Report: Guantanamo Detainees and Mental Illness

A report released today by Human Rights Watch finds the conditions at Guantanamo are causing undue mental suffering among the detainees.

More than two-thirds of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, including many cleared for release or transfer, are being housed in inhumane conditions that are reportedly having a damaging effect on their mental health, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today.

The 54-page report, “Locked Up Alone: Detention Conditions and Mental Health at Guantanamo,” documents the conditions in the various “camps” at the detention center, in which approximately 185 of the 270 detainees are housed in facilities akin to “supermax” prisons even though they have not yet been convicted of a crime.


These detainees have extremely limited contact with other human beings, spend 22 hours a day alone in small cells with little or no natural light or fresh air, are not provided any educational opportunities, and are given little more than a single book and the Koran to occupy their time. Even their two hours of “recreation” time – which is sometimes provided in the middle of the night – generally takes place in single-cell cages so that detainees cannot physically interact with one another.

The vast majority of the detainees at Gitmo have not been charged with a crime. Yet, they are subjected to much the same treatment and deprivation as those at Supermax:

“Security measures don’t justify locking people in windowless cells 22 hours a day, for months and years on end, with almost no opportunity for human interaction, physical exercise or mental stimulation.”

The harsh conditions cannot be blamed on disciplinary violations:

Guantanamo officials claim that detainees are housed in these supermax-like facilities because of bad past behavior, and that they can earn their way out with good behavior. However, there is no regular review process, no time period for the reviews, and no set rules or guidelines dictating when someone should be housed in such extreme conditions. Several detainees have reported that they have no idea why they remain in such harsh living conditions and have little hope of being moved.

It's time to close Guantanamo and send the detainees back home.

Based on interviews with government officials and attorneys, this report details the experiences of more than a dozen detainees who have spent years in such conditions, including several detainees who have long ago been cleared for release from Guantanamo, but cannot be repatriated due to the likelihood they will be tortured upon return. It also describes the experiences of two detainees – Mohammed Jawad and Mohammad El Gharani – who were teenagers when they were taken into custody and have now spent a quarter of their lives at Guantanamo. Jawad has reportedly tried to commit suicide at least once, and El Gharani at least seven times.

“Guantanamo should be closed, and many of these detainees will ultimately be released,” said Daskal. “In the meantime, it is unwise and short-sighted to house them in conditions that likely have damaging psychological effects and will only breed hatred and resentment of the United States over the long term.”

Remember when the Pentagon said it would allow the detainees to phone home twice a year? Only 40 have been allowed to do so. That plan needs to be implemented as well as other reforms put in place.

Military officials at Guantanamo have also told Human Rights Watch that they plan to make several additional changes in the future, including allowing increased recreation time, providing regular opportunities for detainees to congregate, and instituting additional language classes. No schedule for these improvements, however, has yet been announced.

These reforms are long overdue, and should be implemented as soon as possible, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch also urged the United States to limit the use of supermax-like units as punishment for set 30-day periods and not as facilities for long-term detention, allow videoconferencing in addition to phone calls with family members, and provide detainees with educational opportunities and materials to promote mental engagement and reduce depression, such as additional books and writing and drawing materials.

Prisons are punishment. For those who have committed no crime, the U.S. is a double offender -- not only is it depriving the detainees of liberty, it is inflicting permanent mental and psychological damage.

Guantanamo Bay will forever be a stain on the image and legacy of the United States.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Ahhh....The Bush Legacy (none / 0) (#1)
    by Mrwirez on Tue Jun 10, 2008 at 11:07:25 AM EST
    Unjust punishment for an UNJUST war.... History will not be kind to Mr. Bush. History starts in 2009.

    Yes, a medieval dungeon operated by (none / 0) (#2)
    by wurman on Tue Jun 10, 2008 at 11:20:09 AM EST
    Bu$h xliii, his vice-regent Buck$hot, and all the henchthugs--W's complicit war criminals.

    What a nightmare.

    These gulags were Bush and Cheney's creation (none / 0) (#3)
    by shoephone on Tue Jun 10, 2008 at 11:39:08 AM EST
    but the Congress is just as culpable for their continued existence.

    The Rabid Dog Dilemna (none / 0) (#4)
    by dianem on Tue Jun 10, 2008 at 12:08:50 PM EST
    When a dog has rabies, there is no treatement, no option but to put it down. It is not curable, and the animal is a danger to every creature with which it come into contact.

    Some people are the same. Since they are not going to die an agonizing death, "putting them down" is not necessarily appropriate, but they must be removed from society to protect other's. But how do you identify them? It's not as if they foam at the mouth. And what are the ethical implications when these people have been turned into the damaged creatures they are because of actions taken by those holding them captive? There is no question, we have messed up a lot of people at Guantanemo. Some of them were probably terrorists to begin with, but we can't know which ones, since all have been damaged by their treatment and any confessions are suspect due to the use of torture. Some will be rallying cries for terrorists when they are released and spread their stories to the world. BushCo has created a complicated problem that has no winnable solution. I do not envy the person who has to untie this Gordian knot.

    send them back home (none / 0) (#5)
    by diogenes on Tue Jun 10, 2008 at 12:09:36 PM EST
    To those nice, torture-free Saudi jails.  (Isn't that what you call "rendering?").

    What are the right pressure groups (none / 0) (#6)
    by songster on Tue Jun 10, 2008 at 06:24:32 PM EST
    to support if we want to end this shame?  I send money to CCR.  I don't send money to ACLU because of their position on campaign finance law, but maybe I should.

    Speaking as a mental health professional, (none / 0) (#7)
    by No Blood for Hubris on Wed Jun 11, 2008 at 12:28:18 AM EST
    I mean, well, DUH.

    You torture people long enough without actually frickin' them and they come out somehow without their eggs totally scrambled?


    Tell it to the Marines.

    errata (none / 0) (#8)
    by No Blood for Hubris on Wed Jun 11, 2008 at 12:30:32 AM EST
    Should be"

    you torture people long enough without actually frickin' killing them but their brains have not actull being friends