The Evolution of Guantanamo Bay Detention Center Through Communication
In the past decade, the amount of internet usage has skyrocketed, not only in the United States but also globally. With this spark, the ability to have knowledge at ones’ fingertips also grew. This can be illustrated by the Guantanamo Bay scandal. Back in 2002 when it was opened many knew what it was but not to the extent that the Bush Administration was taking to hide the information from the American citizens. As internet usage increased, so did the questioning of the government by the people through social media. Blogs and Facebook were bombarded with speculation and hypothetical situation about what was really going on in Guantanamo. These social media outlets informed many, as well as swayed public opinions. This research paper will discuss the evolution of public opinion on Guantanamo Bay through communication consisting of social media outlets.
Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, also known as GTMO or Gitmo, was originally leased to the United States in 1903 as a fueling station. Located on the southeast side of Cuba. The base is comprised of forty-five square miles of land and water (De Zayas, 2003, 7). Since 2002, the naval base has housed a United States military prison for detaining enemy combatants. At first, the main detainees were suspected terrorists from Afghanistan and Iraq. However, this later changed when other countries started harboring terrorists that were fighting against the United States. International controversy escalated over the alleged and proven mistreatment of said prisoners, unlawful imprisonment, and the use of a military base on the land of another country that does not wish to be occupied (De Zayas, 2003, 10).
Guantanamo was used primarily as a Naval Base, sheltering ships and troops. In 1934, Cuba leased land to the U.S. for an estimated four thousand dollars (De Zayas, 2003, 8). To keep Cuban and United States property separate, a minefield was created to keep Cuban refugees out. Gitmo troops placed some fifty-five thousand mines in an area, known as the Demilitarized Zone, between the Cuban territory and the United States’ naval base; creating the second largest minefield in the Western Hemisphere. In 1996, Bill Clinton ordered the removal of the mines on the United States’ side of the border. The Cubans have yet to disable and remove theirs. (Destination Guantanamo Bay, 2001) The most notable function of Guantanamo Bay is as a detention camp, used to imprison refugees intercepted on the high seas, detainees linked to Al-Qaeda or the Taliban, and combatants held by the CIA.
Guantanamo Bay adheres to separate rules to those incarcerated in most prisons found within United States’ borders. This is seen as acceptable because although Guantanamo Bay is a territory of the United States, it is not under the Federal jurisdiction. Although the United States Supreme Court recently determined that prisoners have the same rights as United States citizens under the Fifth Amendment, the United States’ official position in 2003 that “unlawful combatants are not entitled to sue in the United States courts, nor entitled to prisoner of war status” (De Zayas, 2003, 34).
            The media goes into hysteria when they find out prisoners are being mistreated, assaulted, beaten, or killed. Not only do typical media outlets such as newspapers and television news shows cover the Guantanamo Bay scandal, but social media sources do as well. With the invention of the Internet it has become easier for people who are not trained journalists, to write on worldly topics. Citizen journalists, for example are private individuals that report on a topic, just as a journalist would, but are not professionally hired to write on this topic (Rogers, 2011). Some examples include law firms, students, or activists. The only stipulations are that these people cannot be professional journalists, and the articles cannot be professionally published. Another component of citizen journalism is that these articles are usually written online often on blogs, facebook, or twitter. These media forms are also examples of social media outlets in which ideas and opinions about Guantanamo Bay can be discussed and new information can be shared.
            In the past decade, during the Bush and Obama Administrations, the public opinion on Gitmo has changed drastically. This can be shown through social media. In September 2001, Al Qaeda terrorists attacked the United States. The public wanted the government to quickly and effectively find the perpetrators of this horrendous crime and prosecute them. In response to the public opinion, President Bush signed an order in 2002 sanctioning the CIA to, by any means necessary find those who were responsible for the attacks. After getting this authorization, the government decided to use “harsh interrogation methods” in order to get the valued information out of the terrorists (CIA Interrogations News, 2011). President Bush also created military tribunals in order to try and convict terrorists and those suspected of being involved. Because the CIA was capturing and detaining terrorists in large numbers, the public was fearful but accepted that the Administration was producing results doing the right thing (Davis, 2007, 122).
