You are here: Home / Projects / The Guantánamo Testimonials Project / Guantánamo Background

Guantánamo Background

googlearth_gtmo.jpg Source: Declaration of David H. Remes in support of emergency motion concerning access to counsel. 05/22/13. Civ. No. 05-1429 (RCL)


Seattle Times GTMO Map

Map Credit: Seattle Times

The Guantánamo Naval Base: A Chronology of Events

June 10, 1898

A U.S. Marine Corps battalion -- the first U.S. troops to land on Cuba during the Spanish-American War -- camps at Guantanamo Bay.

February 23, 1903

U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt signs a deal with the new government of Cuba to lease 45 square miles at the mouth of Guantanamo Bay for 2,000 gold coins a year -- now valued at $4,085. The U.S. government continues to pay the lease every year, but Fidel Castro's government refuses to cash the checks.


The United States and Cuba renegotiate the Guantanamo Bay lease, agreeing that the land would revert to Cuban control only if abandoned or by mutual consent.

January 1, 1959

Communist revolutionaries led by Castro overthrow the Cuban government. The United States bans its servicemen from entering Cuban territory.

January 4, 1961

Cuba and the United States formally break off their once-friendly relations, but President Eisenhower declares this "has no effect on the status of our Naval Station at Guantanamo."

October 21-22, 1962

Civilians are evacuated from the base at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, with the island blockaded by U.S. warships to force the withdrawal of Soviet nuclear missiles. Reinforcements arrive to man the base's front lines, facing inwards toward the island.

November 1991

The Pentagon builds housing for the flood of refugees arriving at the base from Haiti. In 1994, thousands of Cubans join them. Eventually, more than 45,000 Cubans and Haitians are held in tent cities covering much of the base. Most Cubans are admitted into the United States, but most Haitians are sent back home. The last of the Cubans depart in 1996.

April 1999

President Clinton considers plans to house thousands of Kosovo refugees in Guantanamo Bay, but abandons the idea.

September 11, 2001

Al Qaeda attacks the United States.

September 18, 2001

Congress passes the AUMF.

October 7, 2001

Ground war in Afghanistan begins.

November 13, 2001

President Bush authorizes trials by military commission.

December 27, 2001

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld announces plan to send prisoners to GTMO.

December 28, 2001

Legal advisers inform President Bush GTMO is probably beyond reach of federal courts.

January 6, 2002

Construction of temporary facility, Camp X-Ray, begins; first troops [JTF-160] arrive at GTMO.

January 9, 2002

Legal advisers inform William Haynes, Defense Department General Counsel, laws of war do not restrain President Bush, and Geneva Conventions do not protect prisoners seized during war on terror.

January 11, 2002

First planeload of 20 prisoners arrives at Camp X-Ray.

February 7, 2002

President declares Geneva Conventions do not apply to AQ, and Taliban fighters are not eligible for POW status.

February 18, 2002

U.S. Southern Command authorizes JTF-170 to conduct interrogations at GTMO.

February 19, 2002

Habeas litigation on behalf of GTMO prisoners commences.

February 27, 2002

Camp Delta expansion begins; prisoners begin first hunger strike.

April 5, 2002

First prisoner released from GTMO.

April 29, 2002

Prisoner transfer to Camp Delta completed; Camp X-Ray closed.

Summer 2002

Gen. Jack Keane, Vice Chief of Staff for the U.S. Army, visits GTMO; finds quality of intelligence gathered unsatisfactory; recommends intelligence and military functions be combined under unified command.

August 1, 2002

President Bush’s legal advisors narrow definition of torture and conclude President Bush, as Commander in Chief, can authorize any interrogation technique, even if contrary to domestic statute against torture.

October 9, 2002

Brig. Gen. Rick Baccus leaves GTMO after being relieved of his duties as commander.

October 11, 2002

Maj. Gen. Michael Dunlavey, head of interrogations at GTMO, requests permission to use tougher interrogation techniques.

November 4, 2002

Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller takes over command at GTMO; JTF-160 and JTF-170 merge to form JTF- GTMO.

December 2, 2002

Rumsfeld formally approves use of coercive interrogation techniques, including stress positions; deprivation of light and auditory stimuli; isolation up to 30 days; hooding; forced grooming; removal of clothing; removal of comfort items (including religious items).

