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The Men Who Remain in Guantánamo

Last updated: May 15, 2024

Today, thirty men still languish at Guantánamo, many of whom have never been charged with a crime. Sixteen of the men have been recommended for transfer by unanimous decision of every U.S. government agency with a significant national security function.

Many of the remaining men are torture survivors, some formerly disappeared at CIA “black sites” before being sent to Guantánamo. Others were tortured at Guantánamo, where interrogators brutalized detainees in a wide variety of ways. Some men were literally treated like animals: strapped in dog collars, led around on leashes and forced to perform tricks. One female interrogator wiped what she told a detainee was menstrual blood on his face. Men were stripped naked and otherwise sexually humiliated. They were forcibly groomed, shackled in stress positions and subjected to extreme temperatures. They were sensory and sleep deprived. They were threatened with death.

The consequences of this torture have been profound, and in some cases caused serious harm from which the survivors will never fully recover. All of the men still captive at Guantánamo have been exposed to the physical and psychological trauma associated with prolonged indefinite detention. The harmful effects of such detention are less well known, and can include:

  • Severe and chronic anxiety and dread;
  • Pathological levels of stress that have damaging effects on the core physiologic functions of the immune and cardiovascular systems, as well as on the central nervous system;
  • Depression and suicide;
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); and
  • Enduring personality changes and permanent estrangement from family and community that compromises any hope of the detainee regaining a normal life following release.

The men at Guantánamo are also aging rapidly under the weight of indefinite detention, and increasingly exhibiting complex medical conditions that staff at Guantánamo are not equipped to manage. These include strokes, severe heart disease, kidney failure and myriad significant mental health conditions—including suicidality (which is already an issue for multiple detainees). Indeed, for example, one man in his 60s has required six spine-related surgeries and is largely confined to a wheelchair, and another has been described by his doctor as “one of the most severely traumatized individuals I have ever seen.”

One independent medical expert has said recently “If the problems [with medical care at Guantánamo] aren’t addressed and Guantánamo remains open, I’m very concerned that men will begin to die.”