Indefinite (non-secret) military detention
Most of the detainees held by US forces in the ‘war on terror’ have not been detained in secret, but have instead been subjected to indefinite military detention in DOD facilities in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the US Naval Base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. While there is evidence of separate, secret detentions taking place at each of these locations, most detainees have been given Internment Security Numbers (ISNs) by the US military, and have thereby been officially registered as detainees under control of the US. In particular, the ICRC has had unrestrained access to those held by the US military in these facilities, and has been able to facilitate the exchange of messages between detainees and their families.
The ICRC has been visiting detainees at Guantánamo Bay since the opening of the prison in January 2002. As of the end of 2011, the ICRC had made 83 visits to detainees at Guantánamo Bay, and delivered over 54,000 messages between detainees and their families. Since 2008, most detainees have also been able to speak to their families via telephone and video-calling, although these are heavily censored.
Likewise, the ICRC has been visiting the detention facility in the US Air Force base at Bagram, Afghanistan, since January 2002. This facility was initially called the Bagram Theater Internment Facility (BTIF), but has been renamed as the Detention Facility in Parwan (DFIP). As of the end of 2011, more than 3,000 detainees are held at DFIP. This figure represents a significant increase in recent years, as the US Supreme Court has exercised increasing authority over Guantánamo Bay, leading to the halting of transfers from Afghanistan. The ICRC has made 160 visits to DFIP, and facilitated the exchange of over 110,000 messages between the detainees and their families. Since 2008, many detainees have also had access to video-calling facilities, and even face-to-face visits.
In the months and years after the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003, many thousands of people were taken into detention by US and allied military forces. The ICRC had access to these detainees from the beginning, and have conducted around 180 visits to a number of DOD-run sites in the country. These included Abu Ghraib (near Baghdad), Camp Bucca (near Basra) and Camp Cropper (near Baghdad International Airport), and at the height of the insurgency in 2006, the ICRC monitored nearly 30,000 detainees at these locations, and facilitated the exchange of over 400,000 messages with families. Since January 2009 the US has been transferring the remaining detainees under its authority to Iraqi control, and the final US detainee in the country was transferred in December 2011.
While most detainees at these DOD-run facilities have not been held in secret, the indefinite nature of many detentions, along with restrictions on access to independent lawyers, and on the ability to review the evidence under which they are held, has ensured that they have remained highly controversial. Likewise, there have been numerous confirmed instances of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment inflicted upon those held. These have been reported by many journalists, activists and human rights NGOs, as well as by US Government investigations. Many of these investigations have demonstrated the systematic mistreatment of the detainees held at US military facilities, either sanctioned officially through Pentagon guidance or improvised within a broad culture of mistreatment and torture.