Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Obama 'has abandoned detainees'

A guard looks out from a tower at the detention facility of Guantanamo Bay where detainee Musa'ab Omar A Madhwani says he feels abandoned (AP)
Human rights activists wearing orange prison garb to represent prisoners at Guantanamo Bay demonstrate in front of the White House (AP)

A Guantanamo Bay detainee said he feels abandoned by President Barack Obama and the world after more than 10 years at the US prison.

"I believe that President Obama must be unaware of the unbelievably inhumane conditions at the Guantanamo Bay prison, for otherwise he would surely do something to stop this torture," Yemeni prisoner Musa'ab Omar Al Madhwani wrote in a federal court declaration this year.

About a month later, Mr Obama renewed his vow to close the US detention centre in Cuba, but acknowledged one key obstacle: "It's a hard case to make because I think for a lot of Americans, the notion is 'out of sight, out of mind'."

Al Madhwani is a strong example of the political thicket that Mr Obama faces as he makes another run at fulfilling a 2008 campaign promise to close the prison - or at least transfer some detainees back to their countries.

For one, Al Madhwani is from Yemen, and the administration has prohibited the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to that country since January 2010 because of security concerns after a would-be bomber attempted to blow up a US-bound airliner on instructions from al Qaida operatives in Yemen.

For another, Al Madhwani already has lost a court challenge to his detention, despite the judge's conclusion that he was not a security threat to the US. Of 26 documents the government relied on containing statements Al Madhwani had made at Guantanamo, US District Judge Thomas Hogan in Washington threw out 23, concluding they had been tainted by coercive interrogation by US forces prior to his arrival at the Cuban prison.

That would make it difficult to convict Al Madhwani in a civilian court, or even a military tribunal, increasing the odds that Al Madhwani will remain in the limbo of indefinite detention.

Many other detainees are in the same situation. To date, only two prisoners have been convicted in a trial by military tribunals at Guantanamo, and both were reversed by the federal appeals court in Washington, although one remains under review. The five other convictions of Guantanamo prisoners came through plea bargains.

In Mr Obama's first week in office, he signed an executive order to close Guantanamo, but Congress has used its budgetary power to block detainees from being moved to the US.

Like most of the 166 prisoners remaining at Guantanamo, Al Madhwani is participating in a hunger strike to protest his detention and prison conditions. "Indefinite detention is the worst form of torture," wrote Al Madhwani, who is in his 11th year at the prison and has never been charged with a crime.

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