By Saeed Qureshi
In his press conference on April 30 President Obama reaffirmed his resolve to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp by repatriating the left over detainees to their respective countries or to other destinations.
The President’s press conference was in response to the grave situation propped up following the hunger strike by 100 detainees out of 166 since February this year to protest against their several years in detention without trial or charge.
The Guantanamo camp was opened by President George W. Bush, to hold foreign terrorism suspects captured overseas after the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001. The maximum number of detainees at the facility brought from various countries has been 779.
These wretched individuals were picked up at random from various destinations around the world without any foolproof system to establish if they had any connection with terrorism. They have been languishing in this camp under most horrifying conditions without any proper trial or review of their cases for years.
The forced feeding of detainees now on hunger strike has generated concerns from international human right organizations including the Amnesty International. While welcoming president Obama’s latest initiative to close the prison camp, these groups have urged him to take action on his own if the Congress still does not support him in moving ahead on this extremely distasteful denial of justice to the inmates or freeing them.
The President who appeared genuinely distressed by the agonizing situation pointed out that the “situation at Guantanamo was not sustainable and the he did not want these people to die”. “The idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried, that is contrary to who we are,” —it is contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop.”, he emphatically observed.
Obama asserted that he would examine every option available to close the camp, including actions he can take independently of Congress, which could be using his executive powers to get out of this quagmire.
During his first term President Obama transferred many prisoners from Guantanamo to other countries. He also tried in 2008 to repatriate the remaining detainees to maximum security facilities in the United States. But, his initiative to move the inmates from the Bay to the mainland, was blocked by the lawmakers, mostly Republican.
He announced to appoint a senior diplomat for handling the onerous task of closing the notorious prison camp at Guantanamo bay overlooking Cuba. Expressing his determination to cut this vexatious guardian knot he intends to persuade Congress to “end restrictions that have prevented him from closing the facility”.
The white house press secretary Jay Carney told reporters during a briefing that apart from undertaking the main task of repatriation, the “Obama administration also wants to speed up a process for reviewing the cases of the detainees”.
It would be a feather in the cap of President Obama and his administration if they close the dreaded Guantanamo concentration prison as soon as possible. The closure would be an overdue step but in such situation it is never too late to right a wrong. Since these unfortunate inmates have been denied the due process of law in order to establish their culpability or otherwise, their incarceration without any cogent reasons, does not seem to be justified.
Guantanamo is like a moral milestone around the neck of America, a country reputed to be an abode of galore of human rights, liberties and dignity for human beings. Its justice system is a marvel and a praiseworthy model for the rest of the world. The denial or disinclination to apply this immaculate justice system to the Guantanamo suspects is tantamount to smearing our civil society and sidetracking the constitution. The dispensation of justice and application of laws ought not to be selective by categorizing the suspects on the basis of unproven charges.
The Congress consists of noble, conscientious, prudent and pragmatic members. If they do not join president Obama to close this notorious prison, then they are treading a wrong path for the reasons beyond the comprehension of the judicious Americans and the world beyond. Why the Republicans are so touchy and even impervious to take up this thorny issue and resolve it once and for all. Keeping these condemned prisoners in captivity, for no reasons because “we must do it because we want it as such” is a blatant travesty of justice.
Why should we look at the miserable plight of these prisoners with callous indifference as if they are not human being but mere cattle? So much so that they were left with no option but to go on hunger strike unto to death. Sadly the law makers, the legal minds and the administration have been apathetic to a group of individuals who deserve a due process of law to be adjudged innocent or guilty.
This is not the medieval age that one would be left to rot and die in the dark and dingy dungeons of jail. Nor are we Nazis that we should watch them going through an incessant process of torture, indignity and inhuman conditions.
Let me finish this write-up by projecting the reaction of the American press to the Guantanamo impasse. On the whole one may have a feel that the press seems to be in favor of untangling the deadlock that has been hanging fire for over a decade now. I shall reproduce two excerpts from the New York Times and the Washington Post: the two outstanding and cherished dailies in the United States.
The New York Times in its editorial made the following observation on Guantanamo:
It mocks American standards of justice by keeping people imprisoned without charges. It has actually hindered the imprisonment of dangerous terrorists. Even if Guantánamo seemed justified to some people in the immediate aftermath of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, those justifications are wearing thin. It is unsustainable and should be closed.
The Washington Times’ editorial assesses the Guantanamo deadlock in the following comment:
The Pentagon has failed to set up a promised new system for reviewing the cases of prisoners that Mr. Obama ordered established more than a year ago, which means that Guantánamo inmates are receiving less review of their cases than they did during the Bush administration. It’s little wonder that many have grown desperate enough to try starving themselves to death.
The writer is a senior journalist and a former diplomat
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