Protestors call for closure of Guantánamo

Switzerland says Guantánamo is the United States' problem Keystone

On the seventh anniversary of Guantánamo detention camp, Amnesty International has called on Switzerland to play its part in closing the prison.

This content was published on January 11, 2009 - 18:38

The international human rights organisation held demonstrations in 35 countries, with Swiss protestors assembling in Bern around cages containing "prisoners" dressed in Guantánamo orange.

Switzerland in particular could act by offering humanitarian protection to detainees who were ready to be released by the United States authorities but were unable to return to their country of origin because their security could not be guaranteed, Manon Schick from Amnesty Switzerland told swissinfo.

In November 2008 the Federal Migration Office rejected asylum applications by three Guantánamo detainees – from Libya, Algeria and China. Amnesty International is supporting an appeal against this decision at the Federal Administrative Court.

"The response cannot be administrative but rather political. The question we now put to the Swiss government is: do you agree that Guantánamo should be closed? Are you prepared to help [US President Elect] Barack Obama in this task?" Schick said.

On Saturday Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said in an interview with Le Temps newspaper that "the United States created Guantánamo and therefore they must solve the problem".

She added however that were Europe to put forward a solution, Swiss participation wouldn't be ruled out.

No risk to US

Schick pointed out that most of the 600 people who have been released from Guantánamo to date had not been tried in court. They were released because investigators determined they did not present a risk to the US.

"This shows that Guantánamo was not the solution in the war against terrorism because it did not allow real terrorists to be arrested and nor did it help obtain information in the war against terrorism," she said.

Schick drew attention to the plight of the released inmates. "Innocent people were held in Guantánamo. They came out traumatised and stigmatised. They have found it difficult to find work and reintegrate into society," she said.

"There were farmers from Pakistan, for example, who were sold by their neighbours. They were innocent but they ended up in detention because the US was paying $5,000 (SFr5,500) for 'terrorists'."

As part of its campaign, Amnesty International is calling on Barack Obama to keep his pre-election promise and give a definite closure date for Guantánamo when he takes office on January 20.

End torture

"We also want [Obama] to take the necessary measures to guarantee that the US will never again open another prison like Guantánamo in another country, for example Iraq ... We want him to commit to respecting international agreements and for the US to stop using torture in interrogations."

Speaking on Friday in Washington, Obama said his administration would "uphold our highest values and ideals" in its approach to fighting terrorism.

When asked at a news conference whether he would continue a policy of harsh interrogation, Obama replied that he had told the CIA director-designate that he expected the Geneva Conventions to be honoured.

Schick acknowledged that conditions in Guantánamo had improved since the early days when not even the Red Cross was given access to prisoners.

"Amnesty International can now be present during the hearings of the military commissions. These are procedures which we consider neither fair nor legal, but at least now there are witnesses."

"This means Guantánamo is a known prison. We now know who is held there and what their state of health is, unlike the secret prisons that the US has in Iraq and other countries," she said.


In brief

The first prisoners were transferred to the detention camp in Guantánamo Bay in Cuba on January 11 2002.

The prison population reached 800 at one point and today 250 detainees from 30 countries are still there.

More than 50 prisoners from Algeria, China, Iraq, Libya, Russia, Somalia, Syria, Tunisia and Uzbekistan are awaiting release to a third, safe country. These detainees are not suspected of having links with terrorist groups.

US President Elect Barack Obama has criticised US interrogation practices used in there that he says amount to torture and has also promised to close the detention centre at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

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