A not-so-happy birthday to Guantánamo Bay
January 11, 2011
As Guantánamo Bay prison turns nine years old, President Obama has signed a disastrous bill blocking its closure and condemning its prisoners to indefinite detention without trial; Reprieve today asks supporters to write to prisoners who are fast losing hope.
Today is the 9th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo Bay and marks two years since President Obama promised to close the prison and seek justice for its inmates.
Yet the 173 prisoners still trapped inside now have little hope of either trial or release after the U.S. Congress inserted provisions into a military spending bill that are explicitly designed to keep the prison open by preventing even cleared prisoners from leaving.
The disastrous Defense Authorization bill, signed by President Obama last Friday, includes a ban on using funds to transfer Guantánamo prisoners to the US mainland to face criminal trials, a ban on using funds to buy or build a prison on the US mainland to hold Guantánamo prisoners and a ban on the release of any prisoner cleared for release by the Obama Administration’s Guantánamo Review Task Force to countries considered dangerous by Congress — which presumptively would include Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen.
As a result:
- 89 prisoners cleared for release by the Task Force will remain
imprisoned without charge or trial
- ;58 of those cleared prisoners remain imprisoned simply because they are Yemenis, due to a moratorium on releasing any Yemen nationals;31 of those cleared prisoners remain imprisoned largely because they cannot be safely repatriated due to a substantial risk of torture; for many the stain of Guantánamo would vastly increase the risk of persecution;33 prisoners recommended for trials by the Task Force will, for the most part,
remain imprisoned without trial
The only prisoners not covered by the ban are those cleared for release after winning their habeas corpus petitions in the District Court in Washington D.C. Yet justice eludes even these supposedly vindicated men: last Monday, the Administration forcibly repatriated Algerian Said Farhi against his will and without notice. Said had won his habeas petition in November 2009, but was terrified of returning to Algeria, where he feared being attacked by Islamist militants. He remains at serious risk of harm.
Reprieve is today asking supporters to write to Guantánamo prisoners to offer support during this dark time. Names, addresses and details about each prisoner are today published at www.reprieve.org.uk/writetoguantanamo.
Reprieve’s Cortney Busch, who recently visited our clients in Guantánamo, said: “Today marks the 9th anniversary of Guantánamo Bay, but for the 173 men imprisoned there it is just another day. Most of these men have had almost a decade of their lives stolen, waiting for a fair trial where they can finally confront the allegations made against them. While they try to keep their spirits high by playing football, reading books and taking classes, they cannot escape the fact that they are watching their lives go by. The majority just want to return to a safe country, get married, build a career, raise a family and live their lives in peace.”
Notes for Editors:
October 2009 saw the first and only criminal trial in a US court of a Guantánamo Bay prisoner. Ahmed Ghailani was ultimately convicted of one count of conspiracy, while the remaining 284 charges against him were dismissed. Earlier that year US Attorney General Eric Holder had announced plans to prosecute five more Guantánamo prisoners in civilian court, but political pressure, particularly after the Republicans gained a majority in the House of Representatives, prevented these plans from coming to fruition.
Meanwhile, two Reprieve clients – Nabil Hadjarab and Ahmed Belbacha – have been cleared for release from Guantánamo for years but are desperate not to be sent back to their native Algeria. Ahmed has consistently chosen to stay imprisoned in Guantánamo rather than face his fate in his native country, which he originally fled after threats on his life by the terrorist group Group Islamique Armé (GIA). His fears were confirmed in 2009 by an alarming ‘conviction’ delivered in absentia by an Algerian court. In a secret trial on Sunday 29th November 2009, the court sentenced Ahmed to 20 years in prison. The trial lacked any semblance of recognisable legal process and appears to be retaliation against Ahmed for speaking out about Algeria. Since then, despite repeated requests and diligent investigation, Reprieve’s lawyers have been unable to discover what Ahmed is supposed to have done, and no evidence has been produced to support his ‘conviction’. Nabil was born in Algeria but moved to France when he was just a baby. He is desperate to return to France to rebuild his life there and be reunited with his family. In France he has a loving uncle and aunt, both of whom care for him deeply and pray for his return. He dreams of finding work as an interpreter or translator, using his excellent linguistic skills: he speaks English, French and Arabic fluently.
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 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.’
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