December 2002

Navy officials threaten to pull Navy interrogators out of GTMO after chief Navy psychologist calls the techniques used “abusive” and “coercive.”

January 15, 2003

Rumsfeld rescinds 12/2/02 approval of coercive interrogation techniques and orders a working group to assess legal, policy, and operational issues relating to interrogations.

April 2, 2003

Medium-security prison completed.

April 4, 2003

Working Group on Detainee Interrogations issues final report recommending use of 35 interrogation techniques, including 9 to be used only subject to limits, including whether prisoner is “medically and operationally evaluated as suitable.”

April 16, 2003

Rumsfeld approves 24 techniques and requires prior authorization for coercive techniques.

April 22, 2003

Department of Defense independent contractor reports witnessing MPs slamming prisoner violently into floor.

May 2, 2003

Maj. Gen. Miller discontinues use of “fear up” techniques.

July 3, 2003

Military commissions process commences.

August 18-26, 2003

23 prisoners undertake mass suicide attempt to protest Koran abuse; military does not confirm until January 24, 2005.

August 31, 2003 –
September 9, 2003

Miller sent to Iraq to review interrogation and prison operations; conducts assessment using JTF GTMO procedures and interrogation authorities as baseline.

March 24, 2004

Brig. Gen. Jay Hood assumes command at GTMO.

April 2004

Construction of Camp Five completed.

June 28, 2004

Supreme Court holds in Rasul v. Bush that GTMO prisoners are entitled to a hearing on the merits of their habeas claims in U.S. federal court.

June 28, 2004

Supreme Court holds in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld that alleged enemy combatants entitled to minimum due process rights.

July 7, 2004

Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz establishes Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs)

July 26, 2004

3 released British prisoners issue lengthy statement accusing United States of severe mistreatment.

July 31, 2004

13 habeas petitions, representing 60 prisoners, pending in federal court.

August 31, 2004

First habeas counsel visits base.

October 4, 2004

Government moves to dismiss habeas cases arguing prisoners have no rights.

December 20, 2004

ACLU releases FBI e-mails concerning torture and abuse during interrogations.

January 11, 2005

Government announces Australian Mamdouh Habib will be released, five days after his allegations of torture are made public in court proceedings.

January 19, 2005

Judge Leon rules prisoners have no constitutional rights and dismisses two habeas cases.

January 26, 2005

Prisoner Habib freed and returned to Australia.

January 31, 2005

Judge Green rules prisoners have constitutional rights, and CSRTs violate due process.

February 9, 2005

Government notices appeal of Judge Green’s ruling.

February 22, 2005

Petitioners notice appeal of Judge Leon’s ruling.

June 3, 2005

Brig. Gen. Hood concludes inquiry on Koran abuse at GTMO.

June 9, 2005

Pentagon releases “Schmidt Report” on interrogations at GTMO confirming most FBI allegations of abuse, concluding interrogation of Mohammed al Qahtani was “abusive and degrading,” and recommending reprimand of Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller for failing to supervise the interrogation. Recommendation overruled by General Bantz Craddock, Commander of the U.S. Southern Command.

Late June 2005

Hunger strike begins.

July 28, 2005

Prison officials agree to bring GTMO into compliance with Geneva Conventions; hunger strike ends.

August 8, 2005

Hunger strike resumes when GTMO officials fail to honor agreement with prisoners and place prisoners’ representatives in segregation.

September 8, 2005

Oral Argument before DC Court of Appeals in consolidated Green/Leon appeals.

November 7, 2005

Supreme Court decides to rule on the constitutionality of the military commissions process in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld.

November 10, 2005

Senate passes amendment by Senator Lindsey Graham stripping the federal courts of jurisdiction to hear habeas petitions.

December 21, 2005

Congress passes a compromise amendment sponsored by Senators Graham, Levin, and Kyl and an amendment sponsored by Senator McCain, banning cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of anyone in United States custody.

December 30, 2005

President Bush signs into law the Graham-Levin-Kyl and McCain amendments, together known as the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, with qualification that he will construe the McCain amendment “in a manner consistent with constitutional authority of the President . . . as Commander in Chief.”

