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

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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory