Guantánamo: in its death throes?

The closure of Guantánamo Bay will probably come not with a bang, but with a whimper. But come it will (says president-elect Barack Obama), only we don’t know when or how.

The Guardian’s G2 today splashed on the “toxic legacy” bequeathed by Bush to Obama, and it asked a quintet of lawyers to say what should happen next. (Have your own say on the CiF site). The legal people are all pretty much in agreement: close it pronto, allow proper conventional trials (don’t be tempted into concocting some new trial system) or arrange for prisoners to go home or resettle in a safe third country.

Easy said than done, perhaps, but as Amnesty’s Kate Allen says in a letter she’s sent to the Guardian today, EU countries (including Britain) should step in to help. Not least because they’re implicated in the totally lawless “rendition” process that saw the likes of Binyam Mohamed (a UK resident) end up in the Cuban prison camp in the first place. 

While we wait for the (interminable) wind-up process for GITMO to … er, unwind, stick an extra card onto your Xmas list this year: make it one for Binyam and the other UK residents, via the (superb) Amnesty greetings card campaign

Meanwhile, check out the coverage this week of a US military prosecutor whose been speaking about the moment when he realised he couldn’t any longer stomach Guantánamo and the job he was supposed to do there. 

By his own admission, Lt Col Darrell Vandeveld (who was the prosecutor in the planned trial of Binyam Mohamed) says he went to Camp Delta zealously intending to convict as many detainees as he could. Instead he found case files in chaos, evidence being withheld from defence lawyers and clear signs that prisoners were being mistreated. When you have a man like this resigning because “we had abandoned our American values and defiled our constitution”, then I think you know something is badly wrong. 

So closure can’t come too soon. But let’s not forget that: (1) some of the detainees should be properly tried and convicted if they’ve committed crimes, (2) guards and their superiors who have tortured inmates should themselves be brought to justice, and (3) Guantánamo is just the visible part of the iceberg. Secret jails almost certainly still exist, some 16,000 “insurgents” are held in Iraq by US forces without charge or trial and, perhaps most chillingly of all, detainees in places like Bagram jail in Afghanistan are very likely still facing torture or worse in the "war on terror”.

However soon its closure, my own thoughts about Guantánamo will always include hearing the German former detainee Murat Kurnaz describing how his fellow detainees were tortured and left to die in Afghanistan.

GITMO may be almost over, but some “war on terror” prisoners breathed their last a long time ago. And we still haven’t found their killers.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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