Human Rights Watch on the Tenth Anniversary of Guantanamo
January 6, 2012
Despite promises by President Obama soon after his inauguration to close the facility, 171 prisoners remain.

On January 11, 2002, the United States brought the first 20 prisoners to the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, marking the beginning of a program of indefinite detention without charge or trial of terrorism suspects that has lasted 10 years. Since then, a total of 779 prisoners have been held at the facility. Provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2012, passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama on December 31, 2011, codify the practice of indefinite detention without trial into US law. 

The Ten Year Anniversary of Guantanamo page is a compilation of selected Human Rights Watch reporting on Guantanamo and related matters over the past decade, as well as facts and figures comparing military commissions to federal courts.

Despite promises by Obama soon after his inauguration to close the facility, 171 prisoners remain. Of the 779 detained in total, roughly 600 have been released and eight have died over the course of the past decade. Of the eight deaths, six are suspected suicides. During the administration of President George W. Bush, many detainees at Guantanamo were subjected to painful stress positions; extended solitary confinement; threatening military dogs; threats of torture and death; and prolonged exposure to extremes of heat, cold, and noise that amounted to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. When Obama took office in January 2009, about 242 prisoners remained. Only a handful of the roughly 600 detainees released over the past 10 years were ever charged with a criminal offense.

Of the 171 prisoners that remain, the Obama administration has said it plans to prosecute 32, yet only one prisoner, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, currently faces any formal charges. Another five, those accused of planning the September 11, 2001 attacks, have charges pending against them, but formal charges have yet to be brought and they have not been arraigned. Of the remaining 139 prisoners, the administration has said it plans to detain 46 indefinitely without ever bringing charges against them. Another 89 detainees have been approved for transfer to home or third countries.

A variety of factors have prevented the release of those slated for transfer including inaction on the part of the Obama and Bush administrations, a moratorium placed on transfers to Yemen following the attempted bombing by a Yemeni of a US airliner on December 25, 2009, and restrictions placed by Congress on transfers from Guantanamo in December 2010. Fifty-six of the 89 detainees slated for transfer are from Yemen.

Ongoing US violations of detainee rights are not limited to Guantanamo. Nearly 3,000 people now held by US forces in Afghanistan have not been afforded the basic rights that even captured enemy fighters are due in a civil war, such as being informed by a judge of the basis for their detention or allowed access to counsel. And individuals apprehended outside of Afghanistan currently detained there should never have been brought to the country at all.

Human Rights Watch opposes the prolonged indefinite detention without trial of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. The practice violates US obligations under international law. Human Rights Watch has strongly urged the US government to either promptly prosecute the remaining Guantanamo detainees according to international fair trial standards, or safely repatriate them to home or third countries. We have also called for investigations of US officials implicated in torture of terrorism suspects and for adequate compensation for detainees who were mistreated. Human Rights Watch will continue to press for compliance with these obligations. Failure to do so does enormous damage to the rule of law both in the US and abroad.