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Episode
313

Guantanamo Bay | America’s Worst Prison

Nov 8, 2022
Politics
-
24
minutes

It’s a small enclave of Cuba that is used by the United States to detain and interrogate terrorist suspects.

But how did this small part of Cuba become an important asset in the “War on Terror”, what actually happens there, and will any US president manage to close it down?

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about a place that exists outside American territory, and even the law.

[00:00:30] A secret place that holds the ‘worst of the worst’ from terrorist organisations around the world, but has also been shown to detain and torture perfectly innocent people.

[00:00:42] A place that has been steeped in controversy since the day it opened, caused concerns for human rights experts and legal scholars around the world, and has been a political talking point for four American presidents.

[00:00:58] I am talking, of course, about Guantanamo Bay.

[00:01:03] So, let’s get right into it.

[00:01:07] A row of handcuffed men are led into the pen.

[00:01:11] Chain link fencing surrounds them, razor sharp barbed wiring stopping any chance of escape.

[00:01:19] They wear orange jumpsuits, and their heads are bowed.

[00:01:24] Their ears are covered with ear-muffs; their eyes with goggles.

[00:01:29] A guard forces them to their knees, and they instinctively lean their hands against the fence.

[00:01:36] Some weep.

[00:01:37] Others pray.

[00:01:39] ‘But I’m a journalist,’ one of them cries.

[00:01:43] A row of guards in military uniform stare silently back.

[00:01:48] ‘Where are you taking us?’ someone says.

[00:01:51] ‘How long will we be here?’

[00:01:53] ‘Why are we here?’ asks another.

[00:01:57] None of these men know how long they will be held.

[00:02:01] And some of them genuinely don’t know why they’re there.

[00:02:05] Welcome to Guantanamo Bay, the secretive and shady headquarters of the West’s ‘War on Terror.’

[00:02:14] Guantanamo Bay is now internationally famous, or rather, internationally infamous, but until the turn of the 21st century it was barely known.

[00:02:26] So first, some background.

[00:02:28] Where actually is it?

[00:02:30] Well, the first surprising point is that this “American Detention Centre” isn’t actually in America. 

[00:02:38] It’s in a 117 square km enclave in Guantanamo Province, in southeastern Cuba.

[00:02:46] Now, to explain why the Americans got their hands on this small part of Cuba, we first need to consider both the history of the Americas and the broader geopolitical picture of the 19th century.

[00:03:01] After Columbus landed in Cuba in 1492, the island was captured by the Spanish. It remained under Spanish control for centuries, apart from a very brief period when it was captured by the British.

[00:03:16] By the late-19th century, Spain was declining as an imperial power and began to gradually lose its territories.

[00:03:25] And soon it was dragged into war again.

[00:03:29] Not with its old foe the British, but a new imperial power emerging at the turn of the century - the USA.

[00:03:38] Sensing the power of the Spanish waning, Cuba began to fight for their independence.

[00:03:45] The Americans, sensing an opportunity to strike a blow against their enemy and finish off the Spanish empire, decided to help the Cubans out.

[00:03:55] Cuba became a front in the ongoing Spanish-American War, though most of the fighting was actually in the Philippines.

[00:04:04] In December 1898 when the war ended and the Americans won, Spain was forced to give the U.S. control of Cuba and other former territories.

[00:04:15] And then, three years later, Cuba became an independent state.

[00:04:20] Well, not entirely. 

[00:04:23] As it turns out, gaining complete independence from the world’s emerging superpower comes with some strings, some terms and conditions, and this came in the form of something called The Platt Amendment. This required the new Cuban state to rent or sell territory to the United States.

[00:04:44] And you have probably guessed where.

[00:04:47] Guantanamo Bay.

[00:04:49] When it was signed in 1903, the Platt Amendment gave Cuba “ultimate sovereignty” over Guantanamo. 

[00:04:57] But, in order to get its independence, Cuba had to give the U.S. “complete jurisdiction and control” of Guantanamo. 

[00:05:07] Essentially, the amendment stated that Guantanamo was ultimately Cuban land, it was part of Cuba, but the deal required Cuba to allow the U.S to control it. 

[00:05:20] This strange arrangement continued until decades later, in 1959, when Fidel Castro came to power.

[00:05:29] Castro’s arrival on the scene caused some uncertainty about the future of Guantanamo and the continued presence of American soldiers in Cuba.

[00:05:39] In September of 1960, Castro threatened to kick the Americans out of Cuba if they continued to undermine the Cuban economy.

[00:05:49] But he also realised that, if he did so, the Americans could use it as justification to attack and remove him from power.

[00:06:00] Having seen what the US had done in other countries around the world, he clearly had reason to be cautious.

[00:06:07] Ultimately Castro decided against it, but didn’t let the issue go away quietly.

[00:06:13] He repeatedly raised the issue of Guantanamo with the Americans, and in 1964, he even cut the supply of water off from the area.

[00:06:23] Despite all this, Castro knew what a mismatch war with the U.S would be, and wanting to cling onto power, begrudgingly allowed the Americans to stay in Guantanamo Bay.

[00:06:36] And this arrangement remained relatively unknown to the rest of the world until the turn of the 21st century. That’s when the detention centre was opened, and in order to understand the reason for this, we need a bit more modern historical context that you’re probably familiar with.

[00:06:56] Shortly after the United States suffered the deadly twin towers attacks on September the 11th of 2001, the then US president, George W Bush, issued a military order on the “Detention, Treatment and Trial of Certain Non-Citizens, in the War Against Terrorism”. 

[00:07:17] Simply put, what this did was allow the US to hold foreign nationals in custody without charging them for as long as they wanted without the right to legal process to challenge their detention.

[00:07:32] Or put even more simply, if you weren’t a US citizen and you were accused of terrorism, normal laws didn’t apply.

[00:07:42] And where did the US intend on holding these people suspected of terrorism?

[00:07:47] That’s right - Guantanamo Bay.

[00:07:50] According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Guantanamo Bay was “intended to be an ‘island outside the law’ where terrorism suspects could be detained without process and be interrogated without restraint.”

[00:08:05] And a few months after the 9/11 attacks, in December of 2001, the US Justice department stated the prisoners that would be held at Guantanamo Bay were not eligible for something called “habeas corpus legal rights”, because they would not be on American soil.

[00:08:25] Essentially, this means that they could be detained, kept there, without a trial.

[00:08:31] Shortly after, on January 11th 2002, the first prisoners arrived at Guantanamo Bay.

