The United States's infamous detention centre at Guantánamo Bay on the island of Cuba recently marked the 10 anniversary of its founding. When the camp opened, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld called the detainees the “worst of the worst.” Among them were 21 children, a man aged 89, and naive young men like the German of Turkish descent studying among Koranic scholars in Pakistan. In all, 779 people have been held, at one time or another, in the enclave and have been treated in ways no civilised society should tolerate. Detainees were chained in tiny cages exposed to the searing sun, and repeatedly tortured. No fewer than 171 are still held, each at a cost of $800,000 a year. According to U.S. official data, 92 per cent of the 779 had nothing to do with al-Qaida, and the majority have been released without charge or trial. But all have been tortured by U.S. security forces or those of other countries, including member-states of the European Union. Shockingly, a substantial number of the detainees were sold into captivity for Washington's $3,000-a-head bounty; often someone local officials did not like was handed over, as were people involved in personal feuds. One al-Jazeera cameraman was held and grilled for information on his employers.

Washington's claim that conditions at Guantánamo are now better is no defence. Only six inmates have been convicted, and that too in military courts, which work to lower standards of proof than civilian ones. The Obama administration attempted to hold trials in normal courts on the U.S. mainland, but congressional hostility dissuaded the President, and Congress has now legislated for indefinite military detention. It has also blocked the transfer of inmates to other countries, so the 89 cleared for release face indefinite imprisonment. The U.S. Supreme Court, after ruling that detainees could file for habeas corpus, has effectively been overruled by the subordinate District of Columbia Circuit appeal court, which has refused the appellants permission to challenge official records. The superior court has declined to intervene. The congressional refusal to allow civilian trials stems mainly from fear of acquittals, and even the small number of detainees who are genuine suspects will not get such trials; in any case, evidence of torture would almost certainly result in acquittal. Guantánamo's 10 year is an anniversary of shame; moreover, even U.S. officials admit that the camp's very existence helps terrorist groups get new recruits.

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