The Guantanamo detainee dilemma

Monday, August 16, 2010 – Globe and Mail

GUANTANAMO BAY — There have been calls to close Guantanamo Bay’s notorious detention centre since the first blindfolded, shackled detainees walked onto the base’s tarmac in January, 2002. But what do you do with the 176 people remaining behind the razor wire and green mesh?

As the camp’s population slowly dwindles and cases against those the U.S. government plans to prosecute inch forward, that question is becoming tricky to answer.

Who poses a risk – to the United States, or elsewhere? Who would be in danger if transported to their country of origin? What do you do if a detainee would rather stay, or if you can’t find a country willing to accept released prisoners?

And what do you do if the prosecutors of one detainee can’t agree with the people running the U.S. detention centre where they would like to keep him? That’s the question the Pentagon now faces since the sentencing last week of Osama bin Laden’s cook and driver Ibrahim al-Qosi, who pleaded guilty terrorism-related charges.

Prosecutors are happy to let him stay in Guantanamo’s Camp IV, where he’s now staying and which is reserved for the most “compliant” detainees. But the joint task force running Guantanamo objected to the idea of having a convict live communally with those awaiting trial or those never charged.

There still is no real policy on what happens to sentenced Guantanamo prisoners – a “troubling” omission, Mr. al-Qosi’s military judge, Nancy Paul, noted, and one that will become more problematic as more people are tried.

The issue of what to do with detainees is not new. When the U.S. administration was deciding what to do with the 18 ethnic Uyghurs in Guantanamo, they were deemed not a threat, and China – their country of citizenship – asked for them back. But the Uyghurs’ lawyers and other human-rights advocates argued that sending them back to China would be an effective death sentence. Beijing is not known for dealing kindly with minority dissidents from restive Xinjiang province.

In the end, they were transferred to other countries – including 17 to Palau, which received $200-million (U.S.) .

Last month, Abdul Aziz Naji was repatriated to Algeria against his will after the 35-year-old detainee lost a court battle to let him stay in Guantanamo Bay. His lawyers argue he has “credible fears” he will be persecuted in Algeria. The U.S. Supreme Court decided otherwise.

There appears to be an almost visceral opposition in the United States to any transfers there.

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