[00:08:39] They were held outside in mesh cages. You have probably seen pictures of this. 

[00:08:46] A week later, on January 18th, The International Committee of the Red Cross visited Guantanamo Bay, but on the very same day, the US government decided that the detainees at Guantanamo were not, in fact, prisoners of war and therefore were not protected by the Geneva Convention.

[00:09:07] Most certainly convenient timing.

[00:09:10] In any case, almost as soon as the first prisoners arrived, there were concerned voices in the international community about the treatment of the people detained there.

[00:09:22] The American response? Rather than make any great claims about the prisoners’ humane treatment, the US policy was to continue to tell the country, and the wider world, that everything was being done in the interests of public safety.

[00:09:39] With the 9/11 attacks so fresh in collective memory, the then US Vice President, Dick Cheney, described the men in Guantanamo as “the worst of a very bad lot.”

[00:09:52] “They are very dangerous,” he said. “Devoted to killing millions of Americans.”

[00:09:58] And, as a result, everything possible should be done to get information from them about other terrorists still out in the wild who were also devoted to killing millions of Americans.

[00:10:12] So, on March the 21st of 2002, new military tribunal rules were created, and later that year, in August, a memorandum from the U.S. Department of Justice advised that “enhanced interrogation techniques” would not amount to torture and therefore not be illegal under American law.

[00:10:34] What’s more, the legal cover of “necessity” and “self-defence” could be used to defend against any criminal charges, should torture happen.

[00:10:44] In plain English, the US was essentially saying that, at Guantanamo, anything goes. American laws didn’t apply, nor did the Geneva Convention.

[00:10:57] And Guantanamo has had its fair share of scandals and controversy over the years, as you will know.

[00:11:05] The British newspaper The Independent reported that the guards in Guantanamo used ‘Abu Ghraib-style torture’ and sexual humiliation in which prisoners were stripped naked, forced to sodomise one another and taunted by female American soldiers.

[00:11:24] Abu Ghraib, by the way, was an Iraqi prison where the US Army and CIA committed a whole host of war crimes including mental, physical and sexual abuse, rape, torture and murder.

[00:11:38] This was the framework for Guantanamo.

[00:11:42] Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the prisoners held in Guantanamo tried to take their own lives

[00:11:49] By October of 2003, the Red Cross reported a “worrying deterioration” in the mental health of detainees, and according to the ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union, over the years there have been several suicides and hunger strikes. 

[00:12:07] At one point, 103 detainees were on hunger strike, with 41 of those being force fed

[00:12:15] Yet, the US Defence Secretary, a man named Donald Rumsfeld, approved the use of sensory deprivation, dogs, isolation, and stress positions - such as forcing someone to crouch in an uncomfortable or unnatural position for a prolonged period of time.

[00:12:33] By the end of 2003 there were 680 detainees being held in Guantanamo, and by February of 2004 the first legal charges were made - two Sudanese men were charged with conspiracy to commit war crimes.

[00:12:51] For those not charged with any crimes, understandably, they were pretty fed up of this torture-filled limbo.

[00:12:59] In October of 2004, four British former detainees began legal action against the American government and requested $9 million in compensation.

[00:13:11] In March of 2005, 38 detainees were judged to be “no longer enemy combatants” and were made eligible for release, they were let out of Guantanamo.

[00:13:24] But these releases did little to quell the international condemnation that was building, and in February of 2006 a UN report recommended that Guantanamo be closed.

[00:13:37] Was it?

[00:13:39] Most certainly not. The report was only a report, there was no law requiring it to be closed.

[00:13:46] A few months later, in May of 2006, a riot broke out after two prisoners attempted suicide, and then in June, three sadly succeeded in taking their own lives.

[00:14:00] Now, here’s where American domestic politics come into the picture.

[00:14:05] George W Bush, as we know, was President when America was attacked on 9/11.

[00:14:11] It was him who ordered the opening of Guantanamo Bay as a detention centre.

[00:14:17] And with all the patriotic rage in the country immediately after the attacks, there weren’t many politicians calling for its closure, or concerned about the legal differences between interrogation and torture.

[00:14:32] These were Bad Guys, with a capital B and a capital G, and they didn’t deserve to be treated like normal prisoners.

[00:14:41] But then, in November of 2008, a young lawyer and candidate for President, a man named Barack Obama, said that if he was elected he would close Guantanamo Bay within one year.

[00:14:58] Well Obama, it seems, was ahead of the curve, as in January of 2009 a former senior official from the Bush administration admitted publicly for the first time that the detainment and interrogation of a Saudi national in Guantanamo met the legal definition of torture.

[00:15:19] And as you will know, Obama did win the election and was inaugurated as US President on January the 20th of 2009.

[00:15:29] What happened to his campaign promise, you might ask?

[00:15:33] Well, one of the very first acts of his presidency - just 2 days later, on January 22nd - was to sign Executive Order 13492.

[00:15:45] He actually signed three executive orders: one to close Guantanamo Bay within a year, another banning the CIA’s more brutal and dehumanising interrogation techniques, and a third promising a review of the law on detainees and detainee centre policy.

[00:16:03] Closing Guantanamo Bay within one year was quite the commitment from the young and optimistic president.

[00:16:11] But after being elected as the country’s first African-American president, Obama probably felt nothing was impossible and that he could achieve anything.

[00:16:22] His campaign slogan was, after all, Yes We Can.

[00:16:27] But did Guantanamo bay close within a year?

[00:16:31] Two years?

[00:16:32] Five?

[00:16:32] Ten?

[00:16:33] Not quite.

[00:16:34] Obama soon learnt that the hard realities of politics - particularly getting his legislation through Congress - were much more difficult than making pledges on the campaign trail.

[00:16:47] His failure to live up to his campaign pledge was something used against him over the next few years, and then, in a move that infuriated millions around the world, in March 2011 he signed another executive order.

[00:17:02] But this time it wasn’t to close Guantanamo down, or to ban interrogation techniques, it was to resume military trials and even for some detainees to be held indefinitely

[00:17:16] Clearly, this was a complete abandonment from one of his main campaign promises.

[00:17:23] And to make things worse, in April of that year, WikiLeaks released US military files showing that as many as 150 of the prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay had been innocent men. 

[00:17:38] By this time, 604 inmates had been transferred out of the prison while 172 remained.

[00:17:46] And although Guantanamo certainly contained men who had done nothing wrong, it did contain its fair share of people who did meet Dick Cheney’s definition of being “the worst of a very bad lot.”

