Camp X-Ray is the temporary detention facility located at the Joint Task Force Guantanamo on the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It was named Camp X-Ray because various temporary camps in the station were named sequentially from the beginning and then from the end of the NATO phonetic alphabet [1].

Table of contents
1 Background
2 International Conventions
3 International concern about the conditions in the camp.
4 Relevance of Location
5 United States Supreme Court
6 External links and references


The US government has classified the detainees as "illegal combatants," rather than POWs, and they have therefore not been given the rights granted to POWs under the Geneva convention. The US government justifies their designation as "illegal combatants" by claiming that they do not have the status of either regular soldiers nor guerrillas, and they are not part of a regular army or militia. In July of 2003, about 680 alleged Taliban members and suspected Al-Qaeda terrorists from 42 different countries were housed there. None have been allowed to meet with attorneys.

The human rights organization Human Rights Watch has criticized the Bush administration over this designation in its 2003 world report, stating: "Washington has ignored human rights standards in its own treatment of terrorist suspects. It has refused to apply the Geneva Conventions to prisoners of war from Afghanistan, and has misused the designation of 'enemy combatant' to apply to criminal suspects on U.S. soil."

On April 23, 2003, the U.S military reported that "a handful" of the Afghan war prisoners held at Camp X-Ray had been identified as juveniles and were separated from the adult prisoners.

On July 23, U.S. Major General Geoffrey Miller said that three-fourths of the roughly 660 detainees had confessed to some involvement in terrorism. Many have informed about friends and colleagues. According to Miller, the confessions were acquired through rewards that included extended recreation time, extra food rations to keep in their cells, or a move to the prison's medium-security facility.

As of August 2003, 29 inmates of Camp X-Ray had attempted suicide.

International Conventions

The Hague Convention of 1907 established the following rules for recognizing legal belligerents:

The laws, rights, and duties of war apply not only to armies, but also to militia and volunteer corps fulfilling the following conditions:

  • To be commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;
  • To have a fixed distinctive emblem recognizable at a distance;
  • To carry arms openly; and
  • To conduct their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

In countries where militia or volunteer corps constitute the army, or form part of it, they are included under the denomination "army." (Chapter I, "The Qualifications of Belligerents, Article 1)

The Third Geneva Convention of 1949 clarified the status of irregulars:

Prisoners of war, in the sense of the present Convention, are persons belonging to one of the following categories, who have fallen into the power of the enemy:

(1) Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict, as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces.

(2) Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements, fulfil the following conditions: (a) that of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates; (b) that of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance; (c) that of carrying arms openly; (d) that of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

(3) Members of regular armed forces who profess allegiance to a government or an authority not recognized by the Detaining Power. [...]

(6) Inhabitants of a non-occupied territory, who on the approach of the enemy spontaneously take up arms to resist the invading forces, without having had time to form themselves into regular armed units, provided they carry arms openly and respect the laws and customs of war. (Article 4, Paragraph A).

Mercenaries do not have the full protection of the Third Geneva Convention.

The legal question on which the United States and many of her allies differ is the status of al-Qaida members captured in combat. Taliban members could be and were released from U.S. custody, but the U.S. does not recognize al-Qaida members as falling under this convention. According to the Conventions, a competent tribunal must determine whether the Guantanamo detainees have prisoner-of-war status or not. The U.S. has not done so as of date.

However, under international law, it is lawful to hold both unlawful combatants and POWs until the armed conflict has ended. Once the war is declared ended, the U.S. will face an obligation of either charging detainees with crimes or returning them to their countries of origin.

One reason such determinations have not been made has been that under the Hague and Geneva Conventions, prisoners of war are not required to give any more information than name, rank, serial number, and date of birth (which are required for registering POWs with the International Committee of the Red Cross). However, the U.S. holds intelligence gleaned from the detainees at Guantanamo at high value. Without the Geneva Convention legal protections, and without falling under the penumbra of United States criminal law and the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, detainees must talk.

International concern about the conditions in the camp.

Physical conditions for detainees at Camp X-Ray are claimed to meet basic standards for maintaining health, if not comfort. Detainees have rations similar to American forces, with consideration for Muslim dietary considerations. A Muslim chaplain from the U.S. Navy provides religious services. Basic housing has been built.

However, detainees are kept in isolation most of the day, are blindfolded when moving into Camp X-Ray and from place to place within the camp, and forbidden to talk in groups of more than three. American doctrine in dealing with prisoners of war state that isolation and silence are effective means in breaking down the will to resist interrogation. There have been allegations of torture, including sleep deprivation and the use of truth drugs.

Member states of the European Union and the Organization of American States, as well as non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International have protested the legal status and physical condition of detainees at Guantanamo. In addition, British and American courts have been approached by relatives and friends of detainees to request a legal determination favorable to detainees.

Lord Steyn, a prominent British judge, was quoted in the British newspaper The Independent on 26/11/03 regarding the planned trial of the prisoners by military tribunal:

"As a lawyer brought up to admire the ideals of American democracy and justice, I would have to say that I regard this a monstrous failure of justice. The military will act as interrogators, prosecutors and defence counsel, judges, and when death sentences are imposed, as executioners. The trials will be held in private. None of the guarantees of a fair trial need be observed."

At the beginning of December 2003, there were media reports that military lawyers appointed to defend alleged terrorists being held by the US at Guantanamo Bay had expressed concern about the legal process for military commissions. The UK's Guardian newspaper [1] reported that a team of lawyers was dismissed after complaining that the rules for the forthcoming military commissions prohibited them from properly representing their clients. New York's Vanity Fair magazine reported that some of the lawyers felt their ethical obligations were being violated by the process. The Pentagon strongly denied the claims in these media reports.

Relevance of Location

The location of Camp X-Ray is significant because Guantanamo Bay is leased from Cuba and is nominally subject to Cuban sovereignty, United States courts have ruled that persons detained in Guantanamo Bay do not have the access to American courts that a person detained within the United States has. The original rulings were made for Cuban and Haitian refugees found on the high seas and sent to Guantanamo where they attempted unsuccessfully to apply for asylum and administrative hearings to avoid repatriation, but the rulings are applicable to other prisoners in Camp X-Ray according to legal precedent.

People with American citizenship are currently not detained at Camp X-Ray and have been intentionally kept away from Camp X-Ray. This is possibly because holding American citizens at the site might give United States Court authority to review the detentions of all people within the site.

United States Supreme Court

On November 10, 2003, the United States Supreme Court announced it would decide on appeals by Afghan war detainees who challenge their continued incarceration at the Camp as being unlawful. Any ruling, however, is not expected until June 2004. The announcement marks the first time the Supreme Court will hear a case related to the Bush administration's anti-terrorism policies.

See also: Afghanistan timeline, Guantanamo Bay, Halliburton, Illegal combatant, Mehdi Muhammed Ghezali, Victor's justice, War on Terrorism

External links and references