Family visits for Guantanamo’s prisoners?


Today it was reported that prisoners at Guantanamo Bay may be allowed visits from members of their families.

Yet, from my work with former Guantanamo prisoners, I am not sure how many of our clients would want their family members to see them there. To see the pain from the physical and psychological abuse that they have endured. To see what the war on terror has done to them.

Nevertheless, the fact that the Pentagon is now considering granting this ‘privilege’ is disgracefully overdue. For over ten years, prisoners at the US naval base have have been completely cut off from their loved ones, allowed only occasionally to write letters which are read by the prison staff, censored and take months to arrive at the homes of their families across the globe.

In 2008 it was decided that ‘well-behaved’ prisoners were permitted a phone call home. Yet even these were granted only once per year. Each call was required to be authorised and then organised via the ICRC; there was no free choice over the calls, no phone cards, no collect calls and certainly no row of payphones of the kind we see in the ‘World’s Worst Prisons’ reality TV shows.

In 2009 some ‘compliant’ prisoners were allowed to make video calls back home to their families, again organised by the ICRC and again reserved for the most privileged of prisoners.

Yet neither of these measures is adequate. The fact that these men have not been allowed to see their family members in almost ten years is nothing short of a disgrace. Even prisoners held in the worst death row prisons in the US are allowed to see their loved ones. And yet the men in Guantanamo — who have not been charged with any crime — are denied that basic right.

The psychological effects of any such visits on both the prisoners and their families would be immense. It would cause acute pain on both sides, as the prisoner returns to his cell and his family returns home without him. The psychological fallout from such visits should not be underestimated by the authorities.

Yet there are families who would go; who have longed to see their loved ones for many years, longed to tell them face-to-face that they are not forgotten, and that they will be there when, or if, that prisoner returns home.

Such families will face many obstacles, as they may be considered (despite having been convicted of no crime)  too high a ‘security risk’ to travel through the US to Guantanamo Bay. Their transit to visit their loved one would have to be arranged via third countries, and may also be blocked by a Defense Department funding rules.

Irrespective of the obstacles, and irrespective of the unpredictable effects of the visits on the prisoner and their families, visitation should be allowed in Guantanamo, and should be organised immediately. This is the least these prisoners deserve.

Chris Chang

Published on Reprieve website 26.08.11 HERE


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