Future of Guantánamo detainees must be resolved

The US government must redouble efforts to resolve the future of detainees still held at the military facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Amnesty International said after President Barack Obama acknowledged his administration would not meet his deadline for its closure.

“Over recent months, US authorities have allowed the Guantánamo detentions to become a political football, and the politics of fear to trump human rights”, said Susan Lee, Director of the Americas Regional Programme.

“Now, as should have been the case from day one, the government should resolve these detentions by either bringing the detainees to fair trial or immediately releasing them,” Susan Lee said.

On 22 January 2009, President Obama signed an executive order committing his administration to resolving the cases of the detainees held at Guantánamo “as promptly as possible”, and to closing the detention facility “no later than 1 year from the date of this order”.  

In his comments today, President Obama would not put an exact new date on closure, stating only that he anticipated it would happen sometime later next year, and adding that it would “depend on cooperation from Congress”.

Hopes for an end to the Guantánamo detentions this year have receded over recent months as members of Congress sought to block the closure of the facility, and the administration has been slow to charge detainees.

At the same time, diplomatic efforts to find solutions for detainees who cannot be returned to their home countries for fear of the human rights violations they would face there have been undermined by the refusal of the US authorities to release any in mainland USA.

Amnesty International has long called for the Guantánamo detainees to be brought to trial in an independent and impartial court – not a military commission – or immediately released.

It has also repeatedly called for the USA not to seek the death penalty in any case.

Since President Obama took office, 26 detainees have been transferred out of Guantánamo, leaving 215 still there.

One detainee has been transferred to face trial in a federal court in New York and the administration has announced that another five will also be transferred to the city for such trials, with the likelihood that the death penalty will be sought against them.

The US Attorney General has also said the administration has decided to refer another five cases back to the Pentagon for trial by military commission.

In his 22 January order requiring his administration to ensure “prompt and appropriate” resolution of each and every Guantánamo case and to close the Guantánamo facility within a year, President Obama pointed to the “significant concerns raised by these detentions, both within the United States and internationally”.

“Those concerns have not gone away, and will be reignited by President Obama’s comments today”, Susan Lee said.

See also:

USA: The promise of real change. President Obama’s executive orders on detentions and interrogations, http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR51/015/2009/en.

USA: Trials in error: Third go at misconceived military commission experiment, http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR51/083/2009/en.

USA: Five more Guantánamo detainees to be tried in federal court, http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR51/116/2009/en.