6 Countries Whose Prisons Give Gitmo a Run For Its Money

There's nothing exactly like the U.S. detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, maybe because there's nothing exactly like the War on Terror. Gitmo is a U.S. military prison holding combatants — prisoners of war (POWs), arguably — believed to have engaged in terrorist activities in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. There, detainees are interrogated to gain intel on groups such as Al-Qaeda, and await trial by military commission.

Just to make it even more interesting, Gitmo is housed in a U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — a country we've had an embargo against for the last 50 years.

How do other countries manage the task of detaining and interrogating people it believes are involved in terrorism? Here are some examples:

1. Iran: Mixing Politics and Terror

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Regarded by many as a state sponsor of terrorism, Iran itself is the victim of terror attacks from groups such as Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) and Jundallah. Like much of what goes on in Iran, the fate of terror suspects there is a bit of a mystery. But we do know that some of them have wound up in the notorious Evin and Gohardasht prisons, where political dissidents and journalists are often incarcerated. Both prisons were involved in a 1988 purge, in which thousands of detainees — including many MEK supporters — were executed. Another prison, located in Tehran — Prison 59 — is said to be reserved for interrogating those who don't break in Evin.

2. Israel: Catch and (Sometimes) Release

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Israel has long suffered attacks by terrorists, and detains a large number of Palestinians and Arab-Israelis. Recently, Israel released 1,027 of them as part of a prisoner swap with Hamas, which in return released Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Israel still holds Intifada leader Marwan Barghouti, but released Samir Kuntar in another prisoner swap with Hezbollah.

Foreign detainees — from Syria, Lebanon, Iran, and elsewhere — are often held in 1391, a camp specializing in interrogation and housed in an old British fort. A historian studying British maps of the area outside of Tel Aviv stumbled on the previously secret facility in 2004. Israel's Supreme Court has declined petitions to close 1391.


3. Russia: Where Have All the Gulags Gone?

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As the Boston Marathon bombings have reminded us, Russia has problems of its own with terrorism, often related to the Caucasus. Russian prison colonies, whether housing terrorists or not, are infamous for their cruelty. In 2005, scores of prisoners in Lgov, south of Moscow, protested their mistreatment by cutting themselves on the arms and abdomen.

During the Chechen Wars, many Chechens were sent to "filtration camps" designed to sort out combatants from civilians. In practice, the camps — Chernokozovo being the best-known — were internment centers where Chechens were abused or "disappeared". And, of course, the KGB didn't vanish with the Soviet Union, it simply morphed into the FSB, which took over the notorious Lefortovo prison in Moscow. Many changes have since been made to FSB's detention apparatus, but the FSB remains very active in the fight against terrorism in Russia. While the FSB eliminates many terrorists before incarceration becomes an issue — Carnegie Endowment’s Foreign Policy magazine declared Russia "no place to be a terrorist" — it is undoubtedly holding and interrogating detainees somewhere, perhaps even in Lefortovo.

4. Saudi Arabia: Making Exceptions to Sharia Law


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Terrorism in Saudi Arabia stems from many motivations: outrage at the presence of non-Muslims, a desire to overthrow the ruling House of Saud, and anger at the Sunni government's treatment of the Shiite minority, among others. Many terrorists are believed to be members of or affiliated with Al-Qaeda. Saudi Arabia holds many terror suspects in al-Ha'ir Prison in Riyadh, including William Sampson and Sandy Mitchell, two in a group of seven Westerners who were held on terror-related charges a decade ago. Sampson and Mitchell, after being released, said that they were coerced by torture into confessing to the crimes. Al-Ha'ir also houses political dissidents.

In 2008, Saudi Arabia inaugurated a non-Sharia "Specialized Criminal Court" intended to try terror suspects. In practice, the court has been used to try human-rights advocates who have criticized the Saudi government.

5. Turkey: Separating the Separatists


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Turkey faces many terrorist threats, Kurdish separatists such as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) being one of the most prominent. Turkish prisons have a fearsome reputation that has been furthered by movies such as Lawrence of Arabia and Midnight Express. Though many Kurds have been taken to the brutal Diyarbakir Prison, it's far from clear that any of them were terrorists, for whom a separate set of "F-Type" prisons has been set up.

One of the founders of PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, is being held in Imrali Prison just south of Istanbul. Öcalan recently called for fellow PKK detainees to end a hunger strike as part of talks with the Turkish government.

6. The United Kingdom: Gunpowder Plots

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The "Troubles" with Ireland and Islamist militants are among the terrorist threats faced by Great Britain, though there has been a significant shift away from the former and toward the latter. After the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and the 7/7 London Underground bombings in 2005, the UK passed a variety of "Terrorism Acts" regulating how terror suspects are to be treated (for instance, how long they can be detained for questioning).

Britain currently holds several people convicted of terrorism (e.g., the 2004 fertilizer bomb plot, the 2006 transatlantic airliners plot, and the 2012 Summer Olympics plot, all foiled). Some of them, at least, are held in "Category A" prisons such as HMS Full Sutton. As for interrogations, there are ongoing investigations into what role UK intelligence services MI5 and MI6 played in the US's extraordinary rendition of terror suspects in Libya.