There are 172 detainees remaining at Guantanamo, 48 of whom are expected to be held indefinitely under the laws of war. Most of the detainees live communally in barracks or open prison-style wings.
Family visits to detainees in U.S. custody are not without precedent, and the ICRC advocates around the world for the principle of visitation.
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The United States allows face-to-face contact at a visitation facility at Bagram air base, the largest U.S. detention center in Afghanistan, and both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, working with the Red Cross, have expanded the ability of detainees at Guantanamo to communicate with their families.
Inmates at the facility were first allowed to send letters home via the Red Cross in 2002, shortly after the detention center opened. The contents of letters are reviewed and in some cases censored by the military. The ICRC says it has facilitated the exchange of more than 50,000 messages between Guantanamo detainees and their families.
Starting in 2008, detainees who met certain conditions set by the military were allowed one phone call home each year. That was later expanded to allow several calls each year. More than 700 telephone calls have been made since the system was set up, according to the ICRC.
The military has refused to describe what conditions detainees must meet to be permitted to make phone calls, or whether the calls are a reward for what it calls “compliant” behavior.
In October 2009, the military began to allow one-hour videoconference calls between detainees and their immediate families or other close relatives. Video-call locations have been set up in 20 countries, according to the ICRC.
All conversations are monitored by the military, and the participants are cautioned to limit their topics to family news and other matters that don’t raise security concerns.
The ICRC is the only independent organization that monitors conditions at Guantanamo and has access to the detainees, including the high-value inmates. The ability of people outside the U.S. government to visit the prison is strictly limited.
Defense lawyers can meet their clients at Guantanamo, and journalists and human rights activists can attend legal proceedings. Some relatives of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks have also attended military commission proceedings at the base.