[00:17:59] Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, for example, the man believed to be the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, was held at Guantanamo, and formally charged at a military tribunal in May 2012.

[00:18:13] He certainly wasn’t too keen on Americans, and is the example most often cited of “terrorists held at Guantanamo”. 

[00:18:22] But with 10 years now having passed since the 9/11 attacks, support for Guantanamo was starting to wane.

[00:18:31] Hoping to save face as his time in office wound to a close, in February of 2016 Obama came up with another plan to close Guantanamo by transferring any detainees left to a prison on American soil.

[00:18:47] But like many policies during the Obama administration, it didn’t pass Congress and was unsuccessful.

[00:18:55] One of Obama’s main policy promises had been a failure. 

[00:18:59] So who would follow him?

[00:19:02] A human rights enthusiast?

[00:19:04] An ambassador of the law and international order?

[00:19:07] Well, not exactly.

[00:19:10] On January 20th, 2017, Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. 

[00:19:18] And, as you might expect, he took quite a different stance to Obama.

[00:19:24] Whereas Obama promised to close it within a year, when Trump was on the campaign trail he promised the American people he would, in his typically eloquent manner, “load it up with some bad dudes.”

[00:19:38] When Trump arrived in the White House, there were only 50 prisoners left in Guantanamo. 

[00:19:43] But just like predecessor, Trump wasted no time signing executive orders.

[00:19:50] On January the 30th of 2018, Trump signed one not to close it down, but to keep Guantanamo open. 

[00:19:59] He did keep it open, but it certainly wasn’t “loaded up with” any guys - the number of prisoners held in Guantanamo dwindled throughout his term, Trump had little impact on it.

[00:20:11] The current president, Obama’s former vice-president, Joe Biden, has said that he wants to shut down Guantanamo Bay before his time in the White House ends.

[00:20:22] But how likely is this?

[00:20:25] Unless the law changes, not likely at all because the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to American soil is still illegal. 

[00:20:35] Now, it’s been over 20 years since those first handcuffed, orange jumpsuit wearing prisoners arrived in southern Cuba.

[00:20:44] Though there are now far fewer people held in Guantanamo, the treatment has not changed. 

[00:20:51] As recently as 2017, a United Nations reporter concluded that the evidence suggests torture was still ongoing at Guantanamo Bay.

[00:21:02] Human rights groups estimate that as many as 800 prisoners have passed through its doors since it opened, with 732 being released or transferred, and at least 9 dying in prison.

[00:21:17] Of the 800, 219 were Afghanis, 140 were Saudis, 63 from Pakistan, 33 from Oman, 15 from Britain [America’s closest ally in the War on Terror], 9 from France and 7 from Iraq. 

[00:21:35] Many other countries from around the world have also had citizens held indefinitely in Guantanamo - whether rightly or wrongly.

[00:21:44] And while it was home to many real terrorists, such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, we also know that there were at least 150 miscarriages of justice where innocent men were detained and tortured.

[00:21:58] Among those wrongly detained was Sami al-Haj, a Sudanese journalist captured while working for Al Jazeera, and Mohammed el Gharani, the youngest prisoner held in Guantanamo Bay, who was just 14 years old when he was arrested in Pakistan in 2001.

[00:22:16] So, while Guantanamo Bay is still most certainly open for business, the question remains over what business that actually is.

[00:22:26] The business of information gathering? 

[00:22:29] The business of the protection of US citizens? 

[00:22:32] The business of torture?

[00:22:34] And it leaves us with some important moral questions about what lengths society should go in the name of protecting its citizens.

[00:22:45] The man whose face can be found on the $100 note, Benjamin Franklin, once wrote that "it is better 100 guilty people should escape than one innocent Person should suffer".

[00:22:59] The history of Guantanamo Bay certainly suggests that, in this respect at least, this small enclave of Cuba is a long long way away from the ideals upon which the USA was founded.

[00:23:15] OK then, that’s it for today’s episode on Guantanamo Bay.

[00:23:20] I hope it was an interesting one, and whether you knew a lot about Guantanamo Bay, or this was the first time you’d really heard anything about it, well I hope you learned something new.

[00:23:30] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:23:34] What do you think about Guantanamo Bay?

[00:23:37] How can you judge its success or failure?

[00:23:40] Where do you stand on the interrogation versus torture debate? 

[00:23:44] Is it necessary in times of war?

[00:23:47] And do you agree with Benjamin Franklin, that it is better for a 100 guilty people to go free, than one innocent person to suffer?

[00:23:56] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:24:00] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:24:09] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:24:13] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about a place that exists outside American territory, and even the law.

[00:00:30] A secret place that holds the ‘worst of the worst’ from terrorist organisations around the world, but has also been shown to detain and torture perfectly innocent people.

[00:00:42] A place that has been steeped in controversy since the day it opened, caused concerns for human rights experts and legal scholars around the world, and has been a political talking point for four American presidents.

[00:00:58] I am talking, of course, about Guantanamo Bay.

[00:01:03] So, let’s get right into it.

[00:01:07] A row of handcuffed men are led into the pen.

[00:01:11] Chain link fencing surrounds them, razor sharp barbed wiring stopping any chance of escape.

[00:01:19] They wear orange jumpsuits, and their heads are bowed.

[00:01:24] Their ears are covered with ear-muffs; their eyes with goggles.

[00:01:29] A guard forces them to their knees, and they instinctively lean their hands against the fence.

[00:01:36] Some weep.

[00:01:37] Others pray.

[00:01:39] ‘But I’m a journalist,’ one of them cries.

[00:01:43] A row of guards in military uniform stare silently back.

[00:01:48] ‘Where are you taking us?’ someone says.

[00:01:51] ‘How long will we be here?’

[00:01:53] ‘Why are we here?’ asks another.

[00:01:57] None of these men know how long they will be held.

[00:02:01] And some of them genuinely don’t know why they’re there.

[00:02:05] Welcome to Guantanamo Bay, the secretive and shady headquarters of the West’s ‘War on Terror.’

[00:02:14] Guantanamo Bay is now internationally famous, or rather, internationally infamous, but until the turn of the 21st century it was barely known.

[00:02:26] So first, some background.

[00:02:28] Where actually is it?

[00:02:30] Well, the first surprising point is that this “American Detention Centre” isn’t actually in America. 

[00:02:38] It’s in a 117 square km enclave in Guantanamo Province, in southeastern Cuba.

