With releases, US boosts effort to close Guantanamo

14th June 2009, Comments 0 comments

Heading forward on the politically delicate plan to close the controversial prison, President Barack Obama moved to transfer nine detainees to locations across the world from Chad to Iraq, and the Atlantic's Bermuda to the tiny Pacific island nation of Palau.

Washington -- The United States continued its efforts this week to close the Guantanamo terrorism detention center with a flurry of releases, capping with the transfer of three Saudi nationals back to their home country.

Heading forward on the politically delicate plan to close the controversial prison, President Barack Obama moved to transfer nine detainees to locations across the world from Chad to Iraq, and the Atlantic's Bermuda to the tiny Pacific island nation of Palau.

The moves mark "the largest number of transfers in a single week in well over a year," according to Matthew Olsen, head of the Obama administration's Guantanamo Review Task Force.

On Friday, the Justice Department announced three inmates -- Khalid Saad Mohammed, Abdalaziz Kareem Salim Al Noofayaee, and Ahmed Zaid Salim Zuhair -- who had been approved for transfer under former president, were sent back to Saudi Arabia, where they will undergo a "rehabilitation program."

The transfers were made possible "due to the willingness of foreign governments to work closely with the United States on this important issue and to assist in the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility," Olson said in a statement.

The Guantanamo camp in remote southeastern Cuba was established in 2002 to house "war on terror" detainees by then president George W. Bush.

Since 2002, more than 540 detainees have been transferred from Guantanamo to at least 30 countries. Yet some 230 inmates still remain there, with Obama vowing to shut the facility by January 2010.

Many of the inmates have already been cleared for release, but US officials are having difficulty finding countries that will take them in, and meeting resistance at home from lawmakers unwilling to allow their housing on US soil.

The tiny Pacific nation of Palau agreed Wednesday to take in up to 17 Uighur Guantanamo detainees.

And on Thursday the United States sent four Uighur men who had been held at the prison camp in Cuba to Bermuda, and also sent two more detainees, a young man with dual Chadian and Saudi nationalities and an Iraqi, back to Chad and Iraq.

US authorities are also reportedly nearing a deal that would see many of the more than 100 Yemenis held at Guantanamo sent to Saudi Arabia, according to a report this week in The Wall Street Journal, citing persons involved in the negotiations.

The concerted moves by Obama to transfer detainees to other countries suggests he is bowing to domestic political pressures of closing the camp.

As it unloaded detainees this week, the United States simultaneously unleashed of string requests for countries such as Germany, Canada, Australia to take in prisoners.

Like the Chinese Muslim Uighers, the United States has ruled out sending back some inmates to their home countries because they believe they would be persecuted.

About 50 other detainees face the same Catch-22, with a critical bloc of US lawmakers refusing to allow them on US soil and authorities fearing they will face torture if transferred to their home countries.

In the first and only case of its kind this week, the first Guantanamo Bay detainee was transferred for a civilian trial on US soil for his alleged role in the 1998 bombings of two US embassies.

"Not guilty," maintained Tanzanian national Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani on Tuesday at a federal court in New York.

It was not known if more detainees were to be moved in the coming months to US soil to face trial.

According to European diplomats, the European Union and the United States agreed Thursday on conditions for the transfer of ex-Guantanamo inmates to Europe, but stopping short of obliging the US to house any.

When it comes to whether the United States itself should accept former inmates from its camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the agreement was mute, affirming only "that the primary responsibility for closing Guantanamo and finding residence for former detainees rests with the United States."

During a major security speech at the National Archives in May, Obama acknowledged for the first time that a legal framework could be established to hold the most dangerous US detainees indefinitely without trial.

Prominent Democratic Senator Russ Feingold said he was "troubled" by Obama's announcement, and warned the practice of holding some suspected terrorists indefinitely risked being "effectively enshrined as acceptable in our system of justice."

AFP/Expatica

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