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Reflecting on the Legacy of the Notorious Detention Camp and US Counter-Terrorism Policy Two Decades After 9/11

Exactly four months after the 11 September 2001 attacks that led US President George W. Bush to launch the global “war on terror,” the US military began transferring detainees to the US detention center in Guantánamo Bay. The first images from the camp showed men in orange jumpsuits, shackled and fitted with sensory deprivation gear, forced to kneel on gravel in front of metal outdoor cages. US officials strategically chose the isolated detention camp on the island of Cuba because they asserted it to be beyond the reach of law. Since then, Guantánamo has become synonymous with horrific crimes, including rendition, torture and indefinite detention without charge or trial.

Still in operation today, Guantánamo remains a global symbol of injustice and an enduring stain on the US. It also calls into question the viability of the global human rights system that has, to date, failed to shutter it. Guantánamo’s legacy – of norms, principles and law pushed to and beyond their breaking point in ways both spectacularly brutal and banal – does not belong to the past. Its echoes are evident in today’s mass surveillance systems, fortressed borders, and drone warfare around the world.

As an organization that has worked closely with former Guantánamo detainees and partner organizations to seek justice and accountability in European courts, ECCHR is recognizing the twenty-year anniversaries of 9/11 and Guantánamo’s opening as a detention camp for “war on terror” detainees through an event series, online art exhibition, and anthology publication.

“We must stand up against concrete injustices in individual cases as well as point out their systemic and structural underpinnings. Above all, we must stand up for the rights and human dignity of all people everywhere.”
Wolfgang Kaleck

If history is written by the victors, as the saying goes, then who will write the story of the detention camp at Guantánamo? How can we grapple with the legacy of injustices that persist not only in Guantánamo’s continued operation, but also in its myriad contemporary manifestations: from mass surveillance to fortressed borders, drone warfare to domestic terrorism frameworks, crackdowns on protestors by heavily militarized police to enduring double standards of accountability for powerful Western actors?

In response to such questions, this anthology represents a conscious effort to remember, reflect and reckon with Guantánamo and two decades of US counter-terrorism policy by those who have fought against, worked within, or been held captive at the notorious detention camp. By presenting a diverse range of personal insider accounts, expressed in writing, interviews and artistic visual mediums, it aims to not only stir reflections on the failings of the last twenty years, but also to highlight the humanity inside the walls of the detention center the way we – current and former detainees, lawyers, activists, journalists, academics and artists – see it.

The anthology aspires to present a specific part of the human history, preserved for both present and future generations, of what we see as the real story of Guantánamo over the last twenty years. We hope that it will help shape the memory and conversation surrounding the detention camp in the years to come, and that it will serve as a record when history finally comes to bear on the US for its crimes.

Table of Contents

Chapter I.

Life at and after Guantánamo: Voices of current and former detainees

Chapter II.

Defending Guantánamo detainees: Practicing law where law is meant to be absent

Chapter III.

Transnational legal action against Guantánamo: Contesting impunity and injustice across borders

Chapter IV.

Guantánamo’s living legacies: Enduring impacts in the here and now

What does the US military prison at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba look like? The answer is undoubtedly different for the detainees held captive there, the military personnel working there, and the limited numbers of lawyers, journalists, artists and other civilians who have been afforded restricted access on tightly controlled visits to the site over the last twenty years.

In addition to photos of the base released in the public domain, all subject to military review and censorship, Guantánamo also looms large in many people’s imaginations. Myriad artists, among them current and former detainees, have used art as a means to depict, critique, escape or otherwise engage with Guantánamo through visual, written and experiential mediums. To mark the grim 20-year anniversary of the prison’s continued operation in the disastrous “war on terror,” ECCHR presents five videos featuring different artists and artistic engagements with Guantánamo over the last two decades.

Guantánamo Images and Imaginaries: Engaging With the Prison Through Art

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Explore Guantánamo through diverse artistic mediums in conversation with the artists themselves.

Sarah Mirk:
Comics Journalism

Journalist Sarah Mirk and her team of diverse graphic artists tell the stories of ten people whose lives have been shaped and affected by the prison, including former prisoners, lawyers, social workers, and service members. This collection of illustrated interviews explores the history of Guantánamo and the world post-9/11, presenting this complicated partisan issue through a new lens.