[00:02:46] Now, to explain why the Americans got their hands on this small part of Cuba, we first need to consider both the history of the Americas and the broader geopolitical picture of the 19th century.

[00:03:01] After Columbus landed in Cuba in 1492, the island was captured by the Spanish. It remained under Spanish control for centuries, apart from a very brief period when it was captured by the British.

[00:03:16] By the late-19th century, Spain was declining as an imperial power and began to gradually lose its territories.

[00:03:25] And soon it was dragged into war again.

[00:03:29] Not with its old foe the British, but a new imperial power emerging at the turn of the century - the USA.

[00:03:38] Sensing the power of the Spanish waning, Cuba began to fight for their independence.

[00:03:45] The Americans, sensing an opportunity to strike a blow against their enemy and finish off the Spanish empire, decided to help the Cubans out.

[00:03:55] Cuba became a front in the ongoing Spanish-American War, though most of the fighting was actually in the Philippines.

[00:04:04] In December 1898 when the war ended and the Americans won, Spain was forced to give the U.S. control of Cuba and other former territories.

[00:04:15] And then, three years later, Cuba became an independent state.

[00:04:20] Well, not entirely. 

[00:04:23] As it turns out, gaining complete independence from the world’s emerging superpower comes with some strings, some terms and conditions, and this came in the form of something called The Platt Amendment. This required the new Cuban state to rent or sell territory to the United States.

[00:04:44] And you have probably guessed where.

[00:04:47] Guantanamo Bay.

[00:04:49] When it was signed in 1903, the Platt Amendment gave Cuba “ultimate sovereignty” over Guantanamo. 

[00:04:57] But, in order to get its independence, Cuba had to give the U.S. “complete jurisdiction and control” of Guantanamo. 

[00:05:07] Essentially, the amendment stated that Guantanamo was ultimately Cuban land, it was part of Cuba, but the deal required Cuba to allow the U.S to control it. 

[00:05:20] This strange arrangement continued until decades later, in 1959, when Fidel Castro came to power.

[00:05:29] Castro’s arrival on the scene caused some uncertainty about the future of Guantanamo and the continued presence of American soldiers in Cuba.

[00:05:39] In September of 1960, Castro threatened to kick the Americans out of Cuba if they continued to undermine the Cuban economy.

[00:05:49] But he also realised that, if he did so, the Americans could use it as justification to attack and remove him from power.

[00:06:00] Having seen what the US had done in other countries around the world, he clearly had reason to be cautious.

[00:06:07] Ultimately Castro decided against it, but didn’t let the issue go away quietly.

[00:06:13] He repeatedly raised the issue of Guantanamo with the Americans, and in 1964, he even cut the supply of water off from the area.

[00:06:23] Despite all this, Castro knew what a mismatch war with the U.S would be, and wanting to cling onto power, begrudgingly allowed the Americans to stay in Guantanamo Bay.

[00:06:36] And this arrangement remained relatively unknown to the rest of the world until the turn of the 21st century. That’s when the detention centre was opened, and in order to understand the reason for this, we need a bit more modern historical context that you’re probably familiar with.

[00:06:56] Shortly after the United States suffered the deadly twin towers attacks on September the 11th of 2001, the then US president, George W Bush, issued a military order on the “Detention, Treatment and Trial of Certain Non-Citizens, in the War Against Terrorism”. 

[00:07:17] Simply put, what this did was allow the US to hold foreign nationals in custody without charging them for as long as they wanted without the right to legal process to challenge their detention.

[00:07:32] Or put even more simply, if you weren’t a US citizen and you were accused of terrorism, normal laws didn’t apply.

[00:07:42] And where did the US intend on holding these people suspected of terrorism?

[00:07:47] That’s right - Guantanamo Bay.

[00:07:50] According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Guantanamo Bay was “intended to be an ‘island outside the law’ where terrorism suspects could be detained without process and be interrogated without restraint.”

[00:08:05] And a few months after the 9/11 attacks, in December of 2001, the US Justice department stated the prisoners that would be held at Guantanamo Bay were not eligible for something called “habeas corpus legal rights”, because they would not be on American soil.

[00:08:25] Essentially, this means that they could be detained, kept there, without a trial.

[00:08:31] Shortly after, on January 11th 2002, the first prisoners arrived at Guantanamo Bay.

[00:08:39] They were held outside in mesh cages. You have probably seen pictures of this. 

[00:08:46] A week later, on January 18th, The International Committee of the Red Cross visited Guantanamo Bay, but on the very same day, the US government decided that the detainees at Guantanamo were not, in fact, prisoners of war and therefore were not protected by the Geneva Convention.

[00:09:07] Most certainly convenient timing.

[00:09:10] In any case, almost as soon as the first prisoners arrived, there were concerned voices in the international community about the treatment of the people detained there.

[00:09:22] The American response? Rather than make any great claims about the prisoners’ humane treatment, the US policy was to continue to tell the country, and the wider world, that everything was being done in the interests of public safety.

[00:09:39] With the 9/11 attacks so fresh in collective memory, the then US Vice President, Dick Cheney, described the men in Guantanamo as “the worst of a very bad lot.”

[00:09:52] “They are very dangerous,” he said. “Devoted to killing millions of Americans.”

[00:09:58] And, as a result, everything possible should be done to get information from them about other terrorists still out in the wild who were also devoted to killing millions of Americans.

[00:10:12] So, on March the 21st of 2002, new military tribunal rules were created, and later that year, in August, a memorandum from the U.S. Department of Justice advised that “enhanced interrogation techniques” would not amount to torture and therefore not be illegal under American law.

[00:10:34] What’s more, the legal cover of “necessity” and “self-defence” could be used to defend against any criminal charges, should torture happen.

[00:10:44] In plain English, the US was essentially saying that, at Guantanamo, anything goes. American laws didn’t apply, nor did the Geneva Convention.

[00:10:57] And Guantanamo has had its fair share of scandals and controversy over the years, as you will know.

[00:11:05] The British newspaper The Independent reported that the guards in Guantanamo used ‘Abu Ghraib-style torture’ and sexual humiliation in which prisoners were stripped naked, forced to sodomise one another and taunted by female American soldiers.

[00:11:24] Abu Ghraib, by the way, was an Iraqi prison where the US Army and CIA committed a whole host of war crimes including mental, physical and sexual abuse, rape, torture and murder.

[00:11:38] This was the framework for Guantanamo.

[00:11:42] Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the prisoners held in Guantanamo tried to take their own lives

[00:11:49] By October of 2003, the Red Cross reported a “worrying deterioration” in the mental health of detainees, and according to the ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union, over the years there have been several suicides and hunger strikes. 

