This new legislation severely curtailed civil rights and liberties. The detainees at
Guantanamo Bay is only the most prominent example of the administration’s regulatory
Practices and new policies during its “war on terrorism.” The detainees are not officially
On U.S. territory and the government argues that they therefore have neither constitutional rights nor the rights guaranteed under the Geneva Convention, the international treaty governing detention during wartime. Basic principles like due process, political freedom, and the rule of law were successfully circumvented under the new legislation. The Due Process Clause applies to all “persons” within the United States, including aliens, whether their presence is lawful, unlawful, temporary, or permanent. Yet, Section 412 of the USA PATRIOT Act exposes immigrants to extended, and, in some cases, indefinite, detention based on the attorney general’s untested certification that he has “reasonable grounds to believe” that a no citizen is engaged in terrorist activities (Cole 2002:12). Proponents of the new legislation argued repeatedly that these restrictions will facilitate the prevention of new terrorist attacks. Careful observers, however, have claimed that the efficacy of these restrictions has been overstated. More than 1,500 people have been arrested since September 11 in the continuing investigation of that day’s crimes. Not one of them has been charged with any involvement in the crimes under investigation. Instead many of them, while initially withheld from legal council, are being held on immigration charges.
While the detainees were frequently portrayed as possible “sleeper” terrorists by the mainstream media, little was known initially about the actual treatment and accusations. For months the administration blocked access to the detainees and efforts to ascertain the conditions of their treatment. Only at the end of January 2002 did the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) finally announce that Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International (AI) would be allowed access to some detention facilities (Cusac2002). Others remained off-limits to monitoring groups. Since January a few reports about the actual conditions of the detainees have been published in the left-wing press.
Drawing on interviews with detainees and their lawyers, AI sent Attorney General John
Ashcroft a document concerning the detentions in the post-September 11 investigations.
AI stated “that many of those detained during the ?11 September sweeps’ are held in harsh conditions, some of which may violate international standards for humane treatment.” (Cited in Cusec 2002: 25). Moreover, the document points toward “allegations of physical and verbal abuse of detainees by guards, and failure to protect detainees from
abuses by other inmates” (cited in Cusac 2002: 25). A number of the detainees’ lawyers
reported that the detainees suffered some grave human rights violations. Some were held
for months in solitary confinement. Others suffered physical and psychological torture,
such as having been beaten by INS guards, kept in cold cells and refused further blankets,
received no halal food (which conforms to specific dietary laws) or toilet paper for
weeks. One detainee died on a heart attack while imprisoned (Cusac 2002: 25). Initially
arrested as suspects connected to the September 11 attacks and later transferred to the INS
and charged with visa violations, at the point of this writing, about 300 people are still in
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