News that Guantanamo Bay may finally be closed will come as a relief to its former inmates who say life inside its walls was “hell on Earth”.
Detainees being waterboarded, sexually assaulted, made to stay awake for days at a time and subjected to brutal rectal exams are among some of the shocking claims.
It is believed around 40 prisoners still remain there, some who have been held for nearly two decades without being charged or tried.
One of those still being held is alleged 9/11 architect Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, whom the US government has reportedly spent an estimated $161.5 million housing there.
Newly-elected US President Joe Biden announced last month he was looking into closing the prison, more than a decade after Barack Obama vowed to do the same thing.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said: “Guantanamo has provided us the capability to conduct law of war detention in order to keep our enemies off the battlefield, but I believe it is time for the detention facility at Guantanamo to close.”
The detention centre was first established on an island in Cuba in 2002 as a direct response to 9/11 to detain and interrogate those suspected of terrorism.
The US naval base formed a key part of the Bush administration’s so-called “War on Terror”. At its peak the prison held around 700 inmates.
The centre, consisting of seven camps as well as secret facilities named after Beatles songs such as Strawberry Field and Penny Lane, became known as Gitmo.
The camp’s military trainers reportedly based their “enhanced interrogation” – the CIA’s euphemism for torture – on techniques used by Chinese communists during the Korean War, the New York Times reported in 2008.
This involved depriving inmates of sleep and forcing them to hold “stress positions” for long periods of time, during which the discomfort would eventually become unbearable.
Former prisoner Lakhdar Boumediene wrote about his experience after his release in which he detailed his “brutal” treatment.
“I was kept awake for many days straight,” he wrote.
“I was forced to remain in painful positions for hours at a time. These are things I do not want to write about; I want only to forget.
“I went on a hunger strike for two years because no one would tell me why I was being imprisoned.
“Twice each day my captors would shove a tube up my nose, down my throat and into my stomach so they could pour food into me. It was excruciating, but I was innocent and so I kept up my protest.”
Before long the camp was infamous around the world, although the full details of what went on would not become known until 2014 with the release of a long-awaited Senate report.
Guards often carried out mock executions and games of Russian roulette to terrify the prisoners, who were also waterboarded and made to stand on broken limbs for hours at a time, it found.
Inmates who went on hunger strike were subjected to “rectal feeding”, a brutal kind of “nutrient enema” found to be far more dangerous than feeding tubes.
Detainees were also given rectal exams which were conducted with “excessive force”, the report said, causing one prisoner to suffer chronic haemorrhoids and rectal prolapse.
One prisoner even died of hypothermia after he was forced to sit on a bare concrete floor without any trousers on.
Somalian Mohamed Saleban Bare spent eight years in the prison despite never being told what he’d been charged with.
“Guantanamo Bay is like hell on Earth,” he told media after being released in 2009.
“Some of my colleagues in the prison lost their sight, some lost their limbs and others ended up mentally disturbed.”
Those who got away lightly were given one biscuit a day and not allowed to sleep for “at least four nights in a row”, while unlucky inmates were electrocuted and beaten.
“They use a kind of psychological torture that kills you mentally,” he said.
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Because of the Islamophobic nature of the War on Terror, much of the camp’s abuse reportedly directly targeted the inmates’ Muslim faith.
“They would throw Korans into the toilet and raise the volume of their music during prayers,” Mr Bare claimed.
Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who has been described as Gitmo’s “most tortured prisoner”, recently gave an interview to the Times in which he described his 14 years of imprisonment.
When he wasn’t shackled in a tiny pitch-black cell with loud rap music being pumped in to prevent him from sleeping, Mr Slahi was routinely beaten, starved, sexually assaulted and made to swallow sea water.
Former detainee Majid Khan claimed interrogators “poured ice water on his genitals, twice videotaped him naked and repeatedly touched his private parts”.
Murat Kurnaz claims after guards discovered he had been feeding the iguanas that could be found around the island, he was punished with a full 30 days of solitary confinement in total darkness.
Omar Deghayes, who returned to Britain after his release from Gitmo, went blind in one eye after a guard tried to gouge it out to make an example of him for complaining about his treatment.
“After beating me in the cell, they dragged me outside the cell, and then one of the guards, while another officer was standing, observing what was happening, he was trying to gouge my eyes out,” he told Democracy!Now.
“And because one of my eyes, the right eye, had been less… I lost sight in both of my eyes. And then, slowly, slowly, I regained my sight in one of the eyes. The other eye has completely gotten worse than it has been.”
Guantanamo Bay was condemned by Amnesty International as a major breach of human rights, as well as a violation of the US Constitution.
There have been at least six suicides reported within the camp, and 20% of its inmates reportedly take antidepressants.
Obama pledged to have it shut while he was president, but could not overcome opposition in Congress.
In 2018 Donald Trump signed an executive order to keep Guantanamo Bay open indefinitely after promising to “load it up with some bad dudes”.
He said at the time: “Terrorists are not merely criminals. They are unlawful enemy combatants. And when captured overseas, they should be treated like the terrorists they are.
“In the past, we have foolishly released hundreds of dangerous terrorists only to meet them again on the battlefield.”
But a year later he said: “It costs a fortune to operate it, and I think it’s crazy.”
However President Biden’s recent announcement has provided a glimmer of hope that the island of horrors may finally be closed down at last.