Obama Administration Urged to Table Indefinite Detention Recommendation

(Washington, DC January 22, 2010) Following a Justice Department-led task force recommendation that approximately 1/4 of the nearly 200 Guantanamo detainees be detained indefinitely without charges or trial, Human Rights First is urging the Obama Administration to table the recommendation that it notes would compound a difficult national security problem.

“Leaving these cases in limbo is not a solution to problem of Guantanamo; it’s a dodge The administration should not abandon its commitment to driving the number of detainees held without charge down to zero,” said Human Rights First President Elisa Massimino. “If indefinite detention becomes the new ‘go to’ tool when prosecutors decide they cannot charge or try suspects, we will not have advanced.”

Massimino added, “The President was right last May when he said that in the search for solutions to Guantanamo’s problems the ‘wrong answer is to pretend like this problem will go away if we maintain an unsustainable status quo.’ Indefinite detention is a dangerous status quo that threatens national security. It’s the wrong answer to the difficult challenges posed by Guantanamo, and it threatens to set a dangerous precedent that will haunt this nation for many years to come.”

She continued, “Indefinitely detaining prisoners without charge or trial no matter where they are held is unwise, unnecessary, and threatens to perpetuate the national security risks of Guantanamo that the President, the Secretary of Defense, and scores of military leaders have rightly identified. The costs of this policy have become manifest over time aiding terrorist recruitment, creating obstacles to cooperation with U.S. allies in counterterrorism operations, and undermining U.S. standing in the world.”

Human Rights First has urged the Obama Administration to drive the number of detainees held indefinitely without charge or trial to zero, noting that those who are suspected of crimes against the United States should be brought to justice in our federal courts. Detailed analysis of the track record of federal courts to deal with terrorism cases shows that they are adaptable and highly effective in ensuring that classified information is protected from disclosure while safeguarding the accused’s right to a fair trial under the Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA).

“If evidence is inadmissible because it was gained through torture or other abusive interrogation, it is inherently unreliable. Its use is not only illegal, but it must certainly not be used as the basis for detaining someone indefinitely,” Massimino noted.

Human Rights First today stated that alternative solutions for detainees who cannot be tried, but who might pose a risk if released, are already in place. For example, some detainees might be transferred for prosecution to other countries whose laws they have broken. If it is determined that a detainee cannot be tried anywhere, the United States has worked, and continues to work, with other countries that have established programs to monitor and rehabilitate returning detainees. A meeting of U.S., Yemeni and other countries’ officials in London next week will focus on the challenge of repatriating Yemeni detainees, who make up approximately half of the present Guantanamo detainee population, and will seek to identify ways to establish similar risk management tools in that nation.

The organization also stated that Pentagon reports concerning the number of released detainees who are alleged to have returned to terrorism are unsubstantiated and unreliable. They include, for example, former detainees whose “return to the fight” is nothing more than writing about their mistreatment in U.S. custody activity the group notes is certainly a preferable alternative outlet for their anger than taking up with a terrorist organization.

“In his speech in Oslo last month, President Obama urged confidence in our ideals in the face of the complex problems posed by terrorism. He said, ‘We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it’s easy, but when it is hard.’ As he has often said, ‘America’s core principles have been the ‘source of our strength, and a beacon to the world.’ We urge President Obama to recall those words now and to continue the difficult work of conforming counterterrorism policies with our laws, our values, and our ideals,” concluded Massimino.


Published on January 22, 2010


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