21st May 2022

US to close Guantanamo within three years

The US will close the Guantanamo prison for terrorism suspects "within Barack Obama's term" of office, after missing last week the self-imposed deadline of one year, an American official told a Brussels audience, praising the support shown by European governments who took in about a dozen inmates.

"We've not succeeded in closing Guantanamo within the envisaged deadline, but we made progress," Dan Fried, Washington's special envoy for the closure of the facility, told reporters in the European capital on Wednesday (27 January).

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  • The deadline for closing Guantanamo has passed (Photo: Wikipedia)

Out of the 240 inmates that were still imprisoned in the Cuban prison when Barack Obama took office last January, 24 have so far been sent back to their home countries, 22 to other countries and two have been put on trial in Italy.

Mr Fried refused to speculate on a new deadline, but said he was confident the closure could be finalised "during Mr Obama's first term." The US president's mandate ends in January 2013.

The envoy expressed Washington's gratitude for the support shown by European countries in resettling some of the inmates.

Slovakia has in the past few days announced it had taken three inmates, while Switzerland, not a member of the European Union, also accepted one. France, Great Britain, Ireland, Belgium, Portugal, Hungary and others have each taken one to three prisoners as well.

Spain was currently negotiating the conditions for resettling "a considerable number" of inmates, he added.

Mr Fried rejected criticism directed at the slow pace of resettlements in Europe. "It isn't an obstacle. These are not tense negotiations. They are rather collaborative. The European governments ask a lot of questions and they think through their options," he said.

But the pace was likely to accelerate as countries establish certain procedures that prove successful, he added.

He also brushed off claims that the US itself was not prepared to house any of the inmates within its own territory while expecting other countries to do so.

"We're taking the ones who are the most dangerous, the terrorists connected to the 11 September [2001] attacks. They will be prosecuted by a New York federal court," he said.

The US Congress has decided to accept on American soil only those prisoners who face prosecution – roughly 40. But another group of inmates, "fewer than 50," can neither be set free nor be charged as there is not enough legally admissible evidence to charge them with crimes, according to Washington.

Both categories, however, could be transferred to a US prison in Illinois, if the congress approves the funding for transforming it into a high-security facility.

This has prompted criticism from civil rights groups, who claimed Mr Obama was looking at setting up a "Guantanamo North" instead of the Cuban-based prison.

The jail was opened by the Bush administration in 2002 to house irregular foreign combatants after the attacks on New York and Washington.

It It came under intense criticism by European countries and civil rights groups as a result of the prison's legal grey zone and after it became evident that the suspects were subjected to inhumane treatment in order to obtain information.

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