[JURIST] Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] decried conditions at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] as contrary to international norms of humane treatment in a report [HRW materials; press release] released Tuesday, saying that detainees face extreme isolation that can cause mental trauma. The group found that many are housed alone in windowless, cramped cells for months or years on end and are denied access to independent mental health professionals. The report compared conditions at Guantanamo to those of maximum security prisons in the US:
Conditions at Camps 5 and 6 are in many ways akin to those at supermaximum-security prisons in the United States. (This also seems true for Camp 7, to the limited extent conditions at Camp 7 are known.) Prisoners in US supermaxes are generally held alone in small, often windowless cells with solid steel doors for more than 22 hours a day. Their opportunities for social interaction or other meaningful activity are dramatically limited.
Numerous studies have concluded that extended periods of detention in supermax-like conditions can cause significant psychiatric harm. The absence of social and environmental stimulation has been found to lead to a range of mental health problems, ranging from insomnia and confusion to hallucinations and psychosis. Stuart Grassian, a psychiatrist specializing in conditions of confinement who has evaluated hundreds of inmates in different prisons, warns that even inmates with no prior history of mental illness can become "significantly ill" when subjected to prolonged periods of isolation.
The Guantanamo Joint Task Force [official website] said that isolation is necessary to prevent bad behavior and rioting, but HRW said that solitary confinement could actually exacerbate these and other problems. Reuters has more.
Beyond simply improving conditions for the captives, numerous international groups and rights activists have increasingly urged the US to close the detention center altogether [JURIST news archive]. In February, the leaders of 34 international bar associations and law societies sent a letter [PDF text] to US President George W. Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper urging the "immediate closure" of the facility [JURIST report]. Last October, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism Martin Scheinin called on the US to quickly prosecute or release terror suspects [JURIST report] detained at Guantanamo in order to close the base. Earlier this month, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reiterated President Bush's August 2007 claim that the US wants to close the base [JURIST reports], but that both legal and logistical impediments make the closure difficult.