As deadline approaches, Obama speeds up Guantánamo Bay closure

Published on The Christian Science Monitor, December 21, 2009.

The Obama administration’s announcement Sunday that 12 Guantánamo detainees would be sent to other countries followed news that some detainees would be transferred to an Illinois facility. The president set a Jan. 22, 2010 deadline for closing the Guantánamo Bay prison, but seems unlikely to meet it … //

… The president acknowledges he is now unlikely to meet his Jan. 22 deadline, which corresponds with the completion of his first year in office. With just under 200 detainees remaining at Guantánamo, many analysts say a plan that seemed doable a year ago is bumping up against significant national-security considerations. 

“This is a place where national security concerns run right up against political commitments made by the president in the campaign,” says Charles Dunbar, a professor of international relations at Boston University who earlier served as a US ambassador to Yemen and as chargé d’affaires in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Difficult dilemma:

Mr. Dunbar says Obama inherited “an abomination” in the Guantánamo facility, which has been widely criticized in the US and abroad for holding prisoners without any charges or trial date. But he adds that the prospect of releasing detainees hardened by up to seven years of imprisonment poses a dilemma that won’t be easy to solve.

Six of the 12 detainees whose release was announced Sunday will return to Yemen – a prospect Dunbar says does not fill him with confidence. “I hope they’ve made some serious judgments as to what these people are like and what they are likely to do upon return, because I can’t imagine there will be any serious effort to lock them up in Yemen,” he says.

Nearly half the remaining 198 detainees in Guantánamo are from Yemen, suggesting that country – the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden – will play a critical role in Obama’s plans to close down the prison.

Of the remaining six detainees whose transfer was announced Sunday, four are to be returned to Afghanistan, while two will be sent to Somaliland, an enclave inside conflict-torn Somalia. The transfers to Afghanistan raised fresh concerns about the conditions repatriated detainees will return to. Some may be treated well, but others may not, Dunbar says.

Transfer plans criticized: … (full text).

Links:

Online Petition to close Guantanamo on Human Rights First;

Obama orders Guantanamo closure, on BBC, 22 January 2009.

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