Americans were afraid of an imminent terrorist attack as a result of the Bush Administration’s policies and behavior. According to Davis, the long-term effect was to make the citizens feel safer, however an adverse short-term effect was that they felt anxious and unsafe (Davis, 2007, 121). This fear led to an unwavering loyalty towards the government. This is shown in a Facebook group named “Support Guantanamo Bay. Support Freedom.” In the information section of this group one paragraph that sticks out is: “the criticism that the camp receives is nothing but criticism to the freedom of our country…they (detainees) may not be treated like special guests, but that's because they're not. Support the prison that helps against terror, and working to secure our freedom” (Miller, 2007). This quote is just another example of the majority opinion in the early years of the War on Terror. In 2005, Fox News polled nine hundred registered voters about their opinions on Guantanamo Bay. Although twenty-four percent were unsure about their views, thirty-three percent believed that the prison did not uphold minimum standards. On the other hand, the majority forty-three percent thought that the prison treated the prisoners to an acceptable standard. (FoxNews, 2005)
In 2002, the Justice Department affirmed their support for the Bush administration by issuing a memorandum justifying the use of harsh interrogation methods. They claimed that these methods achieved information that led to the capture of many terrorists such as Osama bin Laden and Khalid Mohammed. A man named Abu Zubayadh was captured in April 2002 and subjected to waterboarding. Afterwards, he identified for the CIA the mastermind of the September 11th attacks, Khalid Mohammed. The Justice Department also said, that “enhanced interrogation techniques were only considered torture if it led to sufferings such as…organ failure, impairment of bodily function or death” (CIA Interrogations News, 2011). Under this definition, waterboarding is not considered torture.            
In 2003, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said, “as I understand it, technically unlawful combatants don’t have any rights under the Geneva Conventions” (De Zayas, 2003, 30). He used this reasoning to justify why the detainees had been denied their Fifth Amendment rights.
Both of the above circumstances created a void between the public and the government. This political pressure led the Bush Administration to withdraw the memorandum that argued for torture in 2004. From then on the Bush Administration banned torture (CIA Interrogations News, 2011). Even before this, in February of 2002, the “Center of Constitutional Rights, Center for Justice & International Law, Judith Chomsky, Columbia University’s Human Rights Clinic & Professor Richard Wilson of the Washington College of Law” petitioned to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for the detainees at Guantanamo Bay to have their rights invoked (De Zayas, 2003, 45). Through Professor Wilson’s work at the Washington College of Law (WCL), he was able to use social media to draw attention to this particular issue. His blog discusses his involvement with the above organizations and creates an open forum to converse about such topics as Guantanamo and the detainees. (Wilson, 2009) Blogs and other forms of social media are one of the factors that indirectly influenced Senator Dianne Feinstein and Senator Tom Harkin to sponsor an amendment to the 2008 Defense Authorization Bill. This amendment, co-sponsored by eight other senators, would require the Bush administration to close Guantanamo Bay within a year. (Sen. Fenstein, 2007)
            Even before President Obama became president, one of his campaign points was that he would close Guantanamo Bay Detention Center after a year in office. That time has come and gone, and the detention center is still open with no foreseeable alternatives to it. Public opinion about Gitmo however, has changed.
            Since the publication of confidential government files, on a website known as Wikileaks, the public opinion has leaned towards closing Gitmo. The first Wikileak was released in 2006. In these documents, information mentioned 765 of the 779 detainees- including photos, health assessments, evidence, and court transcripts (Assange, 2011). It also came to light that the United States government had been paying bounty rewards to their allies who turned over “suspected” terrorists. Former Pakistani President Musharraf said that he was paid millions of dollars in exchange for 369 “terrorists.” (Assange, 2011).
            Not only do American citizens want Gitmo closed, but American allied nations do too. The European Union believes that relations between E.U. and the United States are good, however a major obstacle to full anti-terrorism support is Gitmo. Germany in particular argues that the United States wants developing countries to be transparent, however the United States is not transparent about Gitmo. Sweden also argues that the treatment of detainees only reinforces the image of the United States as a world superpower who thinks that it is above the law. One thing that Denmark mentions is in order to change the United States’ reputation with Gitmo, a change in administration must happen. (Guantanamo, 2005) A change in the administration has occurred and the opinion of Gitmo has also changed.