[00:12:07] At one point, 103 detainees were on hunger strike, with 41 of those being force fed

[00:12:15] Yet, the US Defence Secretary, a man named Donald Rumsfeld, approved the use of sensory deprivation, dogs, isolation, and stress positions - such as forcing someone to crouch in an uncomfortable or unnatural position for a prolonged period of time.

[00:12:33] By the end of 2003 there were 680 detainees being held in Guantanamo, and by February of 2004 the first legal charges were made - two Sudanese men were charged with conspiracy to commit war crimes.

[00:12:51] For those not charged with any crimes, understandably, they were pretty fed up of this torture-filled limbo.

[00:12:59] In October of 2004, four British former detainees began legal action against the American government and requested $9 million in compensation.

[00:13:11] In March of 2005, 38 detainees were judged to be “no longer enemy combatants” and were made eligible for release, they were let out of Guantanamo.

[00:13:24] But these releases did little to quell the international condemnation that was building, and in February of 2006 a UN report recommended that Guantanamo be closed.

[00:13:37] Was it?

[00:13:39] Most certainly not. The report was only a report, there was no law requiring it to be closed.

[00:13:46] A few months later, in May of 2006, a riot broke out after two prisoners attempted suicide, and then in June, three sadly succeeded in taking their own lives.

[00:14:00] Now, here’s where American domestic politics come into the picture.

[00:14:05] George W Bush, as we know, was President when America was attacked on 9/11.

[00:14:11] It was him who ordered the opening of Guantanamo Bay as a detention centre.

[00:14:17] And with all the patriotic rage in the country immediately after the attacks, there weren’t many politicians calling for its closure, or concerned about the legal differences between interrogation and torture.

[00:14:32] These were Bad Guys, with a capital B and a capital G, and they didn’t deserve to be treated like normal prisoners.

[00:14:41] But then, in November of 2008, a young lawyer and candidate for President, a man named Barack Obama, said that if he was elected he would close Guantanamo Bay within one year.

[00:14:58] Well Obama, it seems, was ahead of the curve, as in January of 2009 a former senior official from the Bush administration admitted publicly for the first time that the detainment and interrogation of a Saudi national in Guantanamo met the legal definition of torture.

[00:15:19] And as you will know, Obama did win the election and was inaugurated as US President on January the 20th of 2009.

[00:15:29] What happened to his campaign promise, you might ask?

[00:15:33] Well, one of the very first acts of his presidency - just 2 days later, on January 22nd - was to sign Executive Order 13492.

[00:15:45] He actually signed three executive orders: one to close Guantanamo Bay within a year, another banning the CIA’s more brutal and dehumanising interrogation techniques, and a third promising a review of the law on detainees and detainee centre policy.

[00:16:03] Closing Guantanamo Bay within one year was quite the commitment from the young and optimistic president.

[00:16:11] But after being elected as the country’s first African-American president, Obama probably felt nothing was impossible and that he could achieve anything.

[00:16:22] His campaign slogan was, after all, Yes We Can.

[00:16:27] But did Guantanamo bay close within a year?

[00:16:31] Two years?

[00:16:32] Five?

[00:16:32] Ten?

[00:16:33] Not quite.

[00:16:34] Obama soon learnt that the hard realities of politics - particularly getting his legislation through Congress - were much more difficult than making pledges on the campaign trail.

[00:16:47] His failure to live up to his campaign pledge was something used against him over the next few years, and then, in a move that infuriated millions around the world, in March 2011 he signed another executive order.

[00:17:02] But this time it wasn’t to close Guantanamo down, or to ban interrogation techniques, it was to resume military trials and even for some detainees to be held indefinitely

[00:17:16] Clearly, this was a complete abandonment from one of his main campaign promises.

[00:17:23] And to make things worse, in April of that year, WikiLeaks released US military files showing that as many as 150 of the prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay had been innocent men. 

[00:17:38] By this time, 604 inmates had been transferred out of the prison while 172 remained.

[00:17:46] And although Guantanamo certainly contained men who had done nothing wrong, it did contain its fair share of people who did meet Dick Cheney’s definition of being “the worst of a very bad lot.”

[00:17:59] Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, for example, the man believed to be the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, was held at Guantanamo, and formally charged at a military tribunal in May 2012.

[00:18:13] He certainly wasn’t too keen on Americans, and is the example most often cited of “terrorists held at Guantanamo”. 

[00:18:22] But with 10 years now having passed since the 9/11 attacks, support for Guantanamo was starting to wane.

[00:18:31] Hoping to save face as his time in office wound to a close, in February of 2016 Obama came up with another plan to close Guantanamo by transferring any detainees left to a prison on American soil.

[00:18:47] But like many policies during the Obama administration, it didn’t pass Congress and was unsuccessful.

[00:18:55] One of Obama’s main policy promises had been a failure. 

[00:18:59] So who would follow him?

[00:19:02] A human rights enthusiast?

[00:19:04] An ambassador of the law and international order?

[00:19:07] Well, not exactly.

[00:19:10] On January 20th, 2017, Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. 

[00:19:18] And, as you might expect, he took quite a different stance to Obama.

[00:19:24] Whereas Obama promised to close it within a year, when Trump was on the campaign trail he promised the American people he would, in his typically eloquent manner, “load it up with some bad dudes.”

[00:19:38] When Trump arrived in the White House, there were only 50 prisoners left in Guantanamo. 

[00:19:43] But just like predecessor, Trump wasted no time signing executive orders.

[00:19:50] On January the 30th of 2018, Trump signed one not to close it down, but to keep Guantanamo open. 

[00:19:59] He did keep it open, but it certainly wasn’t “loaded up with” any guys - the number of prisoners held in Guantanamo dwindled throughout his term, Trump had little impact on it.

[00:20:11] The current president, Obama’s former vice-president, Joe Biden, has said that he wants to shut down Guantanamo Bay before his time in the White House ends.

[00:20:22] But how likely is this?

[00:20:25] Unless the law changes, not likely at all because the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to American soil is still illegal. 

[00:20:35] Now, it’s been over 20 years since those first handcuffed, orange jumpsuit wearing prisoners arrived in southern Cuba.

[00:20:44] Though there are now far fewer people held in Guantanamo, the treatment has not changed. 

[00:20:51] As recently as 2017, a United Nations reporter concluded that the evidence suggests torture was still ongoing at Guantanamo Bay.

