"Gitmo," the US detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, reached its 10th anniversary on Wednesday.
Human rights groups used the occasion to strongly criticize the US for continuing to "illegally" detain inmates at the center, described by GlobalSecurity.org as America's oldest base overseas and located on the southeast corner of Cuba, in the Oriente Province, about 400 air miles from Miami, Florida.
Amnesty International called their incarceration "an attack on human rights."
To mark a decade since the US began detaining — and reportedly torturing — foreign terror suspects, labeled by then-US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as the "the worst of the worst," Gitmo inmates on Tuesday began three days of protests, a lawyer for the men told the Washington Post.
Some refused to return to their cells for the four-hour nightly lockdown and slept in the recreation areas. Others said they would refuse food for the duration of the protest.
“These peaceful protests are the most eloquent response to the US government’s refusal to shutter the prison and its claims that Guantanamo is a normal, state-of-the-art facility," Ramzi Kassem, a law professor at the City University of New York and counsel to some of the detainees, reportedly said.
Before his election to the presidency, Barack Obama pledged to close the facility. But he has since backtracked, signing into law the National Defense Authorization Act, which according to The Guardian "further diminishes any prospect of due process or freedom for the 171 individuals still incarcerated in Guantanamo."
Of the 171 detainees remaining at Guantanamo, 59 have been cleared for repatriation — or resettlement in another country in cases where their lives would be in danger upon returning home — according to the Washington Post.
The first batch of terrorist suspects brought to Guantanamo Bay were seized in Pakistan and Afghanistan and transported aboard a C-141 transport plane that arrived Jan. 11, 2002.
A few weeks after the center opened, President George W. Bush said the detainees were not entitled to the protection of the Geneva Conventions because they were not part of a regular army, according to CNN.
Guantanamo's population grew rapidly to a maximum of 680 the following year, and expanded beyond "Camp X-Ray" to other blocks.
CNN cites Human Rights Watch as saying detainees were subject to "painful stress positions, extended solitary confinement, threatening military dogs, threats of torture and death" and other abuses.
The Bush administration, while insisting enhanced interrogation techniques did not amount to torture, contended that exceptional methods were legitimate in the face of an ongoing threat from terrorism.
Amnesty International, meantime, published a report timed to coincide with the Gitmo 10-year anniversary, titled "A decade of Damage to Human Rights."
In it, Rob Freer, Amnesty International's researcher on the US, says:
"Guantanamo has come to symbolize 10 years of a systematic failure by the USA to respect human rights in its response to the 9/11 attacks.
"The US government disregarded human rights from day one of the Guantanamo detentions. As we move into year 11 in the life of the detention facility, this failure continues."
The Washington Post quoted White House spokesman Jay Carney as saying Monday that Obama remained committed to closing Gitmo.
“We all are aware of the obstacles to getting that done as quickly as the president wanted to get it done, what they were and the fact that they continued to persist,” Carney said. “But the president’s commitment hasn’t changed at all.”
Below, former Guantanamo inmate Moazzam Begg reveals what it was like: