Beijing has weighed in on the 20th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo Bay by calling on the United States to address its human rights violations and finally close the notorious offshore military prison.
Some 39 detainees—many without charges—remain at the facility in southern Cuba.
The question of whether to shut down “Gitmo” for good has carried over successive administrations, with the United Nations among several leading organizations calling for a swift and conclusive resolution by the U.S.
At a regular press conference in Beijing on Wednesday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin, called the continued operation of the prison “a dark chapter” in the world’s human rights record.
“If ever there was a ‘detention camp’ that holds Muslims, it would be Guantanamo Bay,” he said, alluding to allegations that the Chinese government has interned over a million Uyghur Muslims in mass detention centers in Xinjiang in the country’s northwest—a charge Beijing denies.
“The United States has promised more than once that it would close the prison,” said Wang. “However, 20 years later, 39 people are still being kept there, while few of them have been charged with or convicted of crimes.”
Wang accused the U.S. of operating “black sites” such as Guantanamo Bay all over the world. The prison, the official said, is “only the tip of the iceberg.”
“The U.S. should sincerely reflect on itself, immediately close Guantanamo Bay and all other secret prisons across the world,” he said.
“It should stop atrocities including arbitrary detention and the torture of prisoners, deliver apologies and compensations to the victims and bring to justice those who authorized and committed the torture.”
Guantanamo Bay, which is located within a U.S. naval base, was opened on January 11, 2002, during George W. Bush’s first administration, as part of the “war on terror” following the 9/11 attacks.
In the two decades since, some 780 inmates have been held at the facility, including a peak of 684 detainees in June 2003.
Former President Barack Obama vowed to close the military prison in his first year, but opposition from Congress and challenges related to the secure transfer of inmates meant the otherwise historic decision dragged on indefinitely until it was reversed by his successor, Donald Trump.
President Joe Biden has committed to closing Gitmo by the time he leaves office.
On Monday, a report commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council, of which the U.S. is a member, found that only nine of the the prison’s 39 detainees have been charged or convicted of crimes.
“Between 2002 and 2021, nine detainees died in custody, two from natural causes and seven reportedly committed suicide. None had been charged or convicted of a crime,” said the report authored by a panel of independent human rights experts.
“Despite forceful, repeated and unequivocal condemnation of the operation of this horrific detention and prison complex with its associated trial processes, the United States continues to detain persons, many of whom have never been charged with any crime,” they wrote.
They report said: “Guantanamo Bay is a site of unparalleled notoriety, defined by the systematic use of torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment against hundreds of men brought to the site and deprived of their most fundamental rights.”
The Department of Defense says torture is prohibited and investigated whenever reported.