DESPITE A PLEDGE by US President Barack Obama to close Guantanamo Bay by 1 January 2010, today about 171 men remain at the notorious detention centre – which has been the subject of intense international criticism for almost ten years.
Amnesty International has described the legacy of the Guantanamo Bay as a “decade of damage to human rights” not only in the United States, but across the world.
“Guantanamo has politicised justice internationally by portraying detainees as having no human rights,” the organisation stated on the ten-year anniversary of the opening of the prison.
In ten years of Guantanamo’s existence, only one of the 779 detainees held at the base has been transferred to the USA for prosecution in an ordinary federal court. Amnesty International says that others have faced “unfair trials by military commission”, and that the Obama administration is currently intending to seek the death penalty against six of the detainees at such trials.
The administration blamed Congress for its failure to close the facility, saying that it has made closing the detention centre more difficult. However, the recent signing of the National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA) by President Obama, amid claims he has enshrined indefinite military detention into US law, has raised doubts about plans to shut the prison down.
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Although recognising that there are individuals being held at the prison that have played roles in terrorist attacks, Amnesty International points out that there is “an entire law enforcement system in the United States that has essentially been ready and waiting since September 2001to bring those individuals to justice”.
Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland, Colm O’Gorman, said: “The US cannot hide behind domestic political differences to excuse the unlawful detention of dozens of prisoners, including some who have been the victims of torture. The Obama administration – indeed large parts of all three branches of the federal government – have simply adopted President Bush’s approach.”
Ireland ‘not an innocent bystander’
Amnesty International also highlighted Ireland’s role in the renditions programme. “Ireland is not an innocent bystander. We have been complicit in kidnapping and torture by allowing Shannon airport to be used as a stop-over for rendition flights,” said O’Gorman.
“Our Government must investigate why, when it was clear what was happening at Shannon, it was allowed to continue. They must also close the loopholes in the civil aviation laws so that we cannot be hoodwinked by the US again.”