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“”It validates every negative perception of the United States.
|—Major-General Michael Lehnert, the first commander of the Gitmo detention camp|
Guantanamo Bay, or Gitmo, is a United States naval base on the island of Cuba. Until the restoration of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba in June 2015, it was the only US military base located in a country which Washington does not have full diplomatic relations with. It remains the only U.S. military base opposed by the government of the hosting country.
The base owes its existence to the 1898 Treaty of Paris, which gave the US Navy control over it (for some reason when the US invaded they decided to go all the way around the island, rather than cross from Miami). When Fidel Castro took over, he declared the Treaty of Paris null and void, but supposedly accepted the first rent check from the U.S. The U.S. considers this proof enough that the Cuban government is still bound by the Treaty.
The naval base was used as the location for prison camps for Haitian and Cuban refugees in the 1980s and 1990s, but since 2002 for war captives taken (or purchased) in the War on Terror. As such it is America's premier location for "spectacles of punishment." Approximately three-fourths of the prisoners hauled from the other side of the planet have been released, but some 166 remain in indefinite custody.
Seeking to avoid the requirements of international humanitarian law set out in the Geneva Conventions, the George W. Bush administration classified the prisoners as "enemy combatants" and not as "prisoners of war." Although none of the major human rights advocacy groups, such as the Red Cross, Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International have described it as such (though significantly criticizing it), some people believe that the Guantanamo Bay prison facility constitutes a concentration camp.
The detention center has been a source of continual disgrace to the United States, and would be an embarrassment to the Bush administration, if they were capable of feeling shame, or still in power.
Michael Moore pointed out in his documentary Sicko that Guantanamo Bay offers free health care to its detainees, as the United States is a "Contracting Party to the World Health Organization, and thus has accepted the principle that the "enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being.'" Ironically, the United States has not extended the "fundamental right" of universal health care to its own citizens.[note 1]
Almost immediately after taking office, President Obama ordered the closure of the prison facilities at Guantanamo Bay, pending a six-month review of the details, and temporarily suspended all military tribunals in process there. However, in May of that year, the Democratic-controlled Senate blocked funds to close down the camp.
In January 2011, Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2011, which prohibited the executive branch from using any funds to close down Guantanamo Bay. While the number of prisoners in Guantanamo bay decreased, in March 2011, the President allowed military tribunals to continue, effectively ending the push to close down the detention center at the time.
The push to close Guantanamo arose again in February 2016, when Obama sent a tripartite blueprint for the closure of Guantanamo Bay to Congress. It was immediately denounced by Republican congressmen and presidential candidates, receiving criticisms for its vagueness and intent to transfer 30-60 detainees deemed "too dangerous for release" to American soil (an action banned by law).. The success of the plan remains to be seen.
- As wrong as it may seem that prisoners in Guantanamo Bay are given better health care than US citizens as a right, imprisonment of a person by a government makes that government responsible for the care of the prisoner as they can no longer provide it to their own self (such as by having a job and paying for health care). However, the U.S. government fares little better in this respect within its own territory — from state to state and county to county the well-being of prisoners can be extremely varied.
- U.S. general who opened Guantanamo prison says it was a mistake, The Globe and Mail
- John Hickman. 2013. Selling Guantánamo: Exploding the Propaganda Surrounding America's Most Notorious Military Prison. University Press of Florida.
- UN Report on the Situation of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Section V.
- Obama Orders Secret Prisons and Detention Camps Closed, New York Times
- Senate blocks transfer of Gitmo detainees, NBC
- Barack Obama’s plan to close Gitmo 'in shambles', Politico
- Obama Sends Plan to Close Guantánamo to Congress, New York Times