[00:21:02] Human rights groups estimate that as many as 800 prisoners have passed through its doors since it opened, with 732 being released or transferred, and at least 9 dying in prison.

[00:21:17] Of the 800, 219 were Afghanis, 140 were Saudis, 63 from Pakistan, 33 from Oman, 15 from Britain [America’s closest ally in the War on Terror], 9 from France and 7 from Iraq. 

[00:21:35] Many other countries from around the world have also had citizens held indefinitely in Guantanamo - whether rightly or wrongly.

[00:21:44] And while it was home to many real terrorists, such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, we also know that there were at least 150 miscarriages of justice where innocent men were detained and tortured.

[00:21:58] Among those wrongly detained was Sami al-Haj, a Sudanese journalist captured while working for Al Jazeera, and Mohammed el Gharani, the youngest prisoner held in Guantanamo Bay, who was just 14 years old when he was arrested in Pakistan in 2001.

[00:22:16] So, while Guantanamo Bay is still most certainly open for business, the question remains over what business that actually is.

[00:22:26] The business of information gathering? 

[00:22:29] The business of the protection of US citizens? 

[00:22:32] The business of torture?

[00:22:34] And it leaves us with some important moral questions about what lengths society should go in the name of protecting its citizens.

[00:22:45] The man whose face can be found on the $100 note, Benjamin Franklin, once wrote that "it is better 100 guilty people should escape than one innocent Person should suffer".

[00:22:59] The history of Guantanamo Bay certainly suggests that, in this respect at least, this small enclave of Cuba is a long long way away from the ideals upon which the USA was founded.

[00:23:15] OK then, that’s it for today’s episode on Guantanamo Bay.

[00:23:20] I hope it was an interesting one, and whether you knew a lot about Guantanamo Bay, or this was the first time you’d really heard anything about it, well I hope you learned something new.

[00:23:30] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:23:34] What do you think about Guantanamo Bay?

[00:23:37] How can you judge its success or failure?

[00:23:40] Where do you stand on the interrogation versus torture debate? 

[00:23:44] Is it necessary in times of war?

[00:23:47] And do you agree with Benjamin Franklin, that it is better for a 100 guilty people to go free, than one innocent person to suffer?

[00:23:56] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:24:00] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:24:09] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:24:13] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about a place that exists outside American territory, and even the law.

[00:00:30] A secret place that holds the ‘worst of the worst’ from terrorist organisations around the world, but has also been shown to detain and torture perfectly innocent people.

[00:00:42] A place that has been steeped in controversy since the day it opened, caused concerns for human rights experts and legal scholars around the world, and has been a political talking point for four American presidents.

[00:00:58] I am talking, of course, about Guantanamo Bay.

[00:01:03] So, let’s get right into it.

[00:01:07] A row of handcuffed men are led into the pen.

[00:01:11] Chain link fencing surrounds them, razor sharp barbed wiring stopping any chance of escape.

[00:01:19] They wear orange jumpsuits, and their heads are bowed.

[00:01:24] Their ears are covered with ear-muffs; their eyes with goggles.

[00:01:29] A guard forces them to their knees, and they instinctively lean their hands against the fence.

[00:01:36] Some weep.

[00:01:37] Others pray.

[00:01:39] ‘But I’m a journalist,’ one of them cries.

[00:01:43] A row of guards in military uniform stare silently back.

[00:01:48] ‘Where are you taking us?’ someone says.

[00:01:51] ‘How long will we be here?’

[00:01:53] ‘Why are we here?’ asks another.

[00:01:57] None of these men know how long they will be held.

[00:02:01] And some of them genuinely don’t know why they’re there.

[00:02:05] Welcome to Guantanamo Bay, the secretive and shady headquarters of the West’s ‘War on Terror.’

[00:02:14] Guantanamo Bay is now internationally famous, or rather, internationally infamous, but until the turn of the 21st century it was barely known.

[00:02:26] So first, some background.

[00:02:28] Where actually is it?

[00:02:30] Well, the first surprising point is that this “American Detention Centre” isn’t actually in America. 

[00:02:38] It’s in a 117 square km enclave in Guantanamo Province, in southeastern Cuba.

[00:02:46] Now, to explain why the Americans got their hands on this small part of Cuba, we first need to consider both the history of the Americas and the broader geopolitical picture of the 19th century.

[00:03:01] After Columbus landed in Cuba in 1492, the island was captured by the Spanish. It remained under Spanish control for centuries, apart from a very brief period when it was captured by the British.

[00:03:16] By the late-19th century, Spain was declining as an imperial power and began to gradually lose its territories.

[00:03:25] And soon it was dragged into war again.

[00:03:29] Not with its old foe the British, but a new imperial power emerging at the turn of the century - the USA.

[00:03:38] Sensing the power of the Spanish waning, Cuba began to fight for their independence.

[00:03:45] The Americans, sensing an opportunity to strike a blow against their enemy and finish off the Spanish empire, decided to help the Cubans out.

[00:03:55] Cuba became a front in the ongoing Spanish-American War, though most of the fighting was actually in the Philippines.

[00:04:04] In December 1898 when the war ended and the Americans won, Spain was forced to give the U.S. control of Cuba and other former territories.

[00:04:15] And then, three years later, Cuba became an independent state.

[00:04:20] Well, not entirely. 

[00:04:23] As it turns out, gaining complete independence from the world’s emerging superpower comes with some strings, some terms and conditions, and this came in the form of something called The Platt Amendment. This required the new Cuban state to rent or sell territory to the United States.

[00:04:44] And you have probably guessed where.

[00:04:47] Guantanamo Bay.

[00:04:49] When it was signed in 1903, the Platt Amendment gave Cuba “ultimate sovereignty” over Guantanamo. 

[00:04:57] But, in order to get its independence, Cuba had to give the U.S. “complete jurisdiction and control” of Guantanamo. 

[00:05:07] Essentially, the amendment stated that Guantanamo was ultimately Cuban land, it was part of Cuba, but the deal required Cuba to allow the U.S to control it. 

[00:05:20] This strange arrangement continued until decades later, in 1959, when Fidel Castro came to power.

[00:05:29] Castro’s arrival on the scene caused some uncertainty about the future of Guantanamo and the continued presence of American soldiers in Cuba.

[00:05:39] In September of 1960, Castro threatened to kick the Americans out of Cuba if they continued to undermine the Cuban economy.

[00:05:49] But he also realised that, if he did so, the Americans could use it as justification to attack and remove him from power.

