Guantanamo: There should be no more 'political football' over closure and trials

The US government must redouble efforts to resolve the future of detainees still held at Guantánamo Bay, Amnesty International has said today, after President Barack Obama admitted his administration would not meet his own deadline for its closure.

Amnesty International Americas Programme Director Susan Lee said:

“Over recent months US authorities have allowed the Guantánamo detentions to become a political football, and the politics of fear to trump human rights.

“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.”

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 one 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 early end to Guantánamo detentions have receded over recent months as members of Congress sought to block the closure of the facility, while the administration has been slow to charge detainees. At the same time, diplomatic efforts to find solutions for detainees who cannot be returned to home countries for fear of suffering human rights violations on return have been undermined by a US refusal to release any in mainland USA.

Amnesty has long called for 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 held 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.

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