By Shubham Goswami
America has a secret. And no, I’m not talking about the Casinos of Las Vegas, the Strip Clubs of Miami or the Houses of ill-fame in Nevada.
To explore America’s best kept secret, we need to travel 1500 miles down south to the carnival country of Cuba.
On the south-east end of the Cuban Islands, lies Guantanamo Bay, home to the world’s most notorious detention centre.
It is in Cuba, right? What does America have to do with it?
Cuba has permanently leased Guantanamo to the US for use as a coaling and Naval Station. After 9/11, the US decided to open a detention centre at Guantanamo for the most dangerous criminals captured during the “War on Terror” in Afghanistan and Iraq. To this day the Guantanamo detention centre (called GTMO in short) houses some of the highest valued detainees like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, “the principal architect” of the 9/11 attacks. There are others who are believed to be Al-Qaeda fighters or suspected to have links with the Taliban.
So it’s just another prison where the worst of the bad guys are sent, right?
Yes. But that’s not all. GTMO is not your regular detention centre. Guards and convicts who were released have confirmed that if there is anything called HELL, this is it. There are stories of excruciating torture being inflicted upon the detainees.
During the Bush Administration, Guantanamo was nothing short of a slaughter house. Lore has it that convicts were tied to chains, beaten up brutally, force-fed, their heads dumped into toilets, their Qurans snatched away etc.
What kinds of living conditions are provided to the detainees?
Initially, the detainees were placed in outdoor cells with concrete floors and exposed pipes for toilets. According to the accounts of one of the detainees who were released, they provided a couple of buckets. One of these was meant for storage of drinking water. The other was meant for defecation.
Nowadays they are placed in proper indoor cells with about 95 square feet of the living area provided to each detainee. These are complemented by daily necessities like toothbrush, blankets and toilet paper. One of the camps is even furnished with Library facilities. However before a new book is stocked, it undergoes a screening for radical or religious content.
At any given moment, every detainee is under the surveillance of one to three guards, to ensure maximum security. The ones who follow rules get along quite well here. But the ones who don’t are…………..tortured.
Are they all linked to terrorist organizations?
The detainees come from 48 different countries. One detainee was as young as 13 when he was captured while another turned 89 during his stay at GTMO. But by government records, 92% of them are not linked to Al-Qaeda. As many as 775 detainees have been brought to GTMO, most of whom have been released. But as of January 2016, GTMO still houses 93 detainees.
In fact, some people ended up here because of sheer bad luck!
But that is a serious issue. What’s the popular opinion on Guantanamo?
Human Rights Activists from across the US have protested against the treatment meted out to the detainees. There has been a rising public demand to close the detention centre since stories of torture during the Bush administration became public. So a demand to close Guantanamo was on the cards during the incumbency of President Obama.
So why he didn’t close the detention centre?
The problem is that GTMO currently houses about 40 high-valued detainees who cannot be deported to any other part of the world. Their native countries won’t take them. Neither will any foreign country provide them asylum. Since neither expatriation nor execution is possible, the closure of GTMO is not possible at the moment. It’s a politico-legal deadlock.
The ones who were released from GTMO found it difficult to go back to their normal lives. The macabre memories of those torture-houses haunt them. And that does not just apply to the convicts. Some of the Guards who left claim that serving at Guantanamo changed their perspectives about life permanently.
Guantanamo is not just a prison. It is a ghastly symbol of a perpetual war between religions.
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