Guantánamo Bay cannot close without Europe’s help

January 22, 2010

President Obama needs the EU now more than ever to help him close Guantánamo Bay. His promise to renounce the prison has aroused damaging hostility within the United States. By contrast, European countries applauded his promise. Now these countries must lend a helping hand to eradicate the starkest symbol of injustice of our time.

Today marks President Obama’s failure to deliver on his pledge to close Guantánamo Bay within a year. 196 disillusioned men remain imprisoned as the international community looks on.

One year was enough time to close Guantánamo. But the process collapsed as a result of media scare tactics — led by former Vice President Dick Cheney — which derailed the new Administration’s key strategy to give some stateless prisoners refuge in the US.

Worryingly, President Obama faces increasing domestic hostility over his commitment to human rights. Republican Senator Scott Brown, elected this week in Massachusetts, was applauded for announcing that ‘waterboarding does not constitute torture when questioning terror suspects’.

European countries have already offered to resettle a few of Guantánamo’s homeless prisoners. However, a far more concerted effort is needed.

Of the 196 prisoners remaining in Guantánamo, approximately 50 face torture or persecution if returned to their home country. These men are refugees from known rights-abusing states like Algeria, Azerbaijan, China, Libya, Russia, Syria, Tajikistan, Tunisia and Uzbekistan.

One such prisoner is Ahmed Belbacha, a quietly-spoken former accountant who has suffered years of abuse — first from Algerian militants and then, after he fled his home, from the US military. Ahmed chooses to live in Guantánamo rather than face persecution in Algeria.

European countries have well developed infrastructure to assist prisoners like Ahmed; they can provide support, integration and rehabilitation. Europe must seize this critical moment to offer safe haven to these vulnerable men. Reprieve’s ‘Obama needs EU!’ tour continues this week.

Reprieve’s Executive Director Clare Algar said:

“Many argue that the US administration created the problem of Guantánamo and should take sole responsibility for fixing it. Yet Guantánamo’s existence endangers us all. While the US flounders, Europe must step up and lead the world down a better path.”

Polly Rossdale, of Reprieve’s Life After Guantánamo project said:

“President Obama desperately needs Europe’s help. Fifty traumatised men remain trapped because they have no safe place to live. By offering these men homes, European countries could help President Obama deliver the change he has long promised.”

For more information please contact Katherine O’Shea at Reprieve’s Press Office katherine.oshea@reprieve.org.uk 020 7427 1099/ 07931592674.

Notes for Editors:

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 33 prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, working on behalf of prisoners facing the death penalty, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

Reprieve is a charitable company limited by guarantee; Registered Charity No. 1114900 Registered Company No. 5777831 (England) Registered Office 2-6 Cannon Street London EC4M 6YH; Chair: Lord Bingham; Patrons: Alan Bennett, Julie Christie, Martha Lane Fox, Gordon Roddick, Jon Snow, Marina Warner