants to detain, in a prison it has said should be closed, in a war that has ended,” said Dixon. “It also makes no sense to continue contested military trials that have failed to achieve justice or accountability for anyone.”

September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows welcomed that “in issuing her report on Guantánamo, the special rapporteur stated unequivocally that, ‘Torture was a betrayal of the rights of the victims of the 9/11 attacks.'”

“For families and survivors to ever receive a measure of judicial resolution, the fact that the 9/11 accused were tortured must be legally acknowledged,” the organization asserted. “The U.S. government must now, more than two decades after the attacks, end the 9/11 military commission at Guantánamo, accept guilty pleas from the 9/11 defendants, and provide victims and survivors with the information and accountability they have so long sought.”

Former Guantánamo prisoner Majid Khan, who was freed in February, said Monday that “I survived and have forgiven my torturers, and I am moving on with my life in Belize. But I still wait for an apology, medical care, and other compensation.”

“I appreciate all the support that Belize has provided me, but responsibility lies with the U.S.,” he said. “It would mean a lot to me. I also ask other countries to follow the example of Belize and offer safe refuge to other Guantánamo detainees approved for transfer, including men such as Guled Duran who was never charged with any wrongdoing. It is time to close Guantánamo.”