CCR Releases Independent Report on Current Conditions at Guantánamo, Calls for Closure of Camps 5, 6, and Echo

For Immediate Release

CCR Releases Independent Report on Current Conditions at Guantánamo, Calls for Closure of Camps 5, 6, and Echo

Center for Constitutional Rights Experts Dispute Government Assertion That Guantánamo Complies With Geneva Conventions

NEW YORK - The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) released
a report on the current conditions in Camps 5, 6, and Echo following
the press conference today of Adm. Patrick M. Walsh, the vice chief of
naval operations, who delivered his own report on conditions to the
White House on Friday. Adm. Walsh determined in his report that
conditions at the base meet the standards of the Geneva Conventions, an
assertion the attorneys dispute.

CCR's report, "Conditions of Confinement at Guantanamo: Still in
Violation of the Law," covers conditions at Guantánamo in January and
February 2009 and includes new eyewitness accounts from attorneys and
detainees. The authors address continuing abusive conditions at the
prison camp, including conditions of confinement that violate U.S.
obligations under the Geneva Conventions, the U.S. Constitution and
international human rights law.

"The men at Guantánamo are deteriorating at a rapid rate due to the
harsh conditions that continue to this day, despite a few cosmetic
changes to their routines," said CCR Staff Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei.
"They are caught in a vicious cycle where their isolation causes
psychological damage, which causes them to act out, which brings more
abuse and keeps them in isolation. If they are going to be there
another year, or even another day, this has to end."

Despite President Obama's executive order of January 22, 2009,
requiring humane standards of confinement at Guantanamo and conformity
with "all applicable laws governing the conditions of such
confinement," including the Geneva Conventions, attorneys assert that
detainees at Guantanamo have continued to suffer from solitary
confinement, psychological abuse, abusive force-feeding of hunger
strikers, religious abuse, and physical abuse and threats of violence
from guards and Immediate Reaction Force (IRF) teams.

The majority of the men being detained are in isolation. They go weeks
without seeing the sun. Fluorescent lights, however, remain on 24 hours
a day in Camp 5. According to the report, "improvements" cited by the
military are, by and large, public relations activities rather than
meaningful improvements in detainees' conditions.

In a declaration made February 13, 2009, Col. Bruce Vargo, commander of
the Joint Detention Group at Guantánamo, stated that, "There are no
solitary confinement detention areas at JTF-GTMO...Detainees typically
are able to communicate with other detainees either face-to-face or by
spoken word from their cells throughout the day." By this, say
attorneys, he means that the men can yell through the metal food slot
in the solid steel doors of their cells when it is left open and
through the crack between the door and the floor.

The report details multiple cases of abuse occurring in the last month
and a half. For example, "On the afternoon of January 7, 2009, Yasin
Ismael was in one of the outdoor cages of Camp 6 for "recreation" time.
The cage was entirely in the shade.  Mr. Ismael asked to be moved to
the adjoining empty cage because it had sunlight entering from the top.
The guards, who were outside the cages, refused. One guard told Mr.
Ismael that he was "not allowed to see the sun." Angered, Mr. Ismael
threw a shoe against the inner mesh side of the cage; which bounced
harmlessly back onto the cage floor. The guards, however, accused Mr.
Ismael of attacking them and left him in the cage as punishment. He
eventually fell asleep on the floor of the cage, but hours later he was
awakened by the sound of an IRF team entering the cage in the dark. The
team shackled him, and he put up no resistance. They then beat him.
They blocked his nose and mouth until he felt that he would suffocate,
and hit him repeatedly in the ribs and head. They then took him back to
his cell. As he was being taken back, a guard urinated on his head. Mr.
Ismael was badly injured and his ear started to bleed, leaving a large
stain on his pillow. The attack on Mr. Ismael was confirmed by at least
one other detainee."

One detainee in Camp 6 wrote to his attorney in January 2009, "As I
told you, we are in very bad condition, suffering from aggression,
beating and IRF teams, as well as the inability to sleep except for a
few hours.  Soldiers here are on a high alert state and if one of us
dares to leave his cell and comes back without any harm, he is
considered as a man who survived an inevitable danger.

Hunger strikes continue among a large number of men at Guantanamo.
Hunger strikers are brutally force-fed using a restraint chair and
often unsanitary feeding tubes, and are beaten for refusing food, a
practice that continued within the last month and a half. Force-feeding
hunger strikers is considered by the World Medical Association to be a
violation of medical ethics and has continued unabated since President
Obama's Executive Order.

Detainees are still denied access to communal prayer: military
officials continue to classify hearing a call to prayer through a food
slot as communal prayer, which does not comport with the requirements
of Islam. There has been no Muslim chaplain at Guantanamo since 2003,
despite repeated requests. In addition, the report found that then men
are also subject to body search procedures that require the men to
subject themselves to a scanner that visually strips the men naked each
time they leave their cells for attorney meetings or recreation. This
humiliating and degrading experience, particularly given the men's
strong religious background, has led them to stay in their cells all
day, refusing attorney meetings and recreation entirely.

The Center for Constitutional Rights issued a series of recommendations
to ensure the conditions at Guantanamo satisfy legal standards for the
humane treatment of the detainees during the interim period while its
closure is being implemented. They are, in brief,

  • Close Camps 5, 6 and Echo immediately, end solitary
    confinement, and move the men there to facilities with lawful and
    humane conditions of confinement.
  • End religious abuse of
    detainees, including the violations of detainees' right to practice
    their religion freely and the use of routine strip scanning and strip
    searching.
  • Cease the use of IRF teams and all other
    physical abuse of detainees immediately, including ending temperature
    manipulation and sleep deprivation.
  • End the feeding of individuals against their will or under coercive circumstances.
  • Allow
    detainees immediate access to independent medical and psychological
    professionals and cease the practice of forcible medication of
    detainees.

"If President Obama is going to uphold the law and enforce his own
Executive Order, he must close Camps 5, 6, and Echo and improve
conditions immediately," said CCR Executive Director Vincent Warren.
"He should quickly remedy and end the Guantánamo created by his
predecessor, not embrace a whitewash of it. I hope Attorney General
Eric Holder has a freer hand to report the true conditions at the base
from his visit there today than did Adm. Walsh, whose boss has overseen
Guantánamo for the last two years."

To read the full report, click here.

CCR has led the legal battle over Guantanamo for the last six years
- sending the first ever habeas attorney to the base and sending the
first attorney to meet with a former CIA "ghost detainee" there. CCR
has been responsible for organizing and coordinating more than 500 pro
bono lawyers across the country in order to represent the men at
Guantanamo, ensuring that nearly all have the option of legal
representation. In addition, CCR has been working to resettle the
approximately 60 men who remain at Guantánamo because they cannot
return to their country of origin for fear of persecution and torture.

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The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.

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