Plight Gitmo Prisoners Unclear Despite Obama's Plans

Wednesday, January 28, 2009 | Tag Cloud Tags:

By Rodney Drinnen and Stefan J. Bos, Worthy News Correspondents

WASHINGTON D.C., USA (Worthy News) -- The future of hundreds of detainees in the United States prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, remained unclear Wednesday, January 28, despite President Barack Obama's promise to close the controversial facility for terrorism suspects.

On day two of his inauguration, Obama ordered the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison within a year, amid mounting  pressure from human rights activists who claim up to 250 detainees face mistreatment.

However European Union governments, who also criticized the detention facility, are split on whether to accept prisoners. "This is an American problem that they have to solve, but we'll be ready to help if necessary," said Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, following European talks this week  "Whenever they ask for help, I think the European answer will be 'Yes.'"

The Pentagon says about 60 of the 245 prisoners in Guantanamo have been cleared for release but legally cannot be returned to their home countries -- nations such as Syria, Somalia and Libya -- because of risks that they could be tortured or abused there.

Britain, the Netherlands, Austria and Denmark have rejected the idea of accepting detainees, saying that it is the United States' responsibility to find homes for them.

This will make it more difficult for Obama to close the facility any time soon. In addition, advocacy groups have suggested there may be hundreds of other detainees held at secret Central Intelligence Agency prisons, although Washington has not confirmed those allegations.

The prospect that prisoners may have to stay longer at Guantanamo  concerns rights activists, including Murat Kurnaz, a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay from Germany, who spent nearly five years in prison before being released without charge.

BOUNTY MONEY

Kurnaz, a Turk who was born and lives in Germany, was arrested during a trip to Pakistan in autumn 2001 and delivered to US authorities in exchange for a reported payment of $3,000.

Kurnaz, who wrote a book about his experience, says he spent several nightmarish weeks at the US base in Kandahar, Afghanistan before being transferred to the US "war on terror" camp at Guantanamo.

"I did nothing wrong and I was treated like a monster," he said, describing alleged acts of torture such as being suspended by his wrists for hours on end, receiving electrical shocks and enduring simulated drowning.

"I know others have died from this kind of treatment. I suffered from sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, religious and sexual humiliations. I was beaten multiple times," added the author of "Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantanamo."

"There was no law in Guantanamo," he claimed.

MORE TERRORISTS?

Yet, while at least some U.S. officials of the previous administration of George W. Bush do not rule out mistakes were made, they have suggested that many prisoners are dangerous. A Pentagon report to be released within the next few days was to provide fresh details about 62 former detainees who allegedly returned to terrorist activities.

One of them, Said Ali Al-Shirhri, a Saudi detainee who was released in 2007 has reportedly reemerged as a deputy commander of the terror group Al-Qaeda in Yemen, according to Pentagon officials.

However treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay is expected to change as President Obama also prohibits "coercive interrogation" techniques, including the use of waterboarding, which fakes drowning. His choice for Attorney General, Eric Holder, has been quoted as saying that "waterboarding is torture." Holder was expected to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

"The message that we are sending the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism," the president said after signing the executive orders on January 22. "And we are going to do so vigilantly, and we are going to do so effectively, and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals."

KEY INFORMATION

However critics have suggested that under Obama's policy it will become more difficult to obtain key information to prevent new terrorism attacks.  Pete Hoekstra, top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said the orders place "hope ahead of reality" because of the yet-unanswered concerns.

Obama disagrees. "We believe that the Army Field Manual reflects the best judgment of our military; that we can abide by a rule that says we don't torture, but that we can still effectively obtain the intelligence that we need," he said. "[It's] an understanding that dates back to our founding fathers, that we are willing to observe core standards of conduct not just when it's easy, but also when it's hard."

The President has also ordered the formation of a task force that is to provide recommendations on how to handle the detainees at Guantanamo.

The team will include Defense Secretary Bill Gates, Navy Admiral Mike Mullen,   chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair, CIA Director Leon Panetta, and the Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.

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