Presentation details Guantánamo human rights history

Pictures of Guantánamo Bay detainees wearing orange jumpsuits and kneeling on rocks, identities shrouded by black hoods and senses smothered by goggles and earmuffs, elicited sighs of shock and awe from onlookers during a presentation by doctoral candidate Diana Coleman on the Tempe campus Thursday.

Since 2003, international human rights groups have accused the United States of torturing detainees at Guantánamo and violating international human rights sanctions as stipulated by the Geneva Convention and the United Nations.

“One could not do to a dairy cow or a sow pig, what is done to human beings at Guantánamo Bay,” said Coleman, who has come across many instances of torturous techniques being employed by the United States military at Guantánamo Bay in her research.

Coleman spoke about waterboarding, electrocution and short shackling among other abusive interrogation methods, and mentioned one case where military personnel placed bets on two prisoners guessing which prisoner would be the first to defecate on himself. Both of the prisoners were teenage boys around 13 years old, she said.

“To me this is the absurdity of the nation-state at work.  The erasures of laws and the imposition of this limbo land,” Coleman said.

Pictures like those presented in Coleman’s lecture, along with testimony from various ex-military personnel, many who were opposed to the interrogation methods they were forced to employ, have since confirmed such violations, and in 2004, The Washington Post published classified government documents that showed Pentagon approval of using methods like sleep deprivation, exposure to hot and cold, bright lights and loud music during interrogations at Guantánamo, she said.

“This issue raises so many questions about state violence and human rights,” said Juliane Schober, associate professor and co-director of Graduate Studies in Religious Studies.

Shober went on to mention a network of subsidiary detainment camps, similar to Guantánamo but more classified, where prisoners were sent for some time after Sept. 11, 2001.

She also discussed how the U.S. government and military evade accountability for human rights violations by hiring outside contractors in order to continue torturing detainees.

Only 5 percent of prisoners who have been detained at Guantánamo were arrested by U.S. officials as a result of intelligence investigations, according to a study done by the Seton Hall School of Law.

The other 95 percent were mostly purchased from Pakistani police, the Northern Alliance and other mercenary groups, according to the study.

Since the current war in Afghanistan began, 775 detainees have been held at Guantánamo.  Of these, 420 have since been released without charge.

Situated at the southeastern end of Cuba, the Guantanamo Bay area was perpetually leased to the U.S. for the purpose of coaling and naval stations, as stipulated by the Cuban-American Treaty of 1903. The U.S. is afforded absolute jurisdiction and control over the area, according to the treaty, but must recognize the Republic of Cuba’s ultimate sovereignty over the area.

Fidel Castro has said in interviews the treaty should be void because its conclusion was reached by way of force or threat by the U.S., which violates an article of the 1969 Geneva Convention.  However, the Geneva Convention also states that no treaty made before the convention shall be retroactively voided.

Using the land for detention camps, as well as opening McDonalds, Starbucks and other commercial businesses, have also prompted the Cuban government to issue statements, saying the terms of the treaty have been violated because it limits the use of the land to coaling and naval purposes.

In attendance was religious studies doctoral candidate Joel Stoker, who complimented Coleman’s level of research on torture dialogues, a subject that he said has not yet hit the mainstream but is a growing concern in academia.

“Torture is a dehumanizing element of society and the fact that these methods are being engaged by these perceived civilized Western nations such as the U.S. really makes us reset what a civilized nation really is,” Stoker said. “This presentation definitely blurred the lines for what we believe is acceptable activity based upon state regulations, state polices and state actions.”

Reach the reporter at npmendo@asu.edu