USA: Guantánamo Bay - New report shows 80% of detainees in solitary confinement

In a new report published today (5 April), Amnesty International says that 80% of detainees at the US military prison at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba are being held in solitary confinement, often in harsh and inhumane conditions.

The report, published days after UK resident Bisher al-Rawi was returned from Guantánamo after over four years in detention - some of it in solitary confinement, calls for an end to the routine use of extended solitary confinement by the US authorities and for independent medical experts to be allowed to examine the prisoners.

Amnesty International has long called for the entire camp to be closed, with plans for unfair “military commission” trials to be abandoned. Last month the organisation published a 103-page report condemning the military commissions as a “travesty of justice”.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“The entire process at Guantánamo is a travesty of justice, but we have particular concerns over the widespread use of solitary confinement in harsh conditions at the camp.

“With many prisoners already in despair at being held in indefinite detention on a remote island prison, some are dangerously close to full-blown mental and physical breakdown after years of solitary confinement.

“The US authorities should immediately stop pushing people to the edge with extreme isolation techniques and allow proper access for independent medical experts and human rights groups.”

There are approximately 385 men held at Guantánamo Bay and, after an apparent hardening of US operational detention policy in January, around 300 of these are now being held in three units with minimal contact with other prisoners or even prison guards. These units - known as Camp 5, Camp 6 and Camp Echo - are comparable to so-called “super-max” high security units in the United States.

Unlike mainland super-max prisoners, however, Guantánamo detainees are held indefinitely as “enemy combatants”, face either no trial at all or an unfair one, have no family visits and no independent expert examinations.

One of the 300 detainees presently held in these conditions is UK resident Shaker Aamer, who has been kept in solitary confinement in Camp Echo for more than a year and a half. He is reportedly confined to a small (six-feet by eight-feet), windowless cell with no natural light or fresh air. He is allowed only minimal opportunity for exercise and - apart from a Qu’ran - has no possessions.

Mr Aamer, who has formerly acted as a camp negotiator and may be suffering harsh treatment as a consequence, was at one time denied any exercise outside of his cell for at least 64 consecutive days. He has also reportedly suffered beatings and harassment by camp guards, including having his clothes and mattress removed.

The Red Cross, the only independent monitoring organisation allowed to inspect the detention facilities at Guantánamo, has described conditions at Camp Echo as “extremely harsh”. Prisoners are kept in their windowless cells for 23 or 24 hours a day, and - in the absence of any natural light whatsoever - fluorescent lighting is kept on 24 hours a day. Meanwhile, Camp 6 has been described by one detainee as a “dungeon above the ground”.

Amnesty International’s new report is also part of a campaign to convince the UK authorities of the need to immediately press for the fair trial or safe release of at least seven remaining UK residents still held at Guantánamo.

These include 37-year-old old Brighton resident Omar Deghayes, who has been held at the prison camp for over four years after being detained without legal safeguards in Pakistan in 2002, before subsequent rendition to Afghanistan and Guantánamo.

Mr Deghayes, whose family are officially recognised refugees from Libya (having fled persecution under Colonel Gaddafi’s regime), alleges that he has been tortured by US guards at Guantánamo. He has also told his lawyer that Libyan intelligence officers have been allowed to interrogate him in the camp - with one official allegedly threatening Mr Deghayes with death if he were ever returned to Libya.

Amnesty International believes that the UK government’s refusal to help all of the UK residents is untenable and unacceptable, and that the UK is duty-bound to assist people resident in the UK, many of whom are refugees and have British nationals as family members.

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