[00:06:00] Having seen what the US had done in other countries around the world, he clearly had reason to be cautious.

[00:06:07] Ultimately Castro decided against it, but didn’t let the issue go away quietly.

[00:06:13] He repeatedly raised the issue of Guantanamo with the Americans, and in 1964, he even cut the supply of water off from the area.

[00:06:23] Despite all this, Castro knew what a mismatch war with the U.S would be, and wanting to cling onto power, begrudgingly allowed the Americans to stay in Guantanamo Bay.

[00:06:36] And this arrangement remained relatively unknown to the rest of the world until the turn of the 21st century. That’s when the detention centre was opened, and in order to understand the reason for this, we need a bit more modern historical context that you’re probably familiar with.

[00:06:56] Shortly after the United States suffered the deadly twin towers attacks on September the 11th of 2001, the then US president, George W Bush, issued a military order on the “Detention, Treatment and Trial of Certain Non-Citizens, in the War Against Terrorism”. 

[00:07:17] Simply put, what this did was allow the US to hold foreign nationals in custody without charging them for as long as they wanted without the right to legal process to challenge their detention.

[00:07:32] Or put even more simply, if you weren’t a US citizen and you were accused of terrorism, normal laws didn’t apply.

[00:07:42] And where did the US intend on holding these people suspected of terrorism?

[00:07:47] That’s right - Guantanamo Bay.

[00:07:50] According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Guantanamo Bay was “intended to be an ‘island outside the law’ where terrorism suspects could be detained without process and be interrogated without restraint.”

[00:08:05] And a few months after the 9/11 attacks, in December of 2001, the US Justice department stated the prisoners that would be held at Guantanamo Bay were not eligible for something called “habeas corpus legal rights”, because they would not be on American soil.

[00:08:25] Essentially, this means that they could be detained, kept there, without a trial.

[00:08:31] Shortly after, on January 11th 2002, the first prisoners arrived at Guantanamo Bay.

[00:08:39] They were held outside in mesh cages. You have probably seen pictures of this. 

[00:08:46] A week later, on January 18th, The International Committee of the Red Cross visited Guantanamo Bay, but on the very same day, the US government decided that the detainees at Guantanamo were not, in fact, prisoners of war and therefore were not protected by the Geneva Convention.

[00:09:07] Most certainly convenient timing.

[00:09:10] In any case, almost as soon as the first prisoners arrived, there were concerned voices in the international community about the treatment of the people detained there.

[00:09:22] The American response? Rather than make any great claims about the prisoners’ humane treatment, the US policy was to continue to tell the country, and the wider world, that everything was being done in the interests of public safety.

[00:09:39] With the 9/11 attacks so fresh in collective memory, the then US Vice President, Dick Cheney, described the men in Guantanamo as “the worst of a very bad lot.”

[00:09:52] “They are very dangerous,” he said. “Devoted to killing millions of Americans.”

[00:09:58] And, as a result, everything possible should be done to get information from them about other terrorists still out in the wild who were also devoted to killing millions of Americans.

[00:10:12] So, on March the 21st of 2002, new military tribunal rules were created, and later that year, in August, a memorandum from the U.S. Department of Justice advised that “enhanced interrogation techniques” would not amount to torture and therefore not be illegal under American law.

[00:10:34] What’s more, the legal cover of “necessity” and “self-defence” could be used to defend against any criminal charges, should torture happen.

[00:10:44] In plain English, the US was essentially saying that, at Guantanamo, anything goes. American laws didn’t apply, nor did the Geneva Convention.

[00:10:57] And Guantanamo has had its fair share of scandals and controversy over the years, as you will know.

[00:11:05] The British newspaper The Independent reported that the guards in Guantanamo used ‘Abu Ghraib-style torture’ and sexual humiliation in which prisoners were stripped naked, forced to sodomise one another and taunted by female American soldiers.

[00:11:24] Abu Ghraib, by the way, was an Iraqi prison where the US Army and CIA committed a whole host of war crimes including mental, physical and sexual abuse, rape, torture and murder.

[00:11:38] This was the framework for Guantanamo.

[00:11:42] Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the prisoners held in Guantanamo tried to take their own lives

[00:11:49] By October of 2003, the Red Cross reported a “worrying deterioration” in the mental health of detainees, and according to the ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union, over the years there have been several suicides and hunger strikes. 

[00:12:07] At one point, 103 detainees were on hunger strike, with 41 of those being force fed

[00:12:15] Yet, the US Defence Secretary, a man named Donald Rumsfeld, approved the use of sensory deprivation, dogs, isolation, and stress positions - such as forcing someone to crouch in an uncomfortable or unnatural position for a prolonged period of time.

[00:12:33] By the end of 2003 there were 680 detainees being held in Guantanamo, and by February of 2004 the first legal charges were made - two Sudanese men were charged with conspiracy to commit war crimes.

[00:12:51] For those not charged with any crimes, understandably, they were pretty fed up of this torture-filled limbo.

[00:12:59] In October of 2004, four British former detainees began legal action against the American government and requested $9 million in compensation.

[00:13:11] In March of 2005, 38 detainees were judged to be “no longer enemy combatants” and were made eligible for release, they were let out of Guantanamo.

[00:13:24] But these releases did little to quell the international condemnation that was building, and in February of 2006 a UN report recommended that Guantanamo be closed.

[00:13:37] Was it?

[00:13:39] Most certainly not. The report was only a report, there was no law requiring it to be closed.

[00:13:46] A few months later, in May of 2006, a riot broke out after two prisoners attempted suicide, and then in June, three sadly succeeded in taking their own lives.

[00:14:00] Now, here’s where American domestic politics come into the picture.

[00:14:05] George W Bush, as we know, was President when America was attacked on 9/11.

[00:14:11] It was him who ordered the opening of Guantanamo Bay as a detention centre.

[00:14:17] And with all the patriotic rage in the country immediately after the attacks, there weren’t many politicians calling for its closure, or concerned about the legal differences between interrogation and torture.

[00:14:32] These were Bad Guys, with a capital B and a capital G, and they didn’t deserve to be treated like normal prisoners.

[00:14:41] But then, in November of 2008, a young lawyer and candidate for President, a man named Barack Obama, said that if he was elected he would close Guantanamo Bay within one year.

[00:14:58] Well Obama, it seems, was ahead of the curve, as in January of 2009 a former senior official from the Bush administration admitted publicly for the first time that the detainment and interrogation of a Saudi national in Guantanamo met the legal definition of torture.