Mansoor Adayfi:
Detainee Art

Mansoor Adayfi was born in a village in the mountains of Yemen. He was detained at Guantánamo for over 14 years, and now lives in Serbia. His memoir Don’t Forget Us Here is about his time at Guantánamo and the resilience of the human spirit. In this video he will be speaking about the meaning that art has had for himself and others detained, both while at Guantánamo and in navigating life after release.

Ian Alan Paul:
Speculative Museum

On 29 August 2012, the Guantánamo Bay Museum of Art and History was opened to the public. The project operates as a critical fiction and experimental documentary, asserting that the Guantánamo Bay detention facilities have been closed and replaced by a museum that critically reflects on the social and political significance of the prison. The video introduces the project, includes a virtual tour of the museum, and features a conversation with artist Ian Alan Paul.

Molly Crabapple:
Illustration and Courtroom Sketching

Molly Crabapple is an award-winning artist and writer based in New York. She is the fourth artist in the last decade to be allowed to visit and draw Guantánamo Bay, its staff and inmates. On commission by Vice magazine, she drew and reported on pretrial hearings of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, as well as the prison premises and hunger striking detainees.

Debi Cornwall
Photography

Debi Cornwall is a photographer and former civil rights lawyer who took photographs during three visits to Guantánamo Bay in 2014 and 2015. In this video she describes her culminating project titled “Welcome to Camp America: Inside Guantánamo Bay,” which explores personal experiences at the prison from different vantage points, including the perspectives of prisoners, guards and former inmates who have been released and were brought home or deported to third-party countries.

Working closely with former Guantánamo detainees and partner organizations to seek justice and accountability in European courts, ECCHR was convening an interdisciplinary event series between the twenty-year anniversaries of the 9/11 attacks and Guantánamo’s opening as a detention camp for “war on terror” detainees on 11 January 2002. The series engaged with Guantánamo’s legacy through a variety of mediums, formats and disciplines. This included film screenings, book talks, panel discussions, art exhibitions, and the launch of an anthology. The goal: spur public reflection, debate and ideas for closing the detention camp, combating Guantánamo’s erosion of international law and justice, and charting a different future.

11 September 2021

Guantánamo Voices Book Talk

11 September 2021

In Search of Monsters — Film Screening and Discussion

21 September 2021

The War on Terror in Court — Panel Discussion

24 November 2021

Moving the Bar: Michael Ratner's Radical Lawyering — Book Talk

11 January 2022

Rupture and Reckoning: Guantánamo Turns 20 Anthology — Launch Event

20 January 2022

Welcome to Camp America: Inside Guantánamo Bay — Photo Exhibition and Panel Discussion

25 April 2022

Rabiye Kurnaz v. George W. Bush — Film Preview

ECCHR and its partners have worked closely with former Guantánamo detainees and other victims of US torture, rendition and extrajudicial killings to seek reparation and accountability for the crimes they endured.

In response to the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States, the US military and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) – with approval at the highest levels of government – kidnapped, unlawfully detained, and tortured thousands of people in detention sites around the world. The detention center at the US Naval Station Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, was only one of many such sites established beyond US borders to evade legal protections guaranteed by the US Constitution and international law, violating fundamental and binding international legal standards. Numerous other countries, including several in Europe, hosted US black sites on their territory or otherwise condoned or tolerated the existence of this system. In the years after 9/11, ECCHR, together with partner organizations and lawyers – many of whom are featured in this anthology – has worked closely with former Guantánamo detainees and other victims of US torture and abuse, to seek reparation for the crimes they endured and accountability for the “architects” – high-ranking US officials, politicians, intelligence agents and military personnel – responsible for the US torture program, in a concerted transnational legal strategy utilizing European domestic courts as well as a variety of regional and international fora. Below are summaries of ECCHR’s main areas of casework in this regard over the years.

Former Casework

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Published

December 2023

Copyright

© 2023 ECCHR
Artwork from Sarah Mirk’s book Guantánamo Voices (Abrams ComicArts, 2020) with illustrations by Maki Naro (Header), Jeremy Nguyen (Former Casework), and Omar Khouri (Interdisciplinary Event Series).