Shelby: A global symbol of America’s War on Terror, the detention center at Guantanamo Bay is one of the most controversial places on the planet.
Specialist Murray: If we have a problem here at the camp, we’re going to have problems in other parts of the world.
Shelby: Inside these camps are more than 150 men who were brought here because they were suspected of terrorism. Now, they are being held by the United States. Many people call the men prisoners, but most of them are technically detainees, meaning they have never been charged or convicted of a crime.
Who are some of the big names?
Admiral John W. Smith, Jr.: We don’t get into specific names due to our tactics, techniques and procedures. We do give out numbers, but not specific names.
Shelby: While most of the detainees’ identities are protected, we do know that nearly 800 men have passed through Guantanamo’s cells since 2002, ranging from admitted 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to Yaser Esam Hamdi, a former American citizen born in Louisiana.
So every detainee is checked every three minutes?
Security guard: Every three minutes.
Shelby: At least.
Security guard: At least.
Shelby: Security is tight. Guards are on alert around the clock. Cameras, watchtowers and barbed wire surround the base. And detainees are always restrained when they are outside of their cellblocks. When they watch TV, they sit in this chair and they are always secured to the ground with this restraint.
The only way for most people to see what is going on at Guantanamo is through the eyes of journalists. But as we found out, media access is limited. At the end of every day, we have to have our tapes reviewed for operations security. That is because we are not allowed to shoot anything like the faces of the detainees, security operations, or even the layout of the camp. There were a lot of things we couldn’t see, but we did get a glimpse at how much Guantanamo has changed since it opened more than 11 years ago.
Security guard: Every block has a media room.
Shelby: These days, detainees can watch TV, play video games and live in communal-style camps if they follow the rules. But they haven’t always had these kinds of privileges. The first detainees were kept in these cells at Camp X-Ray when they arrived in 2002. Now this camp hasn’t been used for more than ten years, but as you can see, the cells are open to the elements out here and the spaces are really small.
Photos of hooded and shackled detainees offer a better look at Camp X-Ray when it first opened. When the pictures were released to the world, they sparked protests and international outrage.
Protestors: What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!
Shelby: Do you think those photos left a bruise on the reputation of Guantanamo Bay?
Admiral Smith: Well, I think those photos were taken out of context. The reason they were kneeling at the time was not for punishment. They were kneeling at the time because they were being in-processed. And I think if the explanation was released with the photo, we wouldn’t have such a huge disparity of what was reality versus what is true.
Shelby: But the Gitmo controversy had only just begun. And even after Guantanamo’s more permanent facility, Camp Delta, opened ninety days later with bigger rooms, recreation yards and a hospital, there were growing concerns about abuse and mistreatment of the detainees. Human rights groups also protested the status of the alleged terrorists.
Donald Rumsfeld: They are not POWs. They will not be determined to be POWs.
Shelby: Instead of calling the captured men “prisoners of war,” the U.S. labeled them “enemy combatants” and argued that they could be held without a trial and were not protected by the Geneva Conventions, international agreements calling for the humane treatment of war victims.
Matthew Waxman: If you want to interrogate detainees more aggressively, so the thinking went, you needed to find ways around those limitations of the Geneva Conventions.
Shelby: The U.S. government approved harsh methods of questioning that involved things like sleep deprivation, slapping and “waterboarding,” which simulates drowning. But the enhanced interrogation methods were controversial and activists argued they were illegal forms of torture.
Under any circumstances, can someone here torture a detainee?
Admiral Smith: No ma’am. That is not allowed.
Shelby: The government says harsh interrogation techniques stopped in 2005, and detainees have gained more rights in recent years. For example, the Supreme Court ruled that the detainees are protected by the Geneva Conventions, and that they have the right to challenge their detention. As a result, many of the men now have attorneys.
Omar Farah: I represent seven detainees.
Shelby: Some of Omar Farah’s clients are among the 86 men approved for release or transfer at least three years ago but whose home countries are considered too unstable for the U.S. to send them back.
How would you describe your client’s mental and physical conditions?
Omar: They’re facing the potential of growing old and dying in a prison far from their families, far from their home countries, without ever having being charged. And that’s creating, as I said, a level of uncertainty and despair that is really crushing them physically and psychologically.
Shelby: Omar and others want the Obama administration to transfer the detainees and close Guantanamo altogether.
Waxman: Were some people brought to Guantanamo extremely dangerous? Absolutely. But were some people brought to Guantanamo who never should have been detained in the first place? Yeah, I think so too as well.