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Twilight at Gitmo

One of the first actions taken by Obama was to issue a 120-day moratorium on all trials in Guantanamo.

Written by Alia Allana | January 30, 2009 12:32:04 am

Alia Allana on the future of Guantanamo

•President Obama had said Guantanamo was one of his top priorities during his campaign. What has he done since he assumed office?

One of the first actions taken by Obama was to issue a 120-day moratorium on all trials in Guantanamo. Further,he has signed an executive order,which eventually would result in the closure of the detention camp. He has specified a 12 month period over which policies would be drawn up leading to the shutdown.

•There are some who are sceptical about how manageable this will be. Why?

Shutting down Gitmo is more complicated than a mere evacuation of prisoners. First there is the legal question. Under the law mandated by Bush,the prisoners held at Gitmo were “enemy combatants” in the ‘war on terror.’ This allowed for legal loopholes to be skipped and detention period to remain unspecified. But if the facility is shut down,under what legal basis will the prisoners be held? Obama’s decision to shut down Gitmo is a move away from the ‘war on terror’ formulation: he would therefore need to draw up new rules and procedures,which would specify how prisoners would be held,and for how long.

•There is talk of a Preventive Detention Law. What is this?

A Preventive Detention Law would need to be ratified by Congress. Simply put,this law would allow the US to hold prisoners prior to the commission of a crime,under the guise of acts against the US. However,there has been massive uproar against such a Bill,prior to it even reaching Congress. Further,there are those who believe that such an act could be equated to Guantanamo,as it would continue with the same pretence of an assumed crime. There are human rights groups,who have argued that this bill would simply move Guantanamo geographically.

•What complications might arise over prisoners’ relocation?

Currently there are around 245 prisoners in Gitmo. Out of this there are some who have been proved innocent such as the 17 Uighur Muslim detainees. The Uighur detainee case is one of the main cases cited by human rights activists. The Federal Court had passed the decision that these detainees were to be freed. However,the US was not willing to allow them in to the country,as the issue of other prisoners and their relocation would be brought up. The case gets more convoluted as the Uighurs are from China. The Chinese government has had a history of human rights abuse against the Uighurs and therefore sending them back causes controversy. Another case is that of Yemeni detainees who have shown up on jehadi promotional videos after being released.

•What happens to the prisoners that have pleaded guilty?

Soon after Obama issued a moratorium on trials the alleged mastermind of 9/11 Khalid Sheikh Mohammed pleaded guilty on all charges. Five other members of the al-Qaeda network did the same. Once again,this creates complications about re-settlement. Should the Obama administration believe that these men are a serious threat to the US it would need to continue their detention. However,prisons in the US are not open to having former Gitmo inmates nor would the public allow for the transfer. Further,those who are convicted would need a trial. Where they would be tried raises further questions.

•Why is trying Gitmo detainees troublesome?

Under normal circumstances,the prisoners would be tried at US criminal courts. The Bush administration had created special military tribunals to try the Gitmo detainees. Obama has argued against military tribunals however some prisoners possess very sensitive material,which the CIA and Pentagon believe should not be open to the public: these prisoners would need a new system of justice. This would however be opposed by Democrats as they are opposed to the creation of new courts with fewer rights.

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