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Rule of law

The trouble with Guantánamo

by Hans Dembowski
US President Barack Obama is struggling to keep his promise to close the Guantánamo Bay detention camp. By an over-whelming majority, the Senate in May refused $ 80 million he had requested for the purpose. Senators demanded to see a detailed plan before allocating funds.

Closing Guantánamo is proving more difficult than Obama originally expected. So far, it remains unclear what will happen to those detainees who cannot be tried in normal court proceedings for lack of appropriate evidence, but who are nonetheless deemed too dangerous to release. Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush had used Guantánamo Bay in Cuba as a prison because it is not subject to US law, according to which suspects cannot be held indefinitely without trial.

Two earlier decisions by Obama had triggered protests by civil rights’ organisations. First, he said that photos of abused prisoners would not be released because they were likely to foster hatred against US troops. Second, he announced the revival of the military tribunals which hold special trials against terror suspects. Obama had frozen the tribunals after he took office in January. He had criticised Bush during his election campaign, saying that the tribunals violated US legal principles.

Obama has now promised that the accused will have greater rights before these tribunals. For example, they will be allowed to choose their lawyers, evidence derived by torture will not be permitted and hearsay evidence will only be accepted if statements are plausible. The new rules had not yet been released when D+C/E+Z went to print.

Critics call the plans a marginal improvement at best. They argue that Obama is perpetuating his predecessor’s policy by permitting legal proceedings outside of the normal legal rules. Bush had argued that the fight against terrorism could not be won by using normal police methods, but had to be considered a war, in which US constitutional norms do not necessarily apply. (dem)