June 10, 2006

Three prisoners die at the facility, apparently after committing suicide.

June 29, 2006

The US Supreme Court, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, rules that the military commissions as constituted under the 2001 Military Order violate US and international law. The Court also rules that Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions does apply, thus reversing the 2002 presidential determination.

September 6, 2006

President Bush announces the transfer to GTMO of 14 detainees who had been held in secret CIA detention centers (“black sites”).

October 17, 2006

President Bush signs into law the Military Commissions Act (MCA), which strips the US courts of jurisdiction to hear habeas corpus appeals from any foreign national held as an “enemy combatant” in US custody anywhere in the world; authorizes the President to establish new military commissions to try such detainees; and narrows the scope of the USA’s War Crimes Act, by not expressly criminalizing Common Article 3’s prohibition on unfair trials or “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment.” President Bush announces that the Act will allow the CIA’s secret detention program to continue.

October/November, 2006

The government seeks to have all pending habeas corpus petitions filed on behalf of GTMO detainees prior to the passage of the MCA, thrown out of court. The government argues on national security grounds that whatever the 14 newly transferred detainees know about the CIA program – including interrogation techniques and the location of secret facilities – must not be revealed.

March 2007

Australian David Hicks pleads guilty to one charge of material support for terrorism during a brief military hearing and is sent home.

June 2008

Five detainees held in connection with September 11 attacks are arraigned at GTMO, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

June 2008

Supreme Court rules detainees should have a right to challenge their detention in US Federal Courts.

October 2008

A Washington DC court orders the release of 17 Chinese Muslims being held without charges.

December 2008

Five 9/11 suspects say they want to plead guilty.

January 14, 2009

Susan Crawford, Convening Authority for the military commissions at GTMO tells the Washington Post that the reason she would not allow the prosecution of Mohammed al-Qahtani to go forward was because he had been tortured.

January 17, 2009

Six detainees are tranferred out of GTMO: four to Iraq, one to Algeria, and one to Afghanistan.

January 22, 2009

President Obama signs three executive orders, one of which stated that GTMO "shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than one year from the date of this order." The order also requires a review of all GTMO detentions, of conditions of detention, and a halt to military commissions for 120 days.

January 29, 2009

February 2009

A military jusdge at GTMO rejects the White House request in the case of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, creating an unexpected challenge for the Administration, as it reviews how the US puts GTMO detainees on trial.

Amnesty International learns that GTMO detainees on hunger strike were still being force fed using methods that may have amounted to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. They lacked access to independent medical experts. At the time, 50 of the detainees were participating in the hunger strike.

February 18, 2009

The US Court of Appeals overturns an earlier District Court ruling ordering the release into the US of 17 Uighurs held at GTMO.

February 23, 2009

Ethiopian national and UK resident Binyam Mohamed is repatriated to the UK.

February 25, 2009

The US government issues a review of conditions of detention at GTMO. Amnesty International says that not all of the concerns had been addressed.

March 15, 2009

A leaked confidential report by the International Committee of the Red Cross describes the torture and ill-treatment of the 14 "high-value detainees" in CIA custody, adding further details to allegations of torture and ill-treatment in the USA's secret detention program.

May 10, 2009

Yemeni national Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, held in GTMO's psychiatric ward, attempts to kill himself during a meeting with his lawyer.

May 15, 2009

President Obama announces he would revive military commission trials of detainees. Lakhdar Boumedienne, who prevailed in the Supreme Court case of Boumedienne vs. Bush, is transferred to France.

May 20, 2009

The US Senate passes HR2346 by a vote of 90-6. This resolution blocks funds needed to transfer or release GTMO prisoners.

May 21, 2009
In a major speech on national security, President Obama endorses indefinite preventative detention. US Department of Justice announces that Tanzanian national Ahmed Ghailani would be tried in federal court.

June 1, 2009
Yemeni national Mohammed al-Hanashi dies in GTMO after an apparent suicide in the detention center's psychiatric ward.

June 9, 2009
Ahmed Ghailani is transferred to New York for trial. He is charged with involvement in the bombing of the embassies of Tanzania and Kenya. He pleads not guilty on the day of his transfer.

