On August 20, 2009 the Washington Post reported that the US administration was making progress in resettling detainees from Guantanamo Bay.
According to the article, six European Union countries – Britain, France, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain – have agreed to receive the inmates. Four EU countries have privately told the US administration that they are committed to resettling detainees, and five other EU nations are considering taking some. The paper states that the US administration has held positive talks with Australia and Georgia. The Washington Post reports that a senior Georgia official joked in an interview that his country, which just marked the first anniversary of a war with Russia, would accept every Guantanamo detainee if the deal came with the establishment of a US military base in Georgia.
The US Administration should resettle Guantanamo detainees to countries where it will be confident in adequacy of local prison and security conditions. Georgia’s security and prison situation does not meet the minimal requirements.
Located across the border from Chechnya and Ingushetia where terrorist explosions take place almost daily, Georgia is particularly vulnerable to cross border terrorist incursions and attacks. Defeat with the Russian army last August, which had a heavy impact on the condition of Georgia’s military forces, did not contribute to any improvement of Georgia’s capacity to control its borders. The explosive situation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia with almost daily mutual allegations of shelling and infringement on human security further adds to the instability in the region. Unlawful presence of Russian troops within 30 km from the capital underscores the volatility of the local political climate. Georgia’s territorial proximity to Iraq and visa free movement with countries of Central Asia, which themselves battle violent Islamic fundamentalism, further exacerbate Georgia’s vulnerability to terrorist attacks. Transfer of Guantanamo detainees to Georgia might turn this country into an easy target for Islamic fundamentalist’s aiming at punishing one of the US ‘s staunch allies.
Other concerns stem from the interests of the physical security and inviolability of inmates themselves. Poor prison conditions in Georgia, threats to maltreatment of detainees as well as lack of transparency of the Prison Department are some of those concerns.
It has to be underscored that Georgia is the only undemocratic country, which has expressed the willingness to receive the prisoners who do not hold its nationality. All other countries, including Palau, are ranked as “free countries” by Freedom House Country reports of 2009. With a score of 4 in 2009, which has worsened compared to the previous year due to deteriorating political situation in the country, Georgia is ranked as partly free. Freedom House indicates, “Georgia is not an electoral democracy.” With regard to prisons Freedom House specifically states, “Prison conditions in Georgia remain grim”.
Similarly, United States State Department 2008 Human Rights Report for Georgia provides that “conditions in many prison and pretrial detention facilities generally remained poor and did not meet international standards. […] Many prisons severely lacked medical facilities, including equipment and medicine.”
In the same vein in 2007 the Council of Europe Anti- Torture Committee reported “[..] The steep increase in the prison population, which has more than doubled since the Committee’s previous periodic visit in 2004, and the ensuing prison overcrowding undermine the efforts made to create a humane penitentiary system. The provision of health care to prisoners remains problematic, due to the shortage of staff, facilities and resources.” The CPT is particularly concerned that the progress observed during the second periodic visit in the area of combating tuberculosis was jeopardized by the steep increase in the prison population.
In its report on Standards for Treatment of Prisoners of 2008 the Georgian Young Lawyers Association also affirms existence of “severe sanitary conditions, which is directly related to overcrowding almost in every correctional facility.”
Moreover, according to Ombudsman’s most recent annual report of 2009 (in Georgian only) “health and life of inmates is under constant threat due to unbearable situation with medical service in prisons. Their situation amounts to inhuman and degrading treatment.” Tuberculosis is widespread. In 2008 one third of 99 deaths in custody was caused by complications after Tuberculosis.
Allegations of maltreatment of detainees are also frequent. In its September 2006 report “Undue Punishment” Human Rights Watch documented various violations and excessive use of force by Georgia’s law enforcement to quell down prison disturbance of March 27 2006. During its visit to Prison No. 6 in Rustavi the Council of Europe’s Anti-Torture Committee received numerous and consistent allegations of prisoners being beaten upon admission as well as in other contexts. The Ombudsman of Georgia provided that none of the allegations of torture, including those by inmates, transferred to the prosecutors’ office were duly investigated resulting in punishment of perpetrators.
Any possible allegations of prisoner ill treatment and doubts about their poor health conditions could be discarded through provision of public information, criminal investigation and public inquiry. If Guantanamo prisoners were to be transferred to Georgia, transparency of Prison Department with respect to their situation and its responsiveness to public inquiry could be crucial for Georgian and international civil society to monitor inmates’ well-being.
Unfortunately, however, transparency of Georgian public institutions, including the Department of Penitentiary is far from perfect.
In its 2008 report on “Transparency of the Penitentiary System and Rights of Inmates” the largest non-governmental organization, the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, complained that the Penitentiary Department made “artificial impediments to fulfillment of legal requirements for provision of public information” and ignored the rules. Information was provided in violation of deadlines and only partially. The Ombudsman of Georgia reports that information provided by the Department concerning the medical conditions and deaths of inmates is sporadic, partial and negligent. For example, the Department counted 94 deaths in custody in 2008 while the Ombudsman investigated 99 death cases.
Similarly, as recent as on August 13, 2009 the Public Ombudsman of Georgia reported that his staff members were denied the right provided by law to privately interview the inmates.
The above-stated represents some of the concerns related to a possible transfer of Guantanamo Bay prisoners to Georgia. By entrusting the plight of these inmates to the correctional facilities in Georgia, the US government will jeopardize the inmates themselves as well as the population of the politically tremulous country.