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Ex-detainees sceptical of Guantanamo closure announcement

Published 23/02/2016

Moazzam Begg was held for three years
Moazzam Begg was held for three years

British former detainees of Guantanamo Bay have greeted an announcement that Barack Obama will finally close the detention centre with scepticism.

The US president has released his plans to shut the controversial camp by January 2017 - eight years after he first ordered it to close in 2009.

There are currently 91 detainees at Guantanamo Bay - 35 are expected to be transferred out to other countries by this summer while the rest are either facing trial by military commission or have been determined too dangerous to be released but are not facing charges.

Moazzam Begg, who was held in the detention centre for three years, said that despite the announcement he does not think it will shut.

He told the Press Association: "No, I don't think so. I think it will remain open, because what are the alternatives? What is he saying?

"Obama is saying we settle 35 prisoners abroad and all the others - 50 odd - we are going to bring them to the US mainland. They have already had statements from people on the US mainland, where they are proposed to go, from the locals there who have signed petitions saying 'we don't want these folk coming over here'.

"I think it is going to be very difficult for it to happen on a practical level."

He added: "Obama is a former constitutional lawyer, he understands the rule of law. And if he said the one thing he hasn't said so far, I think it would make it very difficult not to close Guantanamo.

"That is to say that those people who have been held without charge or trial and there is no evidence against, are innocent. Whether we think they are dangerous or not, they are innocent according to the law.

"You have had 14 years of the world's most powerful law enforcement security agencies interrogating these guys, if you don't have the evidence now you never will."

Amina Deghayes' brother Omar was held in Guantanamo where he says he was blinded in one eye after a guard gouged him.

She told the Press Association: "Obviously it is great news, but it is very belated and it is quite hard to really take it at face value because of the many years we have had of promises, especially Obama's promises, that it is going to close.

"And it doesn't take away from the fact that there are other secret prisons and places where prisoners are rendered but are far less well known than Guantanamo.

"Are they going to close that whole culture - which has definitely been counter productive to battling terrorism - down? That would be amazing, but I am not naive enough to think that."

Cori Crider, Guantanamo lawyer at the human rights organisation Reprieve, said: "For most of this presidency, 'work with Congress' has been code for 'ain't gonna happen,' so it's far from plain whether the president really aims to force this plan through.

"If he does, while he is right to try to close Guantanamo, the plan has various problems.

"It leaves the door open to hold cleared men on US soil without charge or trial, which is contrary to everything that we stand for."

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