Critics of the Guantanamo Bay detention center have consistently charged that the prisoners in Guantanamo are routinely denied their basic human and civil rights, and that they are often abused and/or tortured by American authorities.
The major media have broadcast these claims widely. 60 Minutes, for instance, featured Sgt. Erik Saar’s allegations that interrogators had denied prisoners' requests for water. The BBC repeated sordid tales from released detainees like Mamdouh Habib, who alleged that he had been subjected to a vicious beating, a gang-rape, and electro-shock treatment. BBC also gave air time to British detainee Jamal al-Harith's claim that Americans had offered prisoners “filthy” water, fed them food that was ten years out of date, and performed gratuitous amputations. The Toronto Sun reported the fantastic claim of 15-year-old Omar Khadr, the son of a prime al-Qaeda financier, who said that Guantanamo guards had thrashed him and had used his body to mop up urine from a floor. And Newsweek magazine infamously reported an allegation that a G.I. had flushed a Koran down a Guantanamo toilet. (Before the Newsweek story was revealed to be completely false, 16 people had died as a result of Muslim riots protesting the alleged affront to their faith.)
Even more than the media, groups of the far Left and their allies in the Democratic Party led the way in disseminating anti-Guantanamo propaganda. Chief among these was the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which published “Detention in Afghanistan and Guantanamo,” a 115-page report by former detainees Asef Iqbal, Ruhal Ahmed and Shafiq Rasul, who claimed that Guantanamo employees had sprayed detainees with mace, “forced” them to undergo “injections with unknown drugs,” and denied them medical treatment.
The International Committee of the Red Cross called the treatment which detainees received at Guantanamo “tantamount to torture.” Amnesty International referred to Guantanamo as “the gulag of our time.” Human Rights Watch (HRW) repeated the claims verbatim. HRW's U.S. Advocacy Director Wendy Patten called Guantanamo “the Bermuda Triangle of human rights.” All these statements were publicized heavily to the Arab world by Al-Jazeera.
The propaganda of these groups and individuals fed off the ever-more-extremist rhetoric of the Democratic Party Left. Senator Richard Durbin, for one, compared the Guantanamo Bay interrogators to “Nazis, Soviets in their gulags or some mad regime – Pol Pot or others – who have no concern for human beings.” Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, along with 2008 presidential hopeful Joe Biden, called for shutting down Guantanamo. Clinton said, “It's time that there are no more stories coming out of there about people being abused.... If we get a reputation for abusing people, it puts our own soldiers much more at risk.” Biden claimed Guantanamo “has become the greatest propaganda tool that exists for recruiting of terrorists.”
In response to these and many other allegations, the U.S. government conducted twelve separate probes in a fifteen-month period during 2004-05 and found no evidence of abuse beyond a handful of minor incidents that were rare aberrations. In 2004 Vice Admiral Albert Church concluded that the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo “is a model that should be considered for use in other interrogation operations in the global war on terror.” In a July 2005 appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Lt. Gen. Randall “Mark” Schmidt and Brig. Gen. John Furlow reported that their own extensive research had uncovered only four unpunished abuses out of 24,000 interrogations which they conducted at Guantanamo. Those abuses included the following:
A male interrogator once threatened to “go after” a terrorist suspect’s family;
One terrorist had his mouth duct-taped shut after he refused to quit chanting; and
Twice detainees were briefly chained to the floor.
Notably, Schmidt and Furlow found no substantiation for allegations that terror suspects had been chained for hours and forced to defecate on themselves, nor that Guantanamo interrogators had kept their prisoners in excessively hot or cold rooms – two claims that Senator Durbin had made on the Senate floor. Nor was there any evidence that the military had denied prisoners food or medical necessities.
The reality of Guantanamo Bay bears no resemblance to the dark picture painted by the critics. All the detainees are supplied with Islamic religious items including a Koran, prayer mat, and cap. Loudspeakers in the camps broadcast the Muslims' call to prayer five times each day. All prisoners' meals are certified halal (adhering to Islamic law) by Guantanamo's Muslim chaplain. Religious services are held for the prisoners on a regular basis. The floor of every cell has a stenciled arrow pointing toward Mecca, so that prisoners may face the correct direction while saying their prayers. Guantanamo's 6,000-book library is well stocked with Islamic literature as well as books and DVDs on a wide range of subjects. There is an outdoor basketball court, and a special classroom where detainees can learn English, Arabic, or Pashtu. Guantanamo's medical facilities are staffed by dentists, internal medicine practitioners, psychiatrists, nurses, and even special translators who do not interact with guards. The detainee hospital provides top-level care 24 hours a day. That includes access to a pharmacy, which distributes some 400 medications daily, as well as a state-of-the-art radiology room, complete with CAT scan capabilities. It is also noteworthy that between April 2002 and March 2003, the detainees, rather than suffering from malnutrition, had gained an average of 13 pounds apiece.
All of these assertions have been verified by independent observers.