Why Black Site Prisons Need to Go

Black site prisons are secretive prisons in which the detained have not been charged with a crime by their holders. Over the last 20 years, they have become the subject of a great deal of debate in the United States of America. The mention of them often dredges up images of abuse and mistreatment. The very name “Guantanamo Bay” has become inseparable from the ideas of unjustified imprisonment, moral inconsistency, and imperialist tendencies. Perhaps in the earliest days of the War on Terror, this sort of illegal detention could be framed as a necessity, but we are not the same country we were 20 years ago. To me, it’s clear that black sites do more to harm U.S interests than they ever could do to support them, and it is obvious that black sites are ineffective marks which tarnish our national image and must be phased out. 

Black site prisons have become a way for the U.S to detain civilians without due process or perhaps, at their very best, to hold some number of terrorists without due process. According to a team at Georgetown University, at Guantanamo, 94 percent of all held prisoners were released without having ever been charged. A measly 1.5 percent of all held prisoners were ever formally convicted of a crime. It seems relevant, too, that detainees are tried in either Article III Federal Courts or military tribunals, which have different processes and standards than civilian courts, according to the ACLU. This means that the rights of the accused have a much higher risk of being violated. To be clear: In a system that actively works against the accused, and which tortures, physically abuses and degrades its prisoners, it was only in 1.5 percent of cases that any of the accused were found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That conviction rate is absurdly low, and it’s beyond unreasonable to detain people for 10 or more years when 98.5 percent of them are unable to be charged with anything, and might actually be completely innocent. The most important part of our court system — the part that has allowed the American justice system to be largely equitable and fair — is the continual implementation of due process. When the government removes the ability of the detained to seek counsel, to fight for their right to freedom, or to have an impartial hearing, they have failed to adequately do justice. We are running a court where guilt is presumed and where there is an absence of a fair trial. In Guantanamo alone, 750 people were subjected to abduction, all of the above human rights violations, and essentially indefinite illegal holding despite the fact that they did nothing wrong. Some were held for more than a decade. Black site prisons, clearly, are ineffective at recognizing and containing actual threats to U.S security and instead excel at only the worst facets of the U.S intelligence community. 

The only so-called “advantages” of black site prisons over traditional prisons are their ability to illegally hold its detainees indefinitely and the lack of governmental oversight which exists there. Even if a person were to remove their morality from this situation and view black site prisons without the outrage which they have rightfully earned, it is impossible to not question why they’re even necessary in the modern day. Maybe at the start of the War on Terror, one could have said that we were in such extraordinary conditions that extrajudicial measures had to be taken, so the U.S could safely get a good grasp on who were and were not involved with the groups of interest. But it has been 20 years. We can see how ineffective the prisons are. Of the two “advantages” listed above, there have been no recorded cases where the detention at a black site prison was a crucial facet in assisting national security. The lack of government oversight has simply allowed for torture to be used — torture which has been continually proven to not only be reprehensible for its moral implications but for its lack of getting any reliable information out of the tortured. Even from an objective lens where considerations of morality are removed, there is no logical reason to maintain black site prisons. 

Beyond their clear inefficacy, the optics of black site prisons are horrendous. They are a stain on the U.S’ image and prestige. They are one of the clearest symbols of the U.S acting as a selfish global policeman, and they are one of the first things people will point to to demonstrate how the global hegemony of the U.S has been oppressive. International appearances matter, and the more quickly we fix ours, the more effectively and amiably the U.S can pursue its joint interests with our nations. Further, it appears deeply hypocritical when we complain of the illegal detention of our citizens in other countries when we have very little issue detaining their citizens in a similar manner. How can we judge other nations for injustices we commit ourselves? Of course, U.S. criticisms of others are still valid despite the nation’s hypocrisy, but our application of morals should be consistent. If we find something worthy of criticism externally, then that should extend internally as well. 

Black site prisons are ineffective, immoral, and useless messes that harm our international image. If the U.S aims to be a moral leader on the world stage, it is imperative that we take a major step back towards offering proper legal recourse to all, even (or perhaps especially) to those who we suspect of being terrorists. So often those “terrorists” who we have put behind bars have been innocent people who have done nothing at all. International relations are not what they once were. It is no longer just the power of a state that matters, nor solely its interests that guide its movements. Now, the actions of a state and the morality therein play a role in how a nation is perceived by the international community. Black site prisons are completely inconsistent with every value the U.S espouses, and if the U.S is to move forward, it cannot continue practices which so starkly alienate it from others.