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CHEAT SHEET: 10 Years of Guantánamo Bay
January 10, 2012
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On January 11, 2002, the first 20 captives arrived at the United States' detention camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The camp was opened in order to hold "unlawful combatants", who, according to a statement from then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, "do not have any rights under the Geneva Conventions".

As of tomorrow, it will be ten years since the day the camp opened, and despite President Obama's January 12, 2009 campaign promise to close it, there are still 171 prisoners at the camp today, and no closing date in sight.

So what is the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, and what's happened there? Here are some sites that offer an overview of the layout and history of the camp, as well as some opinions from international experts.

Interactive Tour of Guantánamo Bay from The Washington Post

First, get your bearings - using exclusive government documents and a visit to the site as a guide, the Washington Post created an interactive map of the camp that explains where everything is, from the landing strip where prisoners arrive to the prison complex where they're held.


The Numbers on Guantánamo Bay from the American Civil Liberties Union

The ACLU released this infographic yesterday, detailing some of the reported numbers about Guantánamo Bay, including the number of detainees, the cost of housing prisoners, and the percentage of those at the camp who were captured by American troops:


A Timeline of Events from The New York Times

This chronological outline lists all the major events that are known from the history of the detention camp.


Mamoon Durrani for Associated Free Press - "Guantánamo imprisonment stokes Afghan hatred of the US"

"The injustice of imprisonment without trial and reports of harsh treatment in the cages at Guantanamo -- which received its first prisoners from the global war on terror on January 11, 2002 -- fuelled anti-American sentiment, says Afghan writer and analyst Waheed Mujhda.

"Guantanamo has been a big contributing factor to growing violence and militancy in Afghanistan and Pakistan against the US," he told AFP. [...]

At least 20 Afghan citizens are believed to be among the 171 remaining prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and both the Afghan government and the Taliban want them freed."

Lakhdar Boumediene for The New York Times - "My Guantánamo Nightmare"

"ON Wednesday, America's detention camp at Guantánamo Bay will have been open for 10 years. For seven of them, I was held there without explanation or charge. During that time my daughters grew up without me. They were toddlers when I was imprisoned, and were never allowed to visit or speak to me by phone. [...]

I went on a hunger strike for two years because no one would tell me why I was being imprisoned. Twice each day my captors would shove a tube up my nose, down my throat and into my stomach so they could pour food into me. It was excruciating, but I was innocent and so I kept up my protest. [...]

In 2008, my demand for a fair legal process went all the way to America's highest court. In a decision that bears my name, the Supreme Court declared that "the laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times." It ruled that prisoners like me, no matter how serious the accusations, have a right to a day in court. The Supreme Court recognized a basic truth: the government makes mistakes. And the court said that because "the consequence of error may be detention of persons for the duration of hostilities that may last a generation or more, this is a risk too significant to ignore."

Baher Azmy for The Boston Herald - "Guantánamo Represents Obama's Failed Promise"

"The aura of forever hangs heavier than ever at Guantánamo [...]When he ran for president, Obama understood the cost that Guantánamo was exacting on our role in the world. Yet, while today thousands of brave men and women, including those who stood rapt by Obama's proclamations in Cairo, risk their lives to throw off the repression of their militaristic regimes - a thrilling, modern tribute to the irresistible pull of freedom and human rights - America has moved further away than ever from this universal cause. By making his idea of America irrelevant in this age, Obama has broken his biggest promise of all."

Lexington for The Economist - "How to close Guantánamo"

"Closing Guantánamo was going to be one of the big things Mr Obama would do to set America on a new path in relations with the Muslim world. [...]The president has reduced the number of inmates to fewer than 200. Even so, the fact that it is still open counts as a black mark against him and a continuing blemish on the global reputation of the United States.

But here's a question. Should it still be a blemish? Not necessarily, in the politically incorrect view of Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the generally liberal Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, who has started to argue (most recently in a book, "Detention and Denial") that since Mr Obama seems unable or unwilling to close Guantánamo, he should have the courage to try something new. He should keep it open, but make it into a model of how democracies ought to handle suspected terrorists. [...]

So here is his proposal. Mr Wittes would like Mr Obama to say that since Congress has made closure impossible, he will work to make Guantánamo "a symbol not of excess, not of lawlessness and evasion of judicial review, but of detention under the rule of law". In addition, he should commit himself to bringing to Guantánamo all the counter-terrorism detainees America captures anywhere in the world whom it means to hold in military detention for a protracted period, thus ensuring that they benefit from the legal standards established at Guantánamo."

Abigail Pilgrim for - "Don't Close Guantánamo"

"Throughout the Guantanamo saga, I've struggled to understand why it's worth closing one of the most scrutinized and secure prisons in the world - especially in the aftermath of such intense public scrutiny. Symbolically it makes sense for Obama (I mean, Guantanamo is probably the only prison in the world that most people know by name), since once he closes it he's "solved the problem" simply by removing it from public radar. But in terms of rationality and national security, it makes just about as much sense as shutting a school because of inappropriate behavior from a teacher. Fire the teacher-definitely. But close the school?

Being president is about making hard decisions that are best for the country-rather than what's best for your personal image. I'm trying to be optimistic that Obama's Guantanamo grandstanding isn't indicative of what motivates all his decision-making, but it's not the easiest position to hold after watching him be willing to gamble away taxpayer dollars, detainee welfare, and national security interests this time around."

Simon Reid-Henry for The New Statesman - "Guantánamo's imperial past on its 10-year anniversary"

"For the 11 men who were among the first to arrive at Guantánamo, a full decade has now passed in captivity. This is longer than any wartime prisoners have been held in US history and the anniversary has rightly prompted a good deal of speculation as to when and how they might be released. [...]

The Court of Appeals for the District of Colombia, for example, has ruled in many cases that detainees should be released. But it has never actually ordered that they be so, preferring to leave their fate to the pardoning flourish of Obama's own pen. Yet he, in turn, finds that his hands are tied by the madnesses of his own cockatoo Congress who demand that any recipient nation taking in detainees from Guantánamo must provide such vouchsafes for the detainees' future behaviour as are impossible in any rational world to expect. This is why the dozens of Yemenis cleared for release to Yemen have not yet actually been allowed to return. [...]

As scholars like Amy Kaplan have pointed out, Guantánamo's imperial past is constantly reactivated in what the geographer Derek Gregory would term its "colonial present". The bestialisation of its inmates is one example: from the moment they arrive in goggles and boiler suits -- "like giant orange flies", it has been said -- to their subsequent confrontations with the camp dogs. And this favoured imperial trope is present in their legal treatment too: "I think Guantánamo, everyone agrees, is an animal," said Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsburg back in 2004, when she and her colleagues were trying to come to a ruling on the place."

Related stories on

You Don't Like the Truth: 4 Days Inside Guantánamo

Let's Not Forget About Manning


Associated Free Press

New York Times

The Boston Herald

The Economist


The New Statesman


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