World Focus: Guantanamo and Obama's human rights conundrum

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The Independent US

Spare a thought for Osama bin Laden's driver, the Guantanamo Bay inmate who has been set free after years of imprisonment and is to be returned to his native Yemen to serve out the remaining month of a five-and-a-half-year sentence.

Salim Hamdan is one of the lucky ones, able to return home without fear of torture. A military court last August failed to find him guilty of supplying missiles to al-Qai'da and he was sentenced on a lesser charge.

But his case highlights the fundamental difficulty for Barack Obama in carrying out a pledge to shut down the jail located in a legal no man's land outside America. Human rights campaigners point out that one of Mr Obama's principal difficulties will be what to do with the prisoners. Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the British legal-action charity Reprieve, has pointed out that among the hurdles in closing a facility that holds 250 alleged terrorists is the fact that "80 to 100 are refugees and would risk being tortured if returned home".

US policy is to insist on guarantees from the prisoners' countries of origin. But there are real fears for 17 Uighurs – Muslims from the oppressed ethnic minority in western China – who have been held for seven years. They were cleared for release a year ago, but the US has kept them inside amid fears they would be at risk of torture in China, which wants them back. The State Department has so far approached 100 countries to no avail.

This month, five human rights organisations urged European governments to provide humanitarian protection to such detainees. In the case of the Uighurs, Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch said that Mr Obama should reverse President Bush's policy and admit all 17 into the US.