President Barack Obama – on his second day in office – signed executive orders to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within a year, to ban the harshest interrogation methods, and to establish procedures for handling future detainees. Much of the world welcomed the new U.S. president’s initiatives, but questions remain over where the remaining Guantanamo detainees will be tried and where those who are freed can safely be relocated.
Mr. Obama campaigned on a promise to close down the Guantanamo detention facility, which along with the prison at Abu Ghraib in Baghdad, had become – in the words of Human Rights Watch – a “global symbol of abuse.” But many analysts say closing Guantanamo will present a dilemma about the remaining 245 detainees. Some fear, if they are returned to their home countries, they could face torture – a potential problem not covered in President Obama’s executive order. Foreign ministers from 27 countries of the European Union met this week in Brussels to discuss helping the Obama administration empty the Guantanamo facility, but they stopped short of making specific promises to provide inmates new homes in Europe.
An Afghan Perspective
Nevertheless, Afghan journalist and historian Nabi Misdaq says he fully expects European countries will come to the rescue. “Mr. Obama is so popular in Europe that few countries will refuse him if he asks them to take some of the prisoners released from Guantanamo,” Misdaq says. He predicts Spain, Germany, France, Italy, and other countries will come forward.
A German Perspective
But German journalist Matthias Rueb of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper says, even though Germany reacted with jubilation to the news of the decision to close Guantanamo, “many politicians are proving themselves parochial and hypocritical. Whereas the left-wing Social Democrats and Green Party favor offering something like asylum to the detainees,” Rueb says, “the ruling Conservative Party is hesitant and wants to wait until the new Obama administration makes a formal demand.” He notes that the German government hesitated to take back German citizen Murat Kurnaz, who was detained in Guantanamo for more than three years but had been deemed by the tribunal as no longer dangerous.
Nonetheless, Matthias Rueb says he expects some European countries will ultimately agree to take the detainees. “Portugal and France have signaled they will take some. On the other hand, the British government argues that they have already taken in British nationals and Pakistani nationals who used to live in Britain.” According to Rueb, Yemen will probably have to take in most of the detainees because about 100 of those 245 who are currently held in the Guantanamo facility are Yemeni citizens.
An Arab Perspective
Arab journalist Nadia Bilbassy, senior correspondent with the Middle East News Center, says Arab countries have welcomed the promised closing of Guantanamo. But she says some skepticism remains. “People are still trying to figure out exactly what President Obama’s executive order means for them.” Bilbassy says Saudi Arabia, for example, has already established a system of putting the former detainees into psychological rehabilitation and eventually releasing them into society.
According to Nadia Bilbassy, the countries concerned will have a liaison with the White House and the U.S. State Department, guaranteeing that former Guantanamo detainees will not be tortured. And she predicts that this is just the beginning of a process that is likely to be “long and difficult.”
Chief among the concerns from critics of the closure of Guantanamo is the fear that released detainees will eventually return to terrorist activities. Pentagon research released in the waning days of the Bush administration indicated that 61 former detainees – that is, 11 percent of the total number released – had returned to the battlefield. But that figure has since been disputed.
It is important to realize that not all detainees will automatically be released. Many still face trial. But included in President Obama’s executive order is an affirmation that current detainees have the constitutional right to have their cases heard in U.S. civilian courts – something the Bush administration repeatedly denied and fought to prevent.