A United Nations expert has called on the United States to apologise for the torture of Guantanamo Bay prison inmates, to ensure accountability for abuses, and to close down the infamous US-run detention facility in Cuba.
In a report released on Monday, UN Special Rapporteur Fionnuala Ni Aolain thanked the administration of US President Joe Biden for allowing her to access the facility earlier this year but stressed the need to remedy violations against detainees.
Ni Aolain said the torture of detainees at secret locations known as black sites and subsequently at Guantanamo is the “single most significant barrier” to ensuring justice for the victims of the 9/11 attacks.
“The importance of apology and guarantees of non-repetition to both the victims of terrorism and the victims of torture betrayed by these practices will be no less pressing in the years ahead,” the report read.
The Guantanamo detention facility opened in 2002 under US President George W Bush to house detainees captured during the so-called “war on terror” after al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, DC on September 11, 2001.
The prison once housed nearly 800 detainees. Its inmate population is now down to 30, more than half of whom – 16 detainees – have been declared eligible for release by US authorities.
Located at a US military base in Cuba, the prison operates under a system of military commissions that does not guarantee the same rights as traditional US courts.
Rights groups have long denounced rights violations at Guantanamo – including forced feedings and beatings of detainees, and a lack of due process – and demanded its closure.
Ni Aolain’s report on Monday said the abuses are ongoing at the prison facility, highlighting “structural shortcomings and systematic arbitrariness including in training, operating procedures, and the fulfillment of detainees’ rights to health care, family council and justice”.
For example, inmates are called by a serial number, not their names – a policy that Ni Aolain said “undermines each detainee’s self-worth and dignity, particularly in the lived context of profound deprivation of liberty, communication, and relationship with the outside world”.
Moreover, Ni Aolain underscored the “near-constant surveillance, forced cell extractions, undue use of restraints” and solitary confinement that she said continue to be used at Guantanamo.
Speaking to reporters on Monday afternoon, Ni Aolain said every inmate she met lives with the “unrelenting harms” caused by their systematic “rendition, torture and arbitrary detention”.
“I observed that after two decades of custody, the suffering of those detained is profound, and it’s ongoing,” she said.
Ni Aolain said she was the first UN special rapporteur to be granted access to Guantanamo to investigate conditions at the facility – a fact she credited to the administration of US President Joe Biden.
“It is this administration who early on in my tenure – through a process of discussion and engagement – enabled the visit,” she said.
Amnesty International said Monday’s “scathing” report highlights the need to shut down the detention facility.
“It is well past time to demand the closure of the prison, accountability from US officials, and reparations for the torture and other ill-treatment that the detainees have suffered at the hands of the US government,” the group’s secretary general, Agnes Callamard, said in a statement.
The Biden administration, which argues it is working to reduce the number of inmates at the prison to eventually close it, pushed back against some of Ni Aolain’s findings while acknowledging her recommendations.
“We are committed to providing safe and humane treatment for detainees at Guantanamo in full accordance with international and US domestic law,” Michele Taylor, US ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council, said in a statement released alongside the report.
“Detainees live communally and prepare meals together; receive specialized medical and psychiatric care; are given full access to legal counsel; and communicate regularly with family members.”
Earlier on Monday, Biden released a statement to recognise International Day in Support of Victims of Torture in which he condemned all “forms of inhumane treatment” and pledged that the US would support torture survivors as they seek justice.
“Torture is prohibited everywhere and at all times. It is illegal, immoral, and a stain on our collective conscience,” Biden said.