The Obama administration's failure to close down the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay represents a toxic legacy for human rights, Amnesty International has said.
In a report commissioned to mark the tenth anniversary of the first detainees being transferred to the secret CIA prison meant to keep terror suspects, Amnesty noted that the facility has become a symbol of torture and other acts of ill-treatment under the global "war" framework devised under the Bush administration.
Amnesty has also launched an online petition seeking an end to detentions in the facility located on the US naval base in Cuba. "Guantánamo detainees should either be charged and prosecuted in fair trials or released to countries that will respect their human rights, including into the USA if that is the only available option," the petition demands. Thousands of people have already signed the petition.
"The US military commissions, which do not meet international fair trial standards, should be abandoned, as should any pursuit of the death penalty. The US must recognise the applicability of, and fully respect international human rights law, when conducting counter-terrorism operations, including detentions in Guantánamo, detention facilities at Bagram in Afghanistan and elsewhere, the petition said.
In its report titled "Guantanamo: A Decade of Damage to Human Rights", Amnesty deals with the "unlawful treatment of Guantánamo detainees" at length and attempts to probe the reasons why the prison continues to represent an attack on human rights. Rob Freer, Amnesty International's researcher on the US, said: "Guantanamo has come to symbolise 10 years of a systematic failure by the USA to respect human rights in its response to the 9/11 attacks. The US government disregarded human rights from day one of the Guantánamo detentions. As we move into year 11 in the life of the detention facility, this failure continues."
Amnesty alleges that the facility continues to hold detainees including those who were subjected to torture and enforced disappearance prior to being transferred to the prison. "Despite President Obama's pledge to close the Guantánamo detention facility by 22 January 2010, 171 men were being held there in mid-December 2011," the report notes. The Obama administration has failed to ensure US compliance with international human rights principles, it said.
On the legal front, the US government has systemically blocked attempts by former detainees to seek redress for the human rights violations which they were subjected to, according to the rights body. "Under international law, domestic law and politics may not be invoked to justify failure to comply with treaty obligations. It is an inadequate response for one branch of government to blame another for a country's human rights failure. International law demands that solutions be found, not excuses," Freer said.
"Until the USA addresses these detentions as a human rights issue, the legacy of Guantánamo will live on whether or not the detention facility there is closed down," Freer said.
The facility was opened four months after the 9/11 attacks. According to Amnesty, only one of the 779 detainees held at the base has been transferred for prosecution in a US federal court. The right group alleges that the others have faced "unfair trials by military commission". The US government is now planning to seek the death penalty for six of the detainees at such trials, Amnesty said.
At least 12 people transferred to the facility in January 2002 are still being held there without charges, the group said.