HRW warns of Guantanamo mental health fallout

WASHINGTON - A significant portion of the 270 detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba are held in unnecessarily harsh conditions that could result in long-term psychological damage, Human Rights Watch said in a report Tuesday.

By (AFP)

Published: Wed 11 Jun 2008, 2:09 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 11:07 AM

As many as 185 of the detainees at the US "war on terror" facility are isolated in cells for 22 hours each day, with limited contact with others and nothing to occupy their time except for a Koran, the report said.

The detainees' two hours of recreational time takes place in "single cell cages" and is sometimes allotted during the night, HRW said.

The conditions are similar to those found in ultra-tight security "supermax" prisons, "even though they have not yet been convicted of a crime," the report said.

"Continuing to house detainees in single-cell units 22 hours a day with virtually nothing to do all day long and no access to natural light or fresh air is not just cruel, it may be counterproductive."

The 54-page report is based on interviews with government officials and attorneys, and recounts the experiences of around a dozen prisoners, some of whom have been cleared for release after six years in detention but cannot find a host country to take them.

"It is unwise and short-sighted to warehouse them in conditions that may have a damaging psychological impact, and are very likely to breed hatred and resentment of the United States over the long term," said Jennifer Daskal, HRW senior counterterrorism counsel.

The report cited "numerous studies" that have found "that extended periods of detention in supermax-like conditions can cause significant psychiatric harm.

"The absence of social and environmental stimulation has been found to lead to a range of mental health problems, ranging from insomnia and confusion to hallucinations and psychosis," it said.

The report acknowledged that officials say "some detainees pose significant security risks" and that keeping them apart from other prisoners prevents riots and improves the ability to manage the facility.

"But such extreme and prolonged isolation violates international legal obligations, and can aggravate desperate behavior, potentially creating worse security problems over time," HRW said.

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