Awaiting Gitmo's Closure

Activists from human-rights group Amnesty International staging a protest against Guantanamo Bay in Vienna. (AFP/File/Dieter Nagl)

Awaiting Gitmo's Closure

KARACHI - "I've thought a lot about what my first meeting with my father will be like after all these years. I don't know how I'd react. I don't even know what to expect,'' said Muneeza Paracha, 26, daughter of Saifullah Paracha, incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay since September 2004.

She was reacting to the numerous media reports regarding the possible closure of the notorious prison in east Cuba run by the United States, as soon as President-elect Barack Obama takes office on Jan. 20.

Malka, 27, is already preparing for a rousing welcome for her husband, Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani, also detained in Guantanamo. "He wrote two months ago saying he was coming back soon,'' she told IPS.

"We were married for just over two years and I was pregnant with my second son when he disappeared," said Malka. "Only I know what these past seven years have been like. I've missed him every single day and since the boys have grown older they are forever asking me about their father,'' said the young unlettered woman.

Malka lived with her parents for the first two years and then decided to live independently. She has managed to run her household and send her sons to schools by "sewing and stitching" for the community and hopes that when Rabbani comes back he will be "proud to see how well I have taken care of his sons''.

There is widespread speculation that on Jan. 20, Obama will announce the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Defence secretary Robert Gates has reportedly instructed his staff to develop a plan on "how to shut it down".

It will be exactly seven years on Jan. 11, 2009 when the first 20 prisoners were taken there from Afghanistan. As the 'war on terror' gained pace, the number of prisoners grew to 779.

Former Pakistan president Gen. Pervez Musharraf, in his book 'In the line of Fire,' released in 2006, has acknowledged that Pakistan had captured 689 al-Qaeda terror suspects and turned over 369 to the U.S., earning "millions of dollars" as bounty money for the country.

Obama has been pledging the closure of the controversial detention centre all along his campaign trail. "We're going to close Guantanamo. And we're going to restore habeas corpus," he said in June 2007.

Then in August 2008, he suggested "swift and sure justice" be meted out to terrorists "through our courts and our Uniform Code of Military Justice".

Paracha is among the four Pakistani detainees currently in Gitmo along with Majid Khan, and brothers Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani and Muhammad Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani, according to the Washington D.C.-based non-profit, public policy organisation, the Brookings Institution.

Putting the number of Pakistani detainees at five (though he could not name the fifth), Farhatullah Babar, spokesman for the ruling Pakistan People's Party, told IPS over phone from Islamabad: "We have urged the U.S. government to return these detainees. This has been our consistent demand."

Asked about the process of repatriation and whether families have been informed about a possible reunion, or if there will be any rehabilitation facilities, including financial assistance and psychological counselling, Babar answered: "We have not gone into the micro-details of the plan of how these people will be handled once they are back."

However, Babar said that those who have returned went through a few days of "debriefing" and were then simply sent home.

There are, in all, 248 detainees in Gitmo. The Pentagon has said it plans to try about 80 prisoners at military commissions.

About 60 cannot be repatriated to their home countries where they may be tortured, victimised or even killed. Another 60 have been cleared for release, but Muneeza does not know if her father is among them.

"Our hopes have been raised so many times, and then dashed, and despite assurances from our government, and Barack Obama's plans to close the prison, I cannot be sure till I see my father here," said Muneeza.

"His [Obama's] priority maybe different from mine," said Muneeza, adding, "I'm not sure if he will be able to close Gitmo as soon as he steps into the Oval Office, and then it may not be as easy either."

Closing the detention facilities is easier said than done, and the Obama administration may have to wade through a sea of legal, diplomatic, political and logistical issues.

Obama is expected to close Gitmo by an executive order and have the inmates sent to other prison facilities in the U.S. They could be charged with offences that can be tried in federal courts or court-marshalled under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Among the thorniest of issues is that of 17 Chinese Uighurs, who were detained by Pakistani officials seven years ago, following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. No more considered "enemy combatants," they will now be taken by the U.S. since no country will accept them and they cannot be sent to China where they fear they will be persecuted.

Another is that of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad who is among the 30 to 80 detainees considered most dangerous. It is learnt that he will be among those who will be tried in the U.S.

Obama must heed the heads of four prominent civil liberties and human rights organisations -- the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International USA, Human Rights First, and Human Rights Watch -- who have, in a letter to the President-elect, reminded him of his promise.

The letter suggests that after stepping into office, Obama should immediately set a date for the closure of the prison. The next step should be a review of all detainee records by the justice department.

Where no evidence is found against the detainee he should be repatriated to his home country for trial or release. If there is a risk of torture or abuse, he should be transferred to a third country that will accept him or be admitted to the U.S.

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