Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Shut Guantanamo on Day One, Obama urged

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By Jane Sutton

Five human rights groups urged European governments on Monday to accept Guantanamo prisoners who cannot be sent home for fear of persecution, while a sixth group called on U.S. President-elect Barack Obama to sign an order shutting the prison camp on the day he takes office.

The global efforts are aimed at pressuring Obama to make good on his campaign pledge to close the widely reviled Guantanamo detention camp and halt the special tribunals that try foreign terrorism suspects outside the regular courts.

"President-elect Obama, with a stroke of your presidential pen, on Day One of your administration, you can ensure that our government will be faithful to the Constitution and to the principles upon which America was founded," the American Civil Liberties Union said in a full-page ad in the New York Times.

"Give us back the America we believe in," the ACLU urged Obama, who takes office on Jan. 20.

The detention camp at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is widely viewed as a stain on America's human rights record. It has held more than 750 captives from around the world since opening in 2002, including many who were caught up in sweeps or sold for bounties during U.S. efforts to route al Qaeda and associated groups after the hijacked plane attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

About 255 men are still held at Guantanamo, including 50 the United States has cleared for release but cannot repatriate for fear they will be tortured or persecuted in their home countries.

In Berlin, five international rights groups issued a joint call to European governments to help close Guantanamo by granting humanitarian resettlement and protection to those 50 captives, who are from nations that include China, Libya, Russia, Tunisia, and Uzbekistan.

"This would have a double effect: helping to end the ordeal of an individual unlawfully held in violation of his human rights, and helping end the international human rights scandal that is Guantanamo," said Daniel Gorevan, who manages Amnesty International's "Counter Terror with Justice" campaign.


Joining Amnesty in the statement were the Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch, Reprieve and the International Federation for Human Rights. The groups issued the joint statement after a closed two-day meeting in Berlin.

"This is a key opportunity for both sides of the Atlantic to move beyond the misguided acts of the war on terror: rendition, secret detention, and torture," said Cori Crider, staff attorney at Reprieve, a British group that advocates for prisoners' rights.

The U.S. State Department's legal adviser and other senior officials have been traveling around Europe, North Africa and elsewhere trying to persuade nations to take home their Guantanamo prisoners.

Some governments have denied that the Guantanamo prisoners are in fact their citizens, while others have been reluctant to agree to U.S. requests to imprison or monitor Guantanamo returnees.

The outpouring of international goodwill for Obama's election victory suggests America's first black president may enjoy a diplomatic honeymoon among nations that have been reluctant to help the Bush administration find a way out of the Guantanamo quagmire.

But Obama will also need support at home if he is to shut it down. The United States still wants to try about 80 Guantanamo prisoners on terrorism charges and holds a few dozen others it does not intend to try but considers too dangerous to release.

During his election campaign, Obama said he favored holding those trials in the United States.

Those facing charges include five accused Sept. 11 plotters. But proposals to move any Guantanamo prisoners to the United States -- such as to U.S. military prisons in Kansas and South Carolina -- have been met with resistance among U.S. congressional representatives.

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