President Obama to make new effort to close Guantanamo Bay after mass hunger strike
Over 100 of 166 inmates now taking part in protest against indefinite detention
Known for his commentary on international relations and US politics, Rupert Cornwell also contributes obituaries and occasionally even a column for the sports pages. With The Independent since its launch in 1986, he was the paper's first Moscow correspondent - covering the collapse of the Soviet Union – during which time he won two British Press Awards. Previously a foreign correspondent for the Financial Times and Reuters, he has also been a diplomatic correspondent, leader writer and columnist, and has served as Washington bureau editor. In 1983 he published God's Banker, about Roberto Calvi, the Italian banker found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge.
Tuesday 30 April 2013
President Obama is pledging a new effort to shut down the infamous prison at Guantanamo Bay where more than half the inmates are currently on hunger strike, describing the facility at the US military base in Cuba as harmful to US interests and a blight on the country's good name.
At a White House press conference, Mr Obama said he had ordered officials to review the issue, and that he would take it up once more with Congress. The prison, he declared was “contrary to who we are.” It was inefficient, and reduced co-operation with allies on counter-terrorism. “It is a recruitment tool for extremists, it needs to be closed.”
Guantanamo was opened in early 2002, the site deliberately chosen so that foreign terrorist suspects captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere - the 'worst of the worst,' according to the Pentagon at the time - could be held outside the US proper, and thus beyond the purview of the domestic judicial system.
But the prison became so controversial that even President George W. Bush wanted to close it, and Mr Obama came to office in January 2009 vowing to do so within a year. But his every effort to do so, by transferring inmates to the mainland and trying them in civilian courts, was thwarted by Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike.
At the same time, the repatriation of detainees ground to a halt, amid the difficulty of finding countries acceptable to the US willing to take them, and an effective Congressional ban on spending to carry out such transfers. This year the pent-up tensions exploded in the hunger strike, the longest and most widespread in Guantanamo's history.
It began in February, ostensibly after guards mishandled prisoners' Korans. But the underlying reason, according to prisoners and their lawyers, is despair, the sense that they have been left to rot. The last straw appears to have been the State Department announcement in January that it was “re-assigning” the senior official who had been handling the transfers, without replacing him.
The hunger strike has now spread to more than 100 of the 166 remaining inmates, at least 15 of whom are now being force-fed. Meanwhile the military tribunals on which Congress insists has been virtually unworkable. Of the 700-plus individuals who have passed through Guantanamo, only three have been tried and convicted.
Some 30 of the current detainees, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, chief organiser of the 9/11 attacks, will be tried. About 50 others are in a legal no-man's land, deemed too dangerous to release but against whom there is not enough evidence to prosecute. But 86, more than half the total and some of them held for 11 years, were long since cleared for release - but to no avail.
- 1 BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
- 2 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 3 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 4 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
General Election 2015: David Cameron catching up in polls – but he badly needs a clear lead
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on
South Africa xenophobic attacks: Shops looted and violence on streets of Johannesburg as foreigners are forced to hide in police stations
Earthworms rain down from skies over Norway, puzzling scientists
18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a white stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
Russian warships in English Channel 'to conduct anti-aircraft and anti-submarine military drills'
£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...
£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...
£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...
£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...