June 10, 2009
Jawad Jabber al-Shlani is repatriated to Iraq.
June 11, 2009

Four Uighurs are transferred to Bermuda more than eight months after a US judge ruled their detention unlawful and ordered their immediate release into the USA.

June 12, 2009
Three Saudi Arabian nationals are repatriated.

July 31, 2009
A US District Court judge orders the release of Afghan national Mohammed Jawad, a child when detained in 2003.

August 24, 2009
Mohammed Jawad is transferred to Afghanistan.

August 25, 2009
Canadian authorities announce they would be appealing against court orders requiring it to request the USA to repatriate Canadian national Omar Khadr.

August 28, 2009
Two Syrian nationals are transferred to Portugal.

September 25, 2009
 Two Uzbek nationals are transferred to Ireland. One Yemeni national is repatriated.

October 8, 2009
One Kuwaiti national is repatriated; one Syrian national is transferred to Belgium.

October 31, 2009
Six Uighur prisoners are transferred to Palau.

November 2009

215 prisoners remain at GTMO.

November 13, 2009
US Attorney General announces that five GTMO prisoners will be transferred to the US mainland to face trial in a federal court. He also announces that five other detainees will face trial by military commission.

November 18, 2009
President Obama acknowledges that his administration will fail to meet its ordered deadline of closing GTMO by January 22, 2010.

November 30, 2009
Two Tunisian nationals are transferred to Italy to face a possible trial; Algerian national is transferred to France; an unidentified Palestinian is transferred to Hungary.

December 9, 2009
Kuwaiti national Fouad Mahmoud al Rabiah is repatriated.

December 15, 2009
President Obama issues a memorandum directing the eventual relocation of some GTMO prisoners to the Thomson correctional center in Illinois.

December 20, 2009
12 detainees are transferred out of GTMO. Six repatriated to Yemen, two to the Somaliland region, and four to Afghanistan.

January 2010
193 prisoners remain in GTMO

List of Commanders of Joint Task Force Guantanamo

 Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF GTMO) should not be confused with the US Naval Station at Guantanamo; they are, in any case, under different commands. At first, JTF GTMO was split into Joint Task Force 160 (JTF 160), which was charged with detention, and Joint Task Force 170 (JTF 170), which was charged with interrogation. Each of these task forces had their own commander. Eventually, the two merged into Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF GTMO).The dates below represent the change-of command dates, not the dates in which the Department of Defense announced these changes. This list was compiled by Kirsten Harjes.

1 Brigadier General Michael Lehnert (JTF 160)
Major General Michael Dunlavey (JTF 170)

January 2002 - 28 March 2002
February 2002 - 28 March 2002

2 Brigadier General Rick Baccus (JTF 160)
Major General Michael Dunlavey (JTF 170)
28 March 2002 - 9 October 2002
28 March 2002 - 9 October 2002


Major General Michael Dunlavey (JTF GTMO, interim)

9 October 2002 - 1 November 2002


Major General Geoffrey Miller (JTF GTMO)

1 November 2002 - 22 March 2004

Major General Jay W. Hood (JTF GTMO)

22 March 2004 - 31 March 2006

Rear Admiral Harry B. Harris (JTF GTMO) 31 March 2006 - 22 May 2007


Rear Admiral Mark H. Buzby (JTF GTMO)

22 May 2007 - 27 May 2008


Rear Admiral David M. Thomas (JTF GTMO)

27 May 2008 - 19 June 2009

Rear Admiral Thomas H. Copeman (JTF GTMO)

19 June 2009 - 25 June 2009







Rear Admiral Jeffrey Harbeson (JTF GTMO)

Rear Admiral David B. Woods (JTF GTMO)

Rear Admiral John W. Smith (JTF GTMO)

Rear Admiral Richard Butler (JTFGTMO)

Rear Admiral Kyle Cozad (JTFGTMO)

Brigadier General Jose Monteagudo (JTFGTMO)

Rear Admiral Peter J. Clarke
25 June 2010 - 27 August 2011

27 August 2011 - 25 June 2012

25 June 2012 - 16  July 2013

16 July 2013 - 10 July 2014

10 July 2014 - 1 July 2015

1 July 2015 - 4 November 2015

4 November 2015 –