Guantanamo: Amnesty International calls for closure date from Barack Obama

* Seventh ‘anniversary’ of detention centre looms
* New ‘viral’ film to be released on 15 January ahead of Obama inauguration

On the eve of the seventh anniversary (on Sunday 11 January) of the first transfers to the US detention centre at Guantánamo Bay, Amnesty International is calling on President-elect Barack Obama to announce a date for its closure promptly after taking office.

Amnesty is also calling on the new president to support an independent commission of inquiry into human rights violations committed as part of the "war on terror" by or on behalf of the USA in order to ensure accountability and signal a fundamental shift in the USA’s counter-terror policies.

The new calls from Amnesty form part of its “100-day campaign”, where it will monitor Barack Obama’s first 100 days in office during which the organisation wishes to see concrete human rights reforms. Closure of Guantánamo with a relatively short timeline, a commission to investigate “war on terror” abuses and a Presidential order banning torture and other ill-treatment are three key components of a “checklist” that Amnesty wishes to see adopted by the incoming US administration.

As part of the 100-day campaign, on 15 January Amnesty will launch a powerful new online “viral” film showing that while there are high expectations of Obama’s government Amnesty’s demands are reasonable and absolutely necessary.

Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan said:

“We are not asking the impossible. Barack Obama has already stated his determination to undo some of the wrongs authorised by the US government in the name of national security and we are asking him to turn this commitment into a reality.

“We welcome the prioritisation given to the issue of Guantánamo. The closure of Guantánamo would mark the beginning of a clean break from past detention policies, but only if it is done in a way that fully meets the USA’s international obligations.

“The devil will now be in the detail: there must be no re-creation of Guantánamo by any other name, in any other place.”

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has asked his staff to draw up plans for the closure of Guantánamo, which he expects to be a high priority for the new administration. Amnesty believes a closure plan should include a comprehensive plan for the future of the detainees. Any plan to close Guantánamo must also include the immediate abandoning of trials by military commissions and any subsequent trials should be conducted in the ordinary civilian courts, insisted the organisation.

Amnesty also believes that other countries - including the United Kingdom - should facilitate the closure of the Guantánamo detention centre by offering humanitarian protection to detainees who are cleared for release but cannot be returned to their own countries for fear that they would suffer torture or persecution. A number of European Union countries, including Germany and Portugal, have voiced support for the idea of accepting detainees and the EU is discussing the adoption of a common approach.

Irene Khan said:

“Guantánamo has been part of a detention strategy under which the USA has conducted a systematic seven-year assault on basic human rights - such as the right to a fair trial and to humane treatment - in the name of counter-terrorism. It is time for a new approach from the US, but other countries also have a crucial part to play in helping to close down this detention centre.”

Approximately 250 people are currently held in Guantánamo. Some have been detained there for over six years.

Amnesty International was one of the first organisations to call for the closure of Guantánamo and on 11 January, activists, supporters and members of Amnesty in over 35 countries will again demand that the USA changes course on its detention policies in the context of counter terrorism.

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