Human Wrongs: Violations abund in Guntanamo Bay

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By: The Michigan Daily, Published January 22nd, 2002

Since the United States leased land in Guantanamo Bay from Cuba in 1903, the government has used this site for incarcerating prisoners of war. Guantanamo Bay, officially still Cuban, is not subject to U.S. law, rendering activities there largely free from public scrutiny. Today, it is the temporary home of 140 imprisoned Taliban and al-Qaeda combatants captured in Afghanistan. Despite the crimes of which these prisoners are accused, the United States has a responsibility under international law to respect certain standards of imprisonment. The International Committee of the Red Cross and other human rights organizations are currently investigating allegations of multiple abuses of international law and human rights at America"s makeshift facility in Cuba.

Inmates reside in six- by eight-foot cells with concrete floors, metal roofs and chain-link fences for walls that provide no protection from wind and rain. Photographs of those in custody taken during transportation to Cuba also revealed prisoners in leg shackles, hoods, masks and blindfolds. An apparatus for human waste disposal was attached to each prisoner"s chair because prisoners had so little freedom of motion. Allegations regarding the use of sedatives for non-medical purposes during these flights have also surfaced.

It has become clear that the international community will not ignore these offences. British officials now are demanding to know why the "detainees" have been seen handcuffed and forcibly bent over on the ground.

All of these practices violate international law. Under the Geneva Convention and the UN Declaration of Human Rights, prisoners have the right to hard-walled shelters, protection from torture and fair judicial treatment. These are basic human rights that the U.S. government must not ignore.

Attempting to avoid the consequences of breaking the Geneva Accords, President Bush and Defense Sec. Donald Rumsfeld have been referring to their captives as "unlawful combatants" who are "not nice people."

While it may be true that many of these prisoners may not be guaranteed the rights granted to prisoners of war, the United States is not in a position to make those judgments. The Geneva Convention specifies that a captured combatant must be treated as a prisoner of war unless an international tribunal rules differently. Bush and Rumsfeld"s uninformed remarks towards these serious allegations show this administration"s tendency to use the word "war" selectively, without considering its legal implications.

Bush"s actions concerning the 140 new inmates in Guantanamo Bay suggest that he is aware of these violations of international law and intends to continue in his present manner despite them. In order to investigate the human rights abuses, the ICRC had to agree to share its findings with only the U.S. government in the form of suggestions for improvement. If the Bush administration is confident that prisoners are being treated fairly, it should not be reticent to allow human rights organizations both access to the camp for inspection and sanction to release their findings to the public.

Simply holding the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, with its unique legal status as leased property from Cuba, instead of in a more suitable location within the United States or nearer to Afghanistan implies an intention to escape the watchful eye of the press. As the world"s lone superpower, the United States has a responsibility to uphold international law to its highest standard the Bush administration should afford the prisoners at Guantanamo the same basic rights it would if it thought the public was watching.