Timeline: 20 years of Guantanamo Bay prison

January 11 marks 20 years since the opening of Guantanamo Bay, the infamous US prison located in Cuba that critics say allows detainees to be held indefinitely outside of normal laws or judicial oversight.

A product of the so-called “war on terror”, US President Joe Biden, like his predecessor Barack Obama, had said he wanted to close the facility. Instead, it will be expanded under the Biden administration with a new $4m courtroom to be built this year, the New York Times has reported.

During the past two decades, 780 men have passed through the facility, which was created in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Today, the facility holds 39 men, according to disclosures from the US government’s interagency Periodic Review Board made in October.

“These are detentions that are inescapably bound up with multiple layers of unlawful government conduct over the years – secret transfers, incommunicado interrogations, forced feeding of hunger strikers, torture, enforced disappearance, and a complete lack of due process,” said Amnesty International’s Daphne Eviatar in a statement.

Al Jazeera looks back at some key events over 20 years of controversy surrounding the Guantanamo Bay detention centre.

November 13, 2001: George W Bush, the US president, issues a military order on the “Detention, Treatment and Trial of Certain Non-Citizens, in the War Against Terrorism”. The order authorises the US to hold foreign nationals in custody without charge indefinitely, and prevents them from undertaking any legal process to challenge their detention.

December 28, 2001: A memorandum from the US Justice Department to the Pentagon explains that prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay are not eligible for habeas corpus rights protecting against arbitrary detention because they are not on US soil.

January 11, 2002:  The first 20 detainees arrive at Guantanamo Bay’s Camp X-Ray and are held outdoors in wire mesh cages.

January 18, 2002: The International Committee of the Red Cross begins visiting prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. On the same day, the Bush administration rules that Guantanamo prisoners do not qualify as prisoners of war and are not entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention.

January 27, 2002: Dick Cheney, the US vice president, describes the prisoners as “the worst of a very bad lot,” adding that: “They are very dangerous. They are devoted to killing millions of Americans.”

February 21, 2002: A US federal judge dismisses a challenge to the detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, a legal advocacy group.

March 21, 2002: The Bush administration announces new military tribunal regulations.

April 5, 2002: Prisoner Yaser Esam Hamdi is transferred from Guantanamo to military custody on the mainland after it is discovered he was born in the US state of Louisiana.

April 25, 2002: Construction of the new Camp Delta, a permanent prison facility with a capacity of more than 400, is completed.

August 1, 2002: A memorandum from the Department of Justice to then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales advises that the president can authorise a wide range of “enhanced interrogation techniques” that would not amount to torture and therefore not be prosecutable under US law. Even if torture did occur, the memorandum argues, the theory of “necessity” or “self-defence” could be used to eliminate any criminal liability.

September 15, 2002: One prisoner, Abdul Razaq, becomes the first inmate to be repatriated to Afghanistan.

December 2, 2002: Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, approves a range of interrogation techniques for use at Guantanamo including sensory deprivation, isolation, stress positions and the use of dogs to “induce stress”.

March 11, 2003: A federal appeals court rules that Guantanamo detainees have no legal rights in the United States.

May 2003: Guantanamo prison population reaches 680 detainees.

May 9-14: Seventeen prisoners are repatriated to Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.

July 3, 2003: Bush designates six suspected members of al-Qaeda eligible for the first military tribunals since the second world war.

October 9, 2003: The Red Cross warns of the “deterioration in the psychological health of a large number of detainees”.

November 10, 2003: The US Supreme Court agrees to hear appeals in the Guantanamo case over whether inmates have a right to access civilian courts to challenge their indefinite detention.

December 3, 2003: David Hicks becomes the first Guantanamo prisoner to be given a lawyer.

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