Human rights groups pan Obama's Gitmo proposal

Human rights groups pan Obama's Gitmo proposal
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Leading human rights groups have come out against President Obama’s plan to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, saying it would simply shift the problem of indefinite detention to U.S. soil.

“We welcome President Obama’s commitment to finally close Guantánamo and aspects of this plan, but the proposal to move some of the detainees to the U.S. mainland for continued detention without charge is reckless and ill-advised,” Naureen Shah, director of Amnesty International USA’s Security and Human Rights Program, said in a written statement.


Obama announced a plan Tuesday to close the facility in a last-ditch effort to fulfill a promise from his first presidential campaign.

Under the plan released Tuesday, detainees deemed too dangerous to be transferred abroad would be brought to a facility in the United States.

Republicans have slammed that aspect as dangerous and a violation of U.S. law, which bars transferring Guantanamo detainees to the mainland.

Human rights groups have long criticized the indefinite detention of those held at Guantanamo without trial. The plan presented Tuesday wouldn’t fix that issue, they argue.

“The possibility of a new, parallel system of lifelong incarceration inside the United States without charge would set a dangerous precedent,” Shah said. “If successfully mounted, it would be a devastating blow to basic principles of criminal justice.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights, whose lawyers have represented Guantanamo detainees, said Obama’s plan “does not ‘close Guantanamo.’”

“It merely relocates it to a new ZIP Code,” the organization continued in a written statement. “The infamy of Guantánamo has never been just its location, but rather its immoral and illegal regime of indefinite detention. Closing Guantánamo in any meaningful sense means putting an end to that practice.”

Other aspects of the plan, such as transferring the 35 detainees deemed eligible overseas and speeding up the review process for new transfers, are long overdue, the organization said.

“Unless the Obama administration shows real will and dramatically steps up its efforts on these basic fronts, men whose detentions the administration itself has determined are unnecessary, who have already been imprisoned for 14 years, will continue to languish long after President Obama has left the White House,” the statement said. “This is senseless and cruel."

Physicians for Human Rights likewise said transferring the detainees to the United States would not solve the problem of indefinite detention.

“Closing Guantánamo is critically important, but President Obama must take decisive action to also end indefinite detention and other human rights violations of detainees,” Sarah Dougherty, senior fellow in Physician for Human Rights’ anti-torture program said in a written statement. “What we want is respect for due process and fair trial standards — and that doesn’t happen by simply relocating detainees to U.S. soil. There is a danger that closing Guantánamo will simply relocate the lawlessness of indefinite detention to the United States.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, meanwhile, focused on the part of the plan that would continue using military commissions. Tuesday’s proposal said the administration would continue to try to prosecute detainees who can be prosecuted, either in Article III court, military commission or foreign prosecutions.

The ACLU commended Obama for trying to close the facility, but said continuing to use military commissions is a mistake.

“President Obama deserves high praise for trying to make good on his promise to close Guantánamo and erase the stain on America’s moral standing at home and abroad,” Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU, said in a written statement. “The president is also right on the money when he says that the best venue for prosecuting present and future terrorism cases is our tried and tested federal courts.

“But, his decision to preserve the Bush-created military commissions is a mistake. The Guantánamo military commissions are an abject failure. They have never worked, are not working and will never work, even with President Obama’s well-intentioned reforms. Additionally, the president’s continuing embrace of indefinite detention without charge or trial will tarnish his legacy.”