Representatives of international human rights organizations continue to express concern over the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Ahead of the 11th anniversary of the first detainee transfers to the US naval base in Cuba, Amnesty International said there are still 166 detainees held there as of January 8, 2013; and about half of them are Yemenis. According to the human rights activists, the prisoners should be released and brought to fair trial because their detention violates international law and does not comply with international standards of human rights.
“Barack Obama signed an order and promised to close Guantanamo at the beginning of his first term but the detention facility is still functioning. Amnesty International is calling on the US government to fulfill human rights and to end the military commission trials replacing them with ordinary fair trials in civilian courts. We are also calling on them to release the detainees that the US has no intention of prosecuting: last year the government released the names of 55 of the prisoners cleared for transfer from the prison at Guantanamo Bay and we are calling for their release into the US or to a safe alternative country. Furthermore, we are calling for ensuring full accountability for human rights abuses at Guantanamo and bringing those responsible for torturing to justice,” said Sara McNeice, Security With Human Rights Campaign manager at Amnesty International UK.
In her opinion, one of the obstacles to the solution of this issue is uncoordinated actions of the US authorities.
“Congress has instigated some blocking measures that have come in the form of an act called National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which was actually signed into law by President Obama even though he said that he was opposed to the content of it. Amnesty International believes it is unreasonable for one part of the government to blame another part of the government for failing to comply with human rights obligations. We are calling on the government to take a human rights approach with collaboration of all of the three branches of government, to work together, to respect human rights and not to block the access to human rights for those individuals that are being held in Guantanamo,” Amnesty International activist added.
Andy Worthington, British historian, investigative journalist, author of “The Guantanamo Files” expressed the view that Barack Obama did not show sufficient leadership as president.
“He issued the executive order and made the promise to close Guantanamo on his second day in office but did not really do anything. And that allowed the Republicans to campaign against him on Guantanamo and show him as being weak on Guantanamo and on national security,” he said.
The expert also drew attention to politicization of the issue.
“When Obama was running against John McCain for presidency, there was pretty wide agreement in the Republican party that Guantanamo had to be closed. It is only after Obama won that they suddenly adopted this position of wanting to keep it open. So I would say that it is very cynical of the Republicans,” said Andy Worthington.
He also added that the head of the state lacked political courage when it was needed.
“In May 2009 he stopped his senior lawyer Greg Craig’s plan to bring prisoners to live in the United States. If cleared prisoners have been brought to live in America, it would have shown the American people the propaganda about all the prisoners being terrorists. They would have seen clearly that these men were not terrorists at all. However, Barack Obama did not do that. And it made it more difficult for other countries to take prisoners while America would not,” the analyst explained.
He reminded that Barack Obama also imposed a moratorium on repatriation of Yemeni detainees who had been cleared for release after it turned out that a Nigerian man called Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab who tried to blow up a bomb in his underwear on a plane went from America on Christmas day 2009, was recruited in Yemen.
“Then Obama set up his own Task Force of government officials and people from the intelligence agencies to examine the prisoners’ cases. They decided that 156 prisoners should be released. There are now 86 of these men left and two-thirds of them are Yemenis. They cannot be released because of the ban that President Obama put in place. So these men are being held at Guantanamo solely on the basis of their nationality. And it is absolutely disgraceful position,” British journalist stated.
If it is acceptable to go through these processes of clearing the prisoners for release and then not releasing them that makes a mockery of any notion that there is such a thing as justice and fairness in Guantanamo, he believes.
“President Obama has his second term in office so it will not look very good in the history book if he is recorded as being the president who promised to close Guantanamo and then did not do it because it was politically inconvenient. He is the President of the United Stated. There are two things that he can do: he can pass executive order by-passing Congress, if he doesn’t want to do that then he could take the battle to Congress and start arguing for why it is important for the prison to be closed and to do it much more forcefully than he had done,” the expert said.
From his point of view, Barack Obama needs to make the moves to get the Yemenis released from Guantanamo and “to stop the hysteria and the exaggeration about the threat that these men cause.”
“They are clearly not a threat otherwise the Task Force would not set them for release,” Andy Worthington emphasized.
In turn, Anthony Glees, professor of Politics at the University of Buckingham and director of its Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies (BUCSIS) takes a different view.
“Mostly, these remaining people are terrorists who were captured not wearing uniforms; they are seen as dangerous both by the western intelligence community but also by the authorities in the countries from which they were taken. It is easy to say that they should be tried and no longer detained and certainly where there is evidence, they should be put before the courts however long it takes to amass it. Given their beliefs and their fanaticism many captured in ‘smoking gun situations’ where their complicity in terrorism is plain but where there is no strong evidence against them, will inevitably have to wait until their home countries are sufficiently stable and peaceful to receive them,” he told news agency “PenzaNews.”
According to him, Washington was entitled to react after Islamist terrorists took their fight to the US on September 11.
“These people are not democrats and have no respect for the human rights and freedoms of those they attack. That said they must be treated with humanity and within a lawful framework; they must certainly not be waterboarded or tortured in any way,” the analyst emphasized.
Anthony Glees also suggested that “the international community should develop laws to deal with those who wage war without wearing a uniform.”
“Once the threat of Islamist terrorism recedes, say in five years time, these people can be returned to the Islamic world,” said director of Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at the University of Buckingham.
Meanwhile, Dixon Osburn, Director of Human Rights First’s Law and Security Program believes that the prison can be closed over the next four years.
“We believe that the Obama administration could close Guantanamo within the next four years during Obama’s second term. The Obama administration should designate a senior official with the responsibility of coordinating the closure of Guantanamo across all agencies, including the Departments of State, Defense and Justice. The administration should use its authority to begin the transfer of the men who have been cleared for transfer, who comprise the majority of the 166 men remaining at the prison. The administration should implement a solution so that it can lift its self-imposed ban on transferring the Yemenis back home. It should press Congress to restore authority to transfer men who have been charged with crimes to the US for prosecution in our Article III federal courts. The administration should commence with reviews Obama ordered of the men being held indefinitely to determine if they pose any risk or could be cleared for transfer,” human rights activist said.
“The United States should adhere to the rule of law. In armed conflict, and outside of armed conflict, there are rules that guide nations on detention and prosecution. By detaining men who have been cleared for release, the United States has not lived up to its values. Guantanamo should be closed in order to close a dark chapter in the US history,” Dixon Osburn concluded.