Guantanamo: Detaining authorities must adapt to the needs of a rapidly ageing population

Washington, D.C. (ICRC) – A statement by Patrick Hamilton, the International Committee of the Red Cross’ head of delegation for the United States and Canada, following a visit to the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay last month:
News release 21 April 2023 United States of America

The last time I visited Guantanamo Bay was 20 years ago in 2003, as a Pashtu interpreter early in my career with the ICRC. Returning to Guantanamo recently during one of ICRC’s regular visits, I was particularly struck by how those who are still detained today are experiencing the symptoms of accelerated ageing, worsened by the cumulative effects of their experiences and years spent in detention. More than 20 years later, their situation remains unresolved. Their physical and mental health needs are growing and becoming increasingly challenging.

While the current authorities are offering some temporary solutions, there is a need for a more comprehensive approach if the US is to continue holding detainees over the years to come. All detainees must receive access to adequate health care that accounts for both deteriorating mental and physical conditions--whether at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay or elsewhere. This includes cases of medical emergencies. At the same time, consideration must be given to adapting the infrastructure for the detainees’ evolving needs and disabilities, as well as the rules that govern their daily lives.

Another aspect of a comprehensive approach would be to improve the quality of contact with families, most notably in terms of frequency and length of calls, while bearing in mind the total absence of in-person visits.

Clearly, the sooner the US can overcome the political and administrative deadlock to responsibly transfer out those detainees deemed eligible, and determine the fate of all other detainees, the better it can shape whatever plans are required.

We’re calling on the US administration and Congress to work together to find adequate and sustainable solutions to address these issues. Action should be taken as a matter of priority. If there is a likelihood that even a small number of people are going to be held longer at this facility, the planning for an ageing population cannot afford to wait.                                                                     

For more information, please contact:

Elizabeth Shaw, ICRC, Washington, DC (English) +1 202-361-1566