US president-elect (photo) has promised to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, although human rights lawyers warn such a move would face a number of legal difficulties.
On Sunday, Barack Obama told the CBS programme 60 Minutes : “I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through on that.
“I have said repeatedly that America doesn’t torture.
“And I’m going to make sure that we don’t torture. Those are part and parcel of an effort to regain America’s moral stature in the world.”
Mr Obama had first promised to shut the US prison while he was on the campaign trail. His comments on Sunday were the first confirmation of his intentions since the November 4 election.
Yet, he did not gave details regarding where the Guantanamo detainees would be sent or whether they would be put on trial, or released.
Closing the prison is only the first step and major hurdles still face Mr Obama in dealing with the fall-out from the so-called “war on terror”, warned Clive Stafford Smith, a human rights lawyer who has represented some of the Guantanamo detainees.
Placing ex-detainees whose home countries refuse to take them back will be one of the difficulties.
“The most difficult dilemma facing Obama is what to do with the 50-odd refugees and stateless people – people from Palestine, from various countries – who have been cleared for release but will have nowhere to go”, he told Al Jazeera.
“The biggest favour any country can do President-elect Obama right now is to offer to take some of these stateless people.”
The human rights lawyer also said the US estimates that it will put between 40 and 80 people on trial, while around 160 others should be released.
“Of these, about 90 are Yemenis. It is a big problem and America needs to find a way of reaching an agreement with Yemen to take them back”, he said.
The UK way
And Mr Obama would also have to deal with the thousands of detainees held in other countries, said Mr Stafford Smith, who is director of the human rights charity Reprieve.
“Guantanamo is only a small part of the problem … the huge majority of [detainees] are in other places like Iraq, Diego Garcia, Ethiopia … this is a much more difficult issue.”
He also warned it would be difficult to ensure that former Guantanamo prisoners would receive a fair trial even if their cases were heard within the mainstream US judicial system.
According to Tim McCormack, professor of international humanitarian law at the University of Melbourne and adviser to former-Guantanamo detainee David Hicks, the quality of evidence appeared not to support the type and number of arrests.
“[If you look] at the way in which the UK dealt with its nationals, the UK brought them back to the UK, they were interrogated by the UK authorities and on the basis of finding insufficient evidence, they were all released”, he said.
Louise Christian, a British human rights lawyer who represented UK detainees released in 2004, cautioned that unless everyone is released, the closure of the Cuba-based camp would not amount to a “real move”.
She added that the US had a “clear responsibility” to ex-detainees who cannot return home and urged the new administration to find a solution, noting US-based refugee groups had said they were prepared to look after them.
When Obama’s comments came, the US also revealed that it had held a dozen juveniles at Guantanamo, four more than it had reported to the UN in May.
The admission came after a study released by the Centre for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas last week said the US has held at least a dozen juveniles at Guantanamo, including a Saudi who committed suicide in 2006.
According to the study, eight of them have been released.
Currently, about 250 prisoners are being held at the US naval camp in Cuba on suspicion of “terrorism” or links to al-Qaeda or the Taliban.
In a television interview aired on Sunday, Mr Obama also pledged to withdraw troops from Iraq as part of rebuilding “America’s moral stature”.