Seven Years of Failed Guantanamo Policy Requires Reevaluation of Terrorism Prosecution
NEW YORK - This Sunday marks the seventh anniversary of the transfer of the first twenty prisoners to the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. Human Rights First calls on President-elect Obama to take immediate steps upon taking office to make good on his pledge to close Guantanamo by suspending all pending military commission cases at the ad-hoc, extra-legal prison camp.
Several Guantanamo military commission hearings are currently scheduled to take place during January 2009, and the controversial trial of Omar Khadr, who was 15 when he was taken into U.S. custody, is set to begin on January 26, just six days after Obama takes office. At its peak, more than 750 prisoners were detained at Guantanamo without criminal charge; now 247 remain. Only two trials have been completed, and none of the suspects implicated in the 9/11 attacks has been tried.
"For the past seven years, Guantanamo has undermined America's reputation for justice and transparency, and the practice there of prolonged detention, abusive treatment, and unjust military commission proceedings has undercut the ability of the United States to bring terrorist suspects to justice," said Elisa Massimino, executive director of Human Rights First.
"The failure of Guantanamo provides President-elect Obama with a stark reminder of the costs of abandoning America's established justice system in favor of untested and ad hoc military commissions," said Massimino. "Upon assuming the presidency, he should act immediately to suspend all pending military commission cases and institute transparent trials in proceedings recognized around the world as legitimate and just."
In August 2008, Human Rights First released - How to Close Guantanamo: Blueprint for the Next Administration - a step-by-step strategy for closing Guantanamo within the first year of the new administration that minimizes the risk to America's national security and ensures that detainees suspected of committing crimes against the United States are prosecuted in fair proceedings.
Human Rights First advocates prosecuting terrorism cases in ordinary federal courts. Human Rights First's report, In Pursuit of Justice: Prosecuting Terrorism Cases in the Federal Courts, examines more than 120 international terrorism cases prosecuted in the federal courts and finds that federal courts have proven to be highly adaptive and flexible in delivering justice in complex terrorism cases, casting doubt on the necessity of competing mechanisms proposed to supplant them since 9/11.
Human Rights First has been one of a handful of NGOs invited to monitor the proceedings at Guantanamo Bay. In this capacity, Human Rights First representatives have traveled to Guantanamo nearly 30 times since 2004.