Bay in southeastern Cuba, one of the world's largest natural harbours and a site of strategic importance, with a US naval base (116 sq km/45 sq mi in area) established here since 1903. In the mid-1990s the base was used by the USA to house Cuban and Haitian refugees. After the US war in Afghanistan in 2001 as part of the war on terror, it became a high-security detention centre and prison for Islamic militant Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorist fighters captured in Afghanistan by US forces and later for detainees from the 2003 war in Iraq. It was known popularly as ‘Camp X-Ray’ until April 2002, when a more permanent facility, ‘Camp Delta’, was opened. In January 2009, the new US president, Barack Obama, pledged to shut down the detention facility within a year, but this was not followed through. In February 2011, there were 172 detainees and, while 775 detainees had been brought there since 2001, most had subsequently been released without charge or transferred to facilities in their own countries.
Because of the pre-existing US naval base, the situation during the Cold War was that both the USA and the USSR (which backed Cuba) retained forces within the territory of a third nation. After the Communists came to power in Cuba in 1959, the government (which opposed the US presence there) refused to accept the rent paid by the USA, set a century ago at 2,000 gold coins a year (worth around US$4,000).
Those prisoners detained from 2001 were classed as ‘unlawful combatants’ or ‘enemy combatants’ rather than prisoners of war (POWs), since they did not belong to formal armies. This meant that they did not have the rights granted to POWs under the Geneva Conventions. However, in June 2006 the US Supreme Court ruled that they were entitled to the protections of Geneva's Common Article 3. By July 2003 there were 680 alleged Taliban members and suspected al-Qaeda terrorists from 42 countries at the camp. Human rights organizations criticized the way these detainees were treated, with the use of hand and leg shackles, repeated interrogation, and temporary detention in open-sided wire cells while a permanent facility was being built. There were also concerns that they would be tried by military tribunals.
In October 2002, the first detainees, four in all, were released and in January 2004 three children were released and returned to Afghanistan. In March 2004 five British detainees were released and returned to the UK, where they were freed without charge by the police.