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Guantanamo Bay prison unlikely to close before US President Barack Obama’s term runs out

21:25 | 11.03.2016 | Analytic


11 March 2016. PenzaNews. Over half of Americans oppose the closing of the Guantanamo Bay military prison, while 40% support the plan, and 3% are undecided, according to the CNN/ORC survey conducted after official statement by the US President Barack Obama on 23 February 2016, in which he reminded the public why he still thinks it important to finally fulfill his 8-year-old election promise and close the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, where 91 detainees still remain at the moment.

Guantanamo Bay prison unlikely to close before US President Barack Obama’s term runs out

Photo: Wikipedia.org

“It [the Guantanamo prison] is counterproductive to our fight against terrorists, because they use it as propaganda in their efforts to recruit. […] Guantanamo harms our partnerships with allies and other countries whose cooperation we need against terrorism. When I talk to other world leaders, they bring up the fact that Guantanamo is not resolved. Moreover, keeping this facility open is contrary to our values. It undermines our standing in the world,” the US President stated.

According to the closure plan delivered to Congress on February 23, 35 detainees that have already been approved for transfer will be moved to other countries that agreed to admit them, while the rest – 56 – are to be moved to maximum security prisons in the United States, where their cases will be reviewed by federal courts.

The US Department of Defense expects costs of prison termination and transfer of inmates to other prisons to fall within $290-475 million, with eventual savings going as high as $85 million every year, making it possible for the costs to be offset within 3-5 years. At the same time, the White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that Washington has no plans to return the Guantanamo prison or military base back to Cuba.

Barack Obama’s plan immediately became one of the key topics of the debate ahead of the 8 November 2016 US presidential election. While the initiative has been supported by both Democratic Party candidates – former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders, their opponents from the Republican Party – billionaire Donald Trump, governor of Ohio John Kasich, senator from Texas Ted Cruz and senator from Florida Marco Rubio – made their opposition clear.

Moreover, the GOP senator for Kansas Pat Roberts brought the media attention to himself by posting a video online that shows him dramatically throwing a crumpled-up copy of the document to the waste bin with the words: “This is what I think of the President’s plan to send terrorists to the United States.”

According to GOP members, the US President’s actions serve only to distract the public from Washington’s failure to effectively combat “Islamic State” (terrorist organization banned in Russia, also known as IS, or Daesh in Arabic), while Barack Obama’s plan itself is in legal opposition with the current law that prohibits transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the United States. However, although its provisions are extended every year, Obama may repeal the law this year, say the Department of Defense special envoy for Guantanamo detention closure Paul Lewis and his colleague at the Department of State Lee Wolosky.

The US human rights activists, who brought up the Guantanamo issue numerous times over the past few years, also criticized Barack Obama for the closure document. One of them, Naureen Shah, director of Amnesty International USA’s Security and Human Rights program, stated that although she approves of the initiative by the head of state, she thinks the plan to transfer certain detainees to other prisons is reckless and ill-advised.

“It won’t appease members of Congress who appear bent on making Guantanamo a permanent offshore prison for individuals captured in a global, apparently endless war. And it won’t end indefinite detention – it will shift it to the US mainland,” she stressed.

At the same time, Jamil Dakwar, Director of the ACLU Human Rights program, reminded that the US authorities are exerting a double standards policy over the six years of existence of the UN Human Rights Council: Washington, he says, declines to cooperate with UN experts to investigate acts of torture and illegal detention by US secret services.

In her turn, Alli McCracken, national coordinator for Codepink, pointed out that she is thrilled to see a real action roadmap after several long years, but nevertheless thinks the recently offered Guantanamo closure plan is disappointing.

“We are disappointed by the news that these men are going to be only transferred to maximum security prisons in other parts of the world,” she explained in an interview to PenzaNews.

At the same time, Alli McCracken added, many US politicians, particularly from the GOP, intentionally engage in fear-mongering by making allegations that Guantanamo inmates, once freed, will become a threat to national security of the United States.

“The Republicans sure are experts at pursuing things that actually make us less safe as a nation,” she noted.

From her point of view, the current issue needs a unified strategy and full understanding of the US authorities as in what to do with the inmates of the notorious prison.

