Closing Guantanamo President Obama Moves to Halt Military Trials

Barack Obama had scarcely been inaugurated on Tuesday when his government started the process of closing Guantanamo Bay. Europeans have rejoiced, even while they debate whether to accept any prisoners. Meanwhile a UN representative thinks George W. Bush can be tried for torture.


US President Barack Obama took the first step on Tuesday toward closing the controversial prison at Guantanamo Bay.

The trials of six Guantanamo prisoners were expected to stop on Wednesday.
REUTERS

The trials of six Guantanamo prisoners were expected to stop on Wednesday.

Obama and his defense secretary, Robert Gates, asked for a suspension of all military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay for 120 days to review the judicial process. Lawyers for the United States accordingly filed a motion on Tuesday to suspend six ongoing trials. Military judges hearing the cases will rule on Wednesday morning whether to grant the suspension.

"It's a great first step, but it is only a first step," Gabor Rona, international director of Human Rights First, told the Associated Press. Jamil Dakwar, director of the human rights program at the American Civil Liberties Union, agreed it was a positive step but added, "the president's order leaves open the option of this discredited system remaining in existence."

Five of the men on trial are charged in the Sept. 11 attacks, and a sixth, Omar Khadr, is a Canadian accused of killing an American soldier with a grenade in Afghanistan in 2002. Relatives of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks have said they oppose any further delay in the trials, but the motion filed by US lawyers on Tuesday argued "the interests of justice" served by a review of the tribunals would "outweigh the interests of both the public and the accused in a prompt trial."

The move was welcomed in Europe, where political leaders have pushed Washington to close the prison for years. Karsten Voigt, the German government's coordinator for trans-Atlantic relations, said Wednesday he was "extremely glad" about the news, but other experts said there was still a long way to go before the prison closes.

One open question is where some remaining prisoners might go. Some of the detainees can expect to face torture or execution if returned to their countries of origin.

Another, more controversial, question is whether to hold high-ranking members of the Bush administration responsible for torture at the prison. The United Nation's Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak said Tuesday that both former President George W. Bush and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld could be brought to trial. "Judicially speaking," Nowak told the German broadcaster ZDF, "the United States has a clear obligation" to prosecute Rumsfeld and Bush for ordering interrogation methods at Guantanamo that contravened a UN convention on torture." He added that there were publicly available documents "that prove that these methods of interrogation were intentionally ordered by Rumsfeld."

A Long Road

But the primary question for the Obama government is how to process the remaining Guantanamo prisoners. The Pentagon has said it still holds 248 inmates at Guantanamo, including "approximately 60" who have been cleared for release. The rest need to be filtered through a system of military justice that may be compromised by evidence obtained under torture.

As for the 60 "cleared" prisoners, many have a reasonable fear of persecution or torture in their home nations, which include Algeria, China, Libya and Uzbekistan. The Bush administration was unwilling to let them move to the United States and has asked European allies to absorb them. For a long time these "hard cases" at Guantanamo represented a diplomatic impasse, which Obama broke in December by hinting that the US could absorb some prisoners in exchange for European help with the rest. The naval camp at Guantanamo Bay sits on land rented from Cuba but is under US jurisdiction.

Portugal and Great Britain have said they would help. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in January that Germany could take 17 Chinese Muslim prisoners -- ethnic Uighurs -- since Munich has the largest Uighur community outside China.

But Germany's hard-nosed interior minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, has insisted that the prisoners are America's problem. "If they come from nations which they can't return to out of human-rights considerations," he told the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper Wednesday, "then they need to remain in the United States."

Herta Däubler-Gmelin, who chairs a human-rights committee in the German parliament, took a middle path. "There would also have to be at least an apology (for the cleared prisoners), an appropriate legal decision and some compensation," she told a German TV station. "And then they should at least ask these prisoners where they want to live."

Däubler-Gmelin said the prisoners were America's responsibility, but it was possible that some don't want to settle in the United States any more than they want to return home.

msm -- with wire services

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