Press Release

Welch Statement on UN Report on Guantanamo 

Jul 20, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C.Senator Peter Welch (D-VT), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, released a statement following the release of a report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism on her technical visit to the Guantanamo Detention Facility. 

“The UN Special Rapporteur’s report contains shocking findings of arbitrary and prolonged abuse at Guantanamo—and every Member of Congress should read her report,” said Sen. Welch

“The 9/11 attacks were the most heinous terrorist attacks against the United States in our history, and the instigators and perpetrators of the attacks should have been brought to justice long ago,” the Senator continued. “Very few of them ever will be, because of the unlawful policies and practices of the George W. Bush Administration. Since then, Guantanamo has become synonymous with the systematic torture and dehumanizing abuse of Muslim prisoners, over more than two decades, by a country that stands for human rights, for victims’ rights, for justice, and for the rule of law.  It is long overdue to resolve the cases of the remaining prisoners and to finally put an end to the shameful nightmare of Guantanamo.  We should also all underscore the right of victims of terrorism to obtain as much information as possible pertaining to the horrific crimes that violently ended the lives of their loved ones.” 

In mid-June, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism, submitted a report on her technical visit to the Guantanamo Detention Facility. The Special Rapporteur interviewed American and other victims of the 9/11 attacks, Guantanamo prisoners and members of their families, lawyers, and U.S. officials responsible for operating the facility. This was the first time since the 9/11 attacks that any UN human rights official was granted access to Guantanamo.  

While the Special Rapporteur emphasized that there have been significant improvements in the conditions and treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo since the early years after 9/11, her 23-page report describes in searing detail the history of appalling abuse of the hundreds of men who, during the past 21 years, were apprehended, imprisoned, and tortured at Guantanamo.   

As outlined in the report, many were transported there after being interrogated and brutally tortured by U.S. personnel at secret sites overseas. The vast majority were eventually released by the George W. Bush Administration, but some of those continue to be subjected to detention, abuse, and discrimination in third countries. Of the 30 who remain at Guantanamo, 19 have never been charged with a crime. The Special Representative expressed concern that the continued detention of some of the prisoners “follows from the unwillingness of the authorities to face the consequences of the torture and other ill-treatment to which the detainees were subjected and not from any ongoing threat they are believed to pose.”  Sixteen of the prisoners have been cleared for release and are waiting to be resettled in third countries.  Some have been waiting for more than 12 years.   

According to her report, “every one of the 780 Muslim men who was held at Guantanamo . . . including [those who remain there today], lives with their own distinct experiences of unrelenting psychological and physical trauma.”  She found that, despite improvements, the remaining 30 detainees, like those before them, are being held under circumstances that constitute “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under international law.”  

Notably, the Special Rapporteur found that the victims of the 9/11 attacks have been denied the justice and reparations they deserve due to the “systematic rendition and torture at multiple (including black) sites and thereafter Guantanamo…with the entrenched legal and policy practices of…protecting those who ordered, perpetrated, facilitated, supervised, or concealed torture.” She determined that the use of torture was “a betrayal of the rights of victims,” because evidence obtained through torture is inadmissible for the purpose of prosecuting, convicting, and punishing those who carried out the attacks. She stressed that “accountability for torture is also accountability to the human rights of victims and survivors.” 

The Special Rapporteur also noted that “many [9/11] victims expressed challenges with the lack of access to information and transparency from the U.S. Government due to the classification of pertinent information, including information related to allegations of criminal responsibility and state sponsorship of terrorism.” She emphasized the “right of victims to know as much information and truth about 9/11 as possible.”  

Read the full report here