On January 11, 2002, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and military intervention in Afghanistan, the first detainees were transferred to the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. At the time, the decision to house detainees outside US territory brought with it the blatant intention to operate outside the law. Since then, Guantánamo has come to symbolize the shocking human rights violations associated with the so-called ”war on terror” including arbitrary detention, secret detention, torture and other ill-treatment, renditions, and unfair trials.
Over a decade later, more than 150 detainees remain at Guantánamo Bay. The majority are in indefinite detention without charge or trial. Those who have been charged face unfair trial by military commission and some can face the death penalty if convicted. The government claims that even those found not guilty can be returned to indefinite detention. There has been essentially no accountability or redress for the human rights violations to which they and other detainees have been subjected.
Human rights concerns in Guantánamo Bay remain an unfinished story. How long before the US government closes the book on Guantánamo, ends the use of unlawful detention in other facilities, and meets its human rights obligations?
Read the latest update and take action Guantánamo hunger strikes: Five steps the US government must take to end the injustice
11 September – Nearly 3,000 people are killed when four hijacked planes are crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. Amnesty International considers the attacks to constitute a crime against humanity.
13 November – President Bush issues a military order on the "Detention, Treatment and Trial of Certain Non-Citizens, in the War Against Terrorism", ordering the Secretary of Defense to find an “appropriate location” to hold non-US nationals in indefinite custody without charge. The order seeks to prohibit any detainee held under it from seeking any remedy in any proceeding in any US, foreign or international court. If any detainee were to be tried, the trial would be by military commission – a body created by the executive, not an independent or impartial ordinary court.
28 December – A memorandum from the Justice Department to the Pentagon claims that because Guantánamo Bay is not sovereign US territory, the federal courts should not be able to consider habeas corpus petitions from "enemy aliens" detained at the base.
11 January – The first detainees are transferred to Guantánamo from Afghanistan and are held in wire mesh cages in an area known as Camp X-Ray.
7 February – President Bush signs a memorandum stating that no Taleban or al-Qa’ida detainee will qualify as a prisoner of war and that Article 3 common to the 1949 Geneva Conventions (common Article 3) will not apply to them either. Among other things, Common Article 3 prohibits unfair trials, torture, cruelty and "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and
1 August – A memorandum from the Justice Department to then White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales claims that the President can authorize torture.
4 and 10 December – two Afghan detainees die in US custody in Bagram as a result of torture or other ill-treatment.
3 July – The Pentagon announces that President Bush has made six Guantánamo detainees eligible for trial by military commission. Two of the six are subsequently released without charge or trial to the UK.
30 January – The ICRC expresses its concern that the “US authorities have placed the internees in Guantánamo beyond the law. This means that, after more than eighteen months of captivity, the internees still have no idea about their fate, and no means of recourse through any legal mechanism. Through its visits, the ICRC has been uniquely placed to witness the impact this
uncertainty has had on the internees. It has observed a worrying deterioration in the psychological health of a large number of them.”
November – A challenge brought on behalf of Yemeni detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan in federal court leads to the suspension of military commission pre-trial proceedings.
25 May – Amnesty International calls for the Guantánamo detention facility to be closed. The call is subsequently joined by UN experts, former US Presidents Carter and Clinton, heads of state from Europe and elsewhere, and other human rights and legal organizations.
30 December – President Bush signs into law the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, which bans the use of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (only, however, as defined by US law, which is markedly narrower than the prohibition under international law) but also severely curtails the right of Guantánamo detainees to judicial review of the lawfulness or conditions of their detention.
10 June – Three detainees die at the Guantánamo facility, apparently after committing suicide.
29 June – The US Supreme Court, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, rules that the military commissions as constituted under the 2001 Military Order violate US and international law. The Court also rules that at minimum common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions does apply to detainees, reversing the 2002 presidential determination.
30 March – Australian national David Hicks becomes the first Guantánamo detainee to be convicted by military commission. Under a pre-trial agreement he pleads guilty to “providing material support for terrorism” and is sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment which he will serve in Australia.
20 July – President Bush issues an executive order authorizing and endorsing secret detention.
5 February - The CIA Director confirms that “waterboarding” was used in 2002 and 2003 by the agency as an interrogation technique against three detainees held in secret custody.
12 June - The US Supreme Court, in Boumediene v Bush, rules that the detainees held in Guantanamo as “enemy combatants” have the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in a court of law.
July/August - The first trial takes place before a military commission convened under the Military Commissions Act of 2006. Salim Hamdan, a Yemeni national, is convicted by a panel of six US military officers of “providing material support for terrorism” and acquitted of “conspiracy”. He is sentenced to five and a half years, but is credited with time already spent in detention. In November 2008, Salim Hamdan will be transferred to Yemen to serve the remaining one month of his sentence.
7 October - A US federal judge orders the US government to release into the USA the 17 Uighur detainees still held in Guantánamo. The government had earlier conceded that the 17 men are not “enemy combatants”. The government appeals the decision and their release is indefinitely postponed.
20 January - Barack Obama is inaugurated as President of the United States of America.
22 January - President Obama signs three executive orders, one of which states that the detention facility at Guantánamo “shall be closed as soon as practicable and no later than one year from the date of this order." The order also requires a review of all Guantánamo detentions and of conditions of detention and a halt to military commission proceedings. President Obama also orders the CIA to end the use of prolonged secret detention and to end the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques”.
15 May - President Obama announces he will revive military commission trials of detainees.
21 May – In a major speech on national security, President Obama restates his commitment to closing Guantánamo but endorses indefinite detention without criminal trial of some detainees.
October - Canadian national Omar Khadr, who was 15 years old at the time he was taken into US military custody in Afghanistan in July 2002, pleads guilty to five “war crimes” charges. He is sentenced to 40 years in prison by a military commission “jury”, but under a plea trial agreement this is limited to eight years. The Canadian and US authorities agree to support his transfer to Canada after he serves one year in US custody.
04 April – Attorney General Holder announces that the five Guantánamo detainees accused of responsibility for the September 11 attacks will be tried in military commissions, reversing the previous decision announced 18 months earlier to try them in federal court in the USA.
8 September – Yemeni national Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif was found dead in his cell in Guantánamo. The circumstances are still under investigation. He is the ninth detainee to die since the detention facility opened in January 2002.
167 men still held at Guantánamo.