The ACLU, Amnesty International, Human Rights First and Human Rights Watch wrote to President Obama today requesting full access to the Guantánamo Bay detention camps to independently examine and report on conditions of confinement there. Our four organizations were granted observer status in August 2004 in order to observe the military commissions, but our persistent requests for full access to the detention camps have been repeatedly denied by the Bush administration, which only offered us the VIP tour of sanitized areas approved by their public relations experts.
Section 6 of President Obama's January 22, 2009 executive order orders Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the Department of Defense (DoD) to immediately review the conditions of detention at Guantánamo and ensure compliance with the Geneva Conventions. If full access is granted, our organizations would independently review and report on the conditions of confinement at Guantánamo and make concrete recommendations for change, assisting the DoD with their current review. The independent outside assessment would also be reported publicly to the world and contribute to a renewed effort to bring the U.S. into compliance with international human rights obligations.
The ACLU and other organizations continue to struggle for information regarding the present conditions of confinement of detainees in Guantánamo. The information that we have managed to piece together has been disturbing and worrisome; many detainees have attempted suicide, others are on hunger strike to protest conditions of confinement, and many detainees continue to be held in inhumanely isolated confinement for months and years on end.
President Obama has pledged that his administration will usher in a new era of openness and transparency. Allowing four independent civil liberties and human rights organizations to independently examine the Guantánamo detention camps would signal a significant break from the Bush administration's policy of secrecy regarding conditions of confinement at Guantánamo. By doing so, President Obama would help restore American legitimacy and standing in the world, and place pressure on other governments to open their detention centers for independent inspections.
In light of the important changes that President Obama has initiated in his first days in office, we trust that he will act quickly to uphold transparency at Guantánamo.
To learn more about the ACLU's efforts around Guantánamo, visit www.closegitmo.com.