During the years of incarceration and abuse in Guantánamo it seemed inconceivable that the notorious US military prison facility would close any time soon. And yet, within a day of his inauguration the new US president, Barack Obama, promised the world, in no uncertain terms, that the world's most infamous prison's days were numbered. As of today, that's 190 days – and counting.
Within the past year men have been returned – after almost eight years of arbitrary detention interspersed with torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment – to countries as diverse as Britain, France, Bosnia, Chad, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Bermuda. In all, about 540 out of 774 men once held in Guantánamo have been released. Following their release, many former prisoners have begun to campaign on behalf of those left behind, and they have sought to ensure the world understands the true nature of Guantánamo Bay.
Arduous efforts by relatives, lawyers and human rights organisations led directly to the release of two-thirds of the prisoners, who are now trying to reintegrate into their local communities. However, the stigma attached to being a former Guantánamo prisoner will be carried for a very long time, along with the cumulative physical and psychological effects of years of imprisonment without trial. Many former prisoners are struggling to find employment, re-enter education, start a family or readjust to an existing one. This is particularly the case for those who live in less developed nations, where the majority of Guantánamo prisoners are from.
The Guantánamo Justice Centre (GJC), launched today, is being established by formers prisoners. The GJC's primary focus will be aftercare for Guantánamo returnees who have not being given the help and assistance they need. Consultations took place between former prisoners in Europe, Africa and Asia and the GJC will seek to initiate welfare programmes, with localised support, that aim to enrich former prisoners' lives through employment, education and recognition of their ordeal; to make them fully participating and confident members of their respective communities.
Many of the former prisoners and members of GJC are already deeply involved with relatives, legal teams and human rights organisations in seeking justice for the remaining Guantánamo prisoners. But GJC's aims are to seek empowerment and assistance for the Guantánamo returnees in rebuilding their lives.