Many believe that those being held at Guantanamo are not prisoners, but rather, detainees. The difference between prisoners and detainees are those who have been told what crime they have committed and have been sentenced; whereas detainees are being held without knowing why. This distinction comes from the Bush Administration. The Administration wanted to indefinitely hold detainees “without giving them the right to challenge their confinement or to know what crimes they were accused of committing” (Dreazen, 2011). The public has put pressure on the Obama administration to change Gitmo. Once in office, President Obama put together a team to determine if the closure of Guantanamo Bay was actually a possibility that could be completed within twelve months. They concluded that yes, it was possible. However this time frame had not included political or logistical challenges. For example, the team had not taken into account where the detainees would be tried if Gitmo no longer existed. Even with this knowledge, in May 2009, the Senate voted 90-6 to eliminate the $80 million budget that would fund the closing of Gitmo. Just a week earlier, the House voted to cut the budget. (Dreazen, 2011) Since Congress is a publically elected body, it stands to reason that they encompass what the public wants. This was one of the first major moves that occurred after the public realized that Gitmo could not be shut down.
When Obama still thought that he would close Gitmo within a year, he decided to suspend the military trials. While trying to figure out what to do with the detainees if Gitmo was shut down, he also reconfigured the military tribunal procedures. For one, he made it harder for hearsay or evidence gathered through torture to be used by the prosecutors. In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that detainees could challenge their continued incarceration in front of a civilian judge. (Dreazen, 2011). However that would not be necessary. In March 2011, after reinstating the military tribunals, Obama released a periodic review plan for those prisoners who are too dangerous to release but cannot be proven guilty in civil court because of sensitive national security evidence. The Department of Defense said this would take care of the ninety detainees who were currently being held without reason. For the other eighty or so prisoners, they would be put in front of a military commission. (Baldor, 2011)
There is a Facebook page entitled “London Guantanamo Campaign” that is for the “illegal” holding of British prisoners at Gitmo. Nowhere on the page does it describe which prisoners the creators are talking about. The page is comprised of articles posted about Gitmo, with commentary underneath stating why the article is misleading or untrue. By using Facebook, however the creators and supporters are expressing their opinions out on the internet. These users do not know if their British colleagues may be part of indefinite holdings or awaiting trials. The British likely would be happy with a trial or a review of the statuses of these detainees, under the Obama administration’s new plans.
According to the Pentagon, among the 530 detainees that have been released from Gitmo; twenty-seven are confirmed and forty-seven are suspected of returning to terrorist cells (Murdock, 2009). These individuals were not given a proper military trial, because evidence was withheld due to reasons of national security. Under the new system, they would most likely have been held indefinitely and had their cases periodically reviewed. These seventy-four individuals were most likely released due to pressure from other nations.
In 2009, USA Today surveyed 1,015 adults on their opinion of Gitmo. Sixty-five percent opposed the closing of Gitmo and moving them to the United States, while thirty-two percent were in favor of it. When asked if Gitmo were closed, would they favor the transfer of detainees to their state of residence, seventy-four percent said no while only twenty-three percent said yes. (Murdock 2009) This opinion poll shows that the public wants Guantanamo Bay to stay open and for detainees to be tried in Cuba, rather than transferred to the United States for prosecution.
Public support for the harsh interrogation techniques used at Gitmo briefly peaked when Osama bin Laden was found and killed in May 2011. It was later leaked, that after “tough treatment” a detainee revealed who bin Laden’s courier was and where his (bin Laden) hideout was. However, there are cases in which harsh interrogation techniques do not work. For example, Khalid Mohammed, the mastermind of the September 11th attacks was waterboarded 183 times but on numerous occasions mislead his interrogators by giving them false information. (CIA Interrogations News, 2011)
Public opinion towards Guantanamo Bay has evolved significantly in the past decade. During the first half of the Bush Administration, the public supported Gitmo not only through news broadcastings but also on blogs and Facebook. After President Bush released a memo about torture however, the public opinion started to shift as the types of harsh interrogation methods were being leaked to the public. During the 2008 Election, President Obama promised the closure of Gitmo within his first year in office. Despite the public supporting this, he realized the magnitude of this goal and he quickly dropped the topic. Now after his reform of the military tribunals and the threat of detainees coming to the United States for trial, many are now willing to accept Guantanamo as it is. People, however are still sharing their opinions on social media outlets, which in turn are keeping the public informed about on going political issues.


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Above is a link to Murat Kurnaz's "60 Minutes" interview. At the age of 19 he was kidnapped and taken to different camps where he was accused of being a terrorist and plotting against the Americans. He was held, interrogated, and tortured for 4 years. He was finally released from Guantanamo Bay detention center in 2006. The clip above as well as his book entitled "Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantanamo" tell his story.