x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Required reading: Guantanamo Bay

President Obama says Guantánamo Bay must be closed. So how did an anonymous naval base become the world's most notorious prison?

The Least Worst Place.
The Least Worst Place.



The US President Barack Obama said last week that he will try, once again, to close Guantanamo Bay. He originally promised to close the controversial prison camp – created after September 11 to house prisoners of the “war on terror” – on the first full day of his first term. But congress frustrated his plans and today Guantanamo detains 166 inmates and 100 of those are on a hunger strike. So, is the saga of Guantanamo Bay finally about to end?

In early September 2001, Guantanamo Bay was a naval base at the southeastern tip of Cuba. Turn to The Least Worst Place: How Guantanamo Became the World’s Most Notorious Prison, (OUP, Dh126), by Karen Greenberg to learn how in the months that followed, it was transformed into the prison it is today. Officials, we learn, considered Guam and American Samoa before settling on Guantanamo.

Today, some of Guantanamo’s inmates have spent more than 11 years at the camp without charge or trial. See Guantánamo: America’s War on Human Rights, (Faber & Faber, Dh46), by the journalist David Rose, who has made multiple visits to the camp to interview inmates, for an overview of how Gitmo was run during the Bush years. Red Cross inspectors said that use of extreme temperatures, sleep deprivation and humiliating acts constituted torture. Such acts have, we’re told, been halted by the Obama administration.

Perhaps the most powerful accounts of Guantanamo, however, come first-hand from men who have been detained behind its walls. In Enemy Combatant, (Pocket Books, Dh46), the British citizen Moazzam Begg tells how he was arrested in Pakistan – Begg was born in Birmingham to Pakistani parents – and sent to Guantanamo, where no charge was ever brought against him. Begg spent three years in the camp – and was interrogated more than 300 times – before being released without explanation in 2005.


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