From Thu Dec 4 10:15:33 2003
Date: Wed, 26 Nov 2003 17:29:08 -0600 (CST)
Article: 169098
To: undisclosed-recipients: ;,6512,1012005,00.html

Guantanamo Bay

By Peter Walker, The Guardian, Wednesday 10 January 2007

The US prison for alleged terrorists has detained suspects from all over the world for five years but how exactly does it work? Peter Walker explains

What is Guantanamo Bay?

It is a US naval base on the eastern tip of Cuba which, for the past five years, has been used as a detention centre for suspected terrorists, mainly captured in Afghanistan during the US assault following the September 11 attacks.

Those held are suspected of fighting for the Taliban or being operatives for al-Qaida, and are considered "enemy combatants" rather than prisoners of war, meaning the US does not consider them subject to the Geneva convention.

This means prisoners can be detained indefinitely without trial, something critics condemn as a legal black hole.

Who is currently detained at Guantanamo Bay?

At its peak, around 750 prisoners were held at the camp but hundreds have been released over the years.

According to a statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on December 31, the only organisation allowed to visit prisoners, there are currently about 382 detainees from roughly 40 countries inside Guantanamo Bay. Most of these are from Afghanistan or Pakistan.

A group of alleged 14 key suspects, including Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the alleged mastermind behind the September 11 attacks, were moved from secret CIA prisons into a maximum-security compound at Guantanamo late last year ahead of planned legal hearings.

Are there any Britons being held there?

No. Nine UK nationals were being detained. Five were released in March 2004, and the final four - Moazzam Begg, Feroz Abbasi, Martin Mubanga and Richard Belmar - were flown to London in January 2005.

However, nine British residents without UK citizenship remain in the camp, including some who lived in the country for decades. The British government has declined to pressurise Washington for their release, saying it is not its responsibility.

What is the legal status of the prisoners?

Detainees have been denied their rights under the Geneva convention, although the US insists they are being treated humanely, in line with the protocols set out in the agreement.

As long as the prisoners never touch US soil - and American courts do not consider the Cuban base to be part of the US - they are also denied the rights guaranteed to criminals under the constitution, such as a presumption of innocence and a trial by jury.

The plan is to try prisoners by military tribunal, something that has been challenged by lawyers acting for some detainees.

In June last year, the US supreme court ruled that the military violated US and international law. The government responded by passing the Military Commissions Act 2006, which legislates for tribunals where evidence can be brought and permits indefinite detention without trial where it cannot.

What is the international attitude to Guantanamo?

Many governments, as well as human rights groups, have demanded it be closed and the detainees charged or released immediately. Amnesty International has labelled the camp a "symbol for injustice and abuse".

The British government's stance has also hardened recently. In October, the foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, used a speech on human rights to label the centre "unacceptable in terms of human rights", calling for it to be closed.

What will happen to the current detainees?

Around 75 of them are believed to have been selected to go before the military tribunals, which could begin hearings in the next few months. The fate of others is less certain.

Amnesty International has highlighted the plight of detainees such as Mohammed al-Amin, a Mauritanian national held in Pakistan as a teenager before being sent to Guantanamo.

"His interrogations have stopped; he simply languishes in the US detention facility with no ability to challenge his incarceration," the group said.

What is Camp Delta like for the prisoners?

Prisoners are held in four camps, in small, mesh-sided cells, for up to 24 hours a day. Cellblocks are made up of 48 cells. There is little privacy, and lights are kept on day and night.

Inmates are allowed half an hour of exercise between three and seven days each week in a caged recreation yard measuring 7.6 metres by 9.1 metres.

The ICRC visits prisoners, and arranges the exchange of letters between inmates and their families. US officials look over the contents of all correspondence with families, who are not allowed to visit.

Many released prisoners have alleged they were beaten or mistreated in other ways, something US officials vehemently denied.

Last year, dozens of inmates staged hunger strikes in protest at their detention. In June, three prisoners committed suicide by hanging themselves with bed sheets.

Why does the US have a naval base on Cuba?

The base dates back to a treaty, signed in 1903 and renewed in 1934, which leases the Guantanamo Bay site to the US for $4,085 (2,113) per year.

The treaty requires the consent of both governments to revoke or change it and, unsurprisingly, the US will not agree to that. In protest, Cuba has refused to accept the rent payments.