For Immediate Release
Leading Human Rights Groups Request Full Access To Guantánamo Prison
NEW YORK - Four
leading human rights and civil liberties organizations asked President
Obama to grant them full access to the Guantánamo Bay detention center
so that they can review the conditions of confinement and make
recommendations for revising U.S. detention policies. The American
Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International USA, Human Rights First
and Human Rights Watch have had permission to observe the military
commissions at Guantánamo since August 2004, but have thus far only
been offered a guided tour of the detention camp without access to
On January 22, President Obama
issued an executive order requiring a review of detention conditions at
Guantánamo to ensure compliance with the Geneva Conventions and all
other applicable laws. According to today's letter, also allowing the
groups full access to the prison "will be welcomed as another break
from the prior administration's policies on detainees, and set an
example that will help advance human rights worldwide."
The full text of the letter is as follows and available online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/
January 30, 2009
Dear President Obama,
As heads of four prominent civil
liberties and human rights organizations, we greatly appreciate your
decisive action in restoring U.S. commitment to the rule of law and
respect for human rights by issuing executive orders to close
Guantánamo, suspend the military commissions, prohibit CIA prisons, and
enforce the ban on torture. We eagerly await your continued actions to
renew American justice.
Today, we write to request full
access to the Guantánamo Bay detention camps so that we may
independently review and report on the conditions of confinement there
and make concrete recommendations for change. In August 2004, our four
organizations were granted observer status to observe the military
commissions, but for years the Bush administration has denied our
organizations' repeated requests for full access to the detention
camps. We have only been offered the VIP tour to observe a model
Guantánamo detention camp, which was far from adequate access.
Section 6 of your January 22, 2009
executive order, "Review and Disposition of Individuals Detained at the
Guantánamo Bay Naval Base and Closure of Detention Facilities,"
addresses the issue of conditions of confinement and orders Secretary
of Defense Gates to "immediately undertake a review of the conditions
of detention at Guantánamo to ensure full compliance with [Common
Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions]."
Our presence can assist this effort.
We will provide an outside assessment of current conditions and, as
improvements are made, credibly, independently, and publicly report
them to the world. Such access and reporting would further the
objectives of the current Department of Defense (DoD) review and
amplify the international benefits of improving conditions at the
camps. Our presence itself will be welcomed as another break from the
prior administration's policies on detainees, and set an example of
transparency that will help advance human rights worldwide.
We ask you to reconsider our
organizations' request for full access to the Guantánamo Bay detention
camps and honor it in light of the current DoD review. According to
your executive order, the DoD review "shall be completed within 30 days
and any necessary corrections shall be implemented immediately
thereafter." We ask that, if granted full access, our independent
review should take place within the next few weeks, to allow time for
us to finalize our report and recommendations before the completion of
the DoD's review.
The Bush administration's past
policy of secrecy regarding detention conditions at Guantánamo makes it
critically important for your administration to open Guantánamo to
independent review as part of a new government policy of transparency.
Full and independent review of conditions of confinement by human
rights organizations is urgently needed because of the secrecy
regarding detention conditions at Guantánamo Bay as a whole. The ACLU
and other organizations continue to struggle for production of
materials requested pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
regarding Guantánamo Bay. The Bush administration denied full access
to several UN independent human rights experts who insisted on
confidential interviews with the detainees as dictated by UN protocol
for such visits.
While the International Committee of
the Red Cross (ICRC) has had access to Guantánamo detainees, its access
has been restricted in the past and the extent of its current access is
unclear to us. A leaked version of the Camp Delta Standard Operation
Procedures (SOP) from March 2003 revealed that the ICRC was denied
access to various groups of detainees at the camp, and a leaked version
of the SOP manual from 2004 revealed continued restrictions on ICRC
Regardless of the ICRC's present
level of access, its role is distinct from that of our organizations.
While the ICRC plays an important role in visiting prisoners under the
Geneva Conventions, the ICRC maintains full confidentiality in order to
preserve the exclusively humanitarian nature of its work. The role of
our human rights organizations in reviewing and reporting on conditions
at Guantánamo would be distinct and equally important.
Granting human rights organizations
full and unfettered access to a detention facility where torture and
abuse have occurred will send a powerful message to the world regarding
your administration's commitment to transparency and openness,
consistent with your January 21, 2009 FOIA directive, which noted, "A
democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires
transparency." Opening Guantánamo to full review by human rights
organizations would help to restore American legitimacy and standing in
the world, and place pressure on other governments to open their
detention centers for independent inspections.
Furthermore, independent review of
conditions of confinement by human rights organizations will assist
your administration in revising its policies and improving detention
conditions in the camps. If granted full access, our independent human
rights delegation would include experts on detention conditions and
medical professionals, and would offer your administration concrete
recommendations on how to improve conditions of confinement in order to
comply with relevant national and international standards and
guidelines on persons in detention.
We hope that you will act quickly on this matter in the interest of transparency and the protection of human rights.
Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union
Larry Cox, Executive Director, Amnesty International USA
Elisa Massimino, Executive Director, Human Rights First
Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
White House Counsel Gregory B. Craig