“Also, I think the government should work with the regional allies, and other governments should repatriate the men who have been cleared for release back to their home countries. […] It is time to release those who have not been found guilty of any crime and put on trial anyone who has not already had a fair trial,” the Codepink coordinator said.

She also urged Barack Obama to close down both the Guantanamo Bay prison and the military camp itself.

“We’ve recently been to Guantanamo province in Cuba, and we learned […] how they are eager to get their land back, and they don’t want to be associated with [the prison],” Alli McCracken explained, adding that she sees the US military base as illegally occupying Cuban land.

At the same time, Pavel Sharikov, director of the Applied Research Center at the RAS Institute for US and Canadian Studies, expert of the Russian Council on International Affairs, noted that Barack Obama’s plan to transfer some of the detainees to other countries causes a flashback to the secret CIA prisons in Europe, such as the one in Poland, where suspects were subjected to torture between 2002 and 2005.

From his point of view, the very existence of Guantanamo greatly harms the US external policy, including its repairing relations with Cuba, and the image of the Democratic Party before the upcoming Presidential election, while GOP candidates, who frequently criticized the head of state for his plans, are improving on Barack Obama’s failures.

“Of course no sensible politician would ever allow terrorists to end up on the US soil, even under guard. […] It is better late than never, but right now the closure of Guantanamo is highly unlikely,” Pavel Sharikov said.

In his opinion, the aforementioned facts make the Guantanamo prison, an “inheritance” for the current US President from his predecessor, George Bush Jr., a makeshift pitfall for the head of state.

“It was one of Barack Obama’s original election promises that he gave exactly 8 years ago, and he did not accomplish it over these 8 years of presidency, even though he got the Nobel Peace Prize and achieved some success in the US internal policy,” the expert of the Russian Council on International Affairs reminded.

In turn, Don Haider-Markel, public opinion expert, professor and chair of political science at the University of Kansas, supposed that Barack Obama’s attempt to close Guantanamo will be the last one on his term.

“It is pretty clear that the plan will not get very far with the Republican Congress and the limits they have already placed on his ability to move detainees out of the detention center,” the analyst said.

According to him, it will take electing a new President and a new Congress to kickstart the issue agein.

Also, Don Haider-Markel thinks that the situation is unlikely to change in the near future, and there will still be at least 50 detainees in Guantanamo even several years later.

In addition, Jonathan Hansen, historian, lecturer on Social Studies and faculty associate at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at the Harvard University, reminded that Barack Obama’s plan will be impossible to implement without a support from the Congress.

“People speak of yet another executive action: the President has the authority to close military bases overseas without consulting Congress, for example. But Congress still controls the power of the purse, and hence the President lacks money to bring the detainees here and build and/or convert a correction facility already on US soil to hold the detainees,” the expert explained.

At the same time, he said Barack Obama’s plan was rational, as Guantanamo costs the US Treasury too much and is very inefficient compared to US maximum security prisons.

Also, Jonathan Hansen mentioned that some of the politicians are claiming some former Guantanamo inmates who had been set free became recidivists and again turned to actions against the US, which he slammed as “fear-mongering”.

According to him, there is no recidivism without a proven “re-,” while : the vast majority of detainees have never been convicted of anything and are not guilty of terrorism.

“Those that cannot be charged must be released; that is the way the rule of law works. To bring detainees who cannot be charged to the United States for indefinite detention would be no real solution,” Jonathan Hansen stressed.

In the meantime, Ana Gomes, member of the European Parliament for Portugal, said that prolonging the situation with detainees any further is no longer an option.

“I think it is a very narrow-minded approach of those who actually are guaranteeing the further illegal imprisonment of these people,” the politician stated.

She urged the US head of state to establish contact with the ACLU and other human rights organizations and do all it takes to overcome resistance in the Congress and the American majority in order to complete his electoral promise by the end of his term, as otherwise Guantanamo will forever remain a stain in his presidential record.

“I can only regret this was had not been made earlier, but better late than never. I know that President Obama was committed to doing it. It was the fact that he had so many obstructions, and I really wish he will have the strength and the determination to move ahead,” Ana Gomes stressed. 

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