[00:15:19] And as you will know, Obama did win the election and was inaugurated as US President on January the 20th of 2009.

[00:15:29] What happened to his campaign promise, you might ask?

[00:15:33] Well, one of the very first acts of his presidency - just 2 days later, on January 22nd - was to sign Executive Order 13492.

[00:15:45] He actually signed three executive orders: one to close Guantanamo Bay within a year, another banning the CIA’s more brutal and dehumanising interrogation techniques, and a third promising a review of the law on detainees and detainee centre policy.

[00:16:03] Closing Guantanamo Bay within one year was quite the commitment from the young and optimistic president.

[00:16:11] But after being elected as the country’s first African-American president, Obama probably felt nothing was impossible and that he could achieve anything.

[00:16:22] His campaign slogan was, after all, Yes We Can.

[00:16:27] But did Guantanamo bay close within a year?

[00:16:31] Two years?

[00:16:32] Five?

[00:16:32] Ten?

[00:16:33] Not quite.

[00:16:34] Obama soon learnt that the hard realities of politics - particularly getting his legislation through Congress - were much more difficult than making pledges on the campaign trail.

[00:16:47] His failure to live up to his campaign pledge was something used against him over the next few years, and then, in a move that infuriated millions around the world, in March 2011 he signed another executive order.

[00:17:02] But this time it wasn’t to close Guantanamo down, or to ban interrogation techniques, it was to resume military trials and even for some detainees to be held indefinitely

[00:17:16] Clearly, this was a complete abandonment from one of his main campaign promises.

[00:17:23] And to make things worse, in April of that year, WikiLeaks released US military files showing that as many as 150 of the prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay had been innocent men. 

[00:17:38] By this time, 604 inmates had been transferred out of the prison while 172 remained.

[00:17:46] And although Guantanamo certainly contained men who had done nothing wrong, it did contain its fair share of people who did meet Dick Cheney’s definition of being “the worst of a very bad lot.”

[00:17:59] Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, for example, the man believed to be the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, was held at Guantanamo, and formally charged at a military tribunal in May 2012.

[00:18:13] He certainly wasn’t too keen on Americans, and is the example most often cited of “terrorists held at Guantanamo”. 

[00:18:22] But with 10 years now having passed since the 9/11 attacks, support for Guantanamo was starting to wane.

[00:18:31] Hoping to save face as his time in office wound to a close, in February of 2016 Obama came up with another plan to close Guantanamo by transferring any detainees left to a prison on American soil.

[00:18:47] But like many policies during the Obama administration, it didn’t pass Congress and was unsuccessful.

[00:18:55] One of Obama’s main policy promises had been a failure. 

[00:18:59] So who would follow him?

[00:19:02] A human rights enthusiast?

[00:19:04] An ambassador of the law and international order?

[00:19:07] Well, not exactly.

[00:19:10] On January 20th, 2017, Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. 

[00:19:18] And, as you might expect, he took quite a different stance to Obama.

[00:19:24] Whereas Obama promised to close it within a year, when Trump was on the campaign trail he promised the American people he would, in his typically eloquent manner, “load it up with some bad dudes.”

[00:19:38] When Trump arrived in the White House, there were only 50 prisoners left in Guantanamo. 

[00:19:43] But just like predecessor, Trump wasted no time signing executive orders.

[00:19:50] On January the 30th of 2018, Trump signed one not to close it down, but to keep Guantanamo open. 

[00:19:59] He did keep it open, but it certainly wasn’t “loaded up with” any guys - the number of prisoners held in Guantanamo dwindled throughout his term, Trump had little impact on it.

[00:20:11] The current president, Obama’s former vice-president, Joe Biden, has said that he wants to shut down Guantanamo Bay before his time in the White House ends.

[00:20:22] But how likely is this?

[00:20:25] Unless the law changes, not likely at all because the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to American soil is still illegal. 

[00:20:35] Now, it’s been over 20 years since those first handcuffed, orange jumpsuit wearing prisoners arrived in southern Cuba.

[00:20:44] Though there are now far fewer people held in Guantanamo, the treatment has not changed. 

[00:20:51] As recently as 2017, a United Nations reporter concluded that the evidence suggests torture was still ongoing at Guantanamo Bay.

[00:21:02] Human rights groups estimate that as many as 800 prisoners have passed through its doors since it opened, with 732 being released or transferred, and at least 9 dying in prison.

[00:21:17] Of the 800, 219 were Afghanis, 140 were Saudis, 63 from Pakistan, 33 from Oman, 15 from Britain [America’s closest ally in the War on Terror], 9 from France and 7 from Iraq. 

[00:21:35] Many other countries from around the world have also had citizens held indefinitely in Guantanamo - whether rightly or wrongly.

[00:21:44] And while it was home to many real terrorists, such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, we also know that there were at least 150 miscarriages of justice where innocent men were detained and tortured.

[00:21:58] Among those wrongly detained was Sami al-Haj, a Sudanese journalist captured while working for Al Jazeera, and Mohammed el Gharani, the youngest prisoner held in Guantanamo Bay, who was just 14 years old when he was arrested in Pakistan in 2001.

[00:22:16] So, while Guantanamo Bay is still most certainly open for business, the question remains over what business that actually is.

[00:22:26] The business of information gathering? 

[00:22:29] The business of the protection of US citizens? 

[00:22:32] The business of torture?

[00:22:34] And it leaves us with some important moral questions about what lengths society should go in the name of protecting its citizens.

[00:22:45] The man whose face can be found on the $100 note, Benjamin Franklin, once wrote that "it is better 100 guilty people should escape than one innocent Person should suffer".

[00:22:59] The history of Guantanamo Bay certainly suggests that, in this respect at least, this small enclave of Cuba is a long long way away from the ideals upon which the USA was founded.

[00:23:15] OK then, that’s it for today’s episode on Guantanamo Bay.

[00:23:20] I hope it was an interesting one, and whether you knew a lot about Guantanamo Bay, or this was the first time you’d really heard anything about it, well I hope you learned something new.

[00:23:30] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:23:34] What do you think about Guantanamo Bay?

[00:23:37] How can you judge its success or failure?

[00:23:40] Where do you stand on the interrogation versus torture debate? 

[00:23:44] Is it necessary in times of war?

[00:23:47] And do you agree with Benjamin Franklin, that it is better for a 100 guilty people to go free, than one innocent person to suffer?

[00:23:56] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:24:00] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:24:09] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:24:13] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]