David Remes: Obama talked a good game on Guantanamo. But what's he done?

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The real problem is that President Obama has placed himself in a box where he can't and won't release anyone from Guantanamo without a very high degree of confidence that they won't turn into a suicide bomber or other form of terrorist. I'm second to none in my dislike of the Bush administration; I hope that nobody thought otherwise. I have to say, though, that there were 778 prisoners at its peak in Guantanamo in 2002 or 2003. By the time the Supreme Court held that the men were entitled to lawyers, that figure had dropped to 535. By the time Obama took office in January, that figure had dropped to 245.

So you're talking about 520 or 530 prisoners released from Guantánamo during Bush's administration, much as he fought us in court tooth and nail. And in three months, Obama has released exactly one man. And that was only because of the acute embarrassment to the English government over torture allegations. Obama has been talking a good game, but what has he actually done?

Obama is under a special spotlight because he made closing Guantanamo such a big deal, and he was right to do so, but now everybody is focussing on every decision he makes and he's terrified politically that he'll release someone and they'll become a suicide bomber. So he's instituted a new programme to examine each and every man's file, which I think is a bit of a fool's errand because most of the men in Guantanamo were scooped up indiscriminately, but our own former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell made a statement on this a few weeks ago.

The evidence against most of the men is testimony by other prisoners, which is highly unreliable, or by the prisoners themselves which is also highly unreliable. So how does the administration make a solid, reliable, predictive judgement about what will happen when these men are released? That for me is the central problem facing the Obama administration.

Taken from a talk at Chatham House on 'Guantanamo Repatriation' by the Legal Director of Appeal for Justice, a human rights and civil liberties litigation firm

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