Guantanamo: no end in sight?

13 January 2010 by Hermione Gee

Eight years ago this week, the American detention centre on the shore of Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay welcomed its first shackled, hooded prisoners, in their now notorious orange jumpsuits – alleged enemy combatants in America’s ‘war on terror’. Since it opened on January 12th, 2002, some 775 detainees have been brought to the prison. Around 450 have been released without charge and over 200 men are still being held.

The prison was chosen in part because the Bush-era Justice Department advised that its location on Cuba put it outside US jurisdiction and therefore prisoners were not subject to the usual legal protections. Coupled with persistent allegations of torture and other human rights abuses, this brought worldwide condemnation of the facility.

To date, there are prisoners who have been held at Guantanamo Bay for more than 7 years without facing any charge or trial, says Ben Wizner, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. “The most controversial and disturbing notion was that the president of the United States could capture any human being anywhere on the planet, transfer [them] to an island prison and thereby hold [them] entirely outside the law, without charge or trial.”

And now another anniversary looms: January 22nd will mark one year since US president Barack Obama pledged to close the prison within 12-months. But, says journalist Marc Sandalow, “it turns out that [it’s] a lot more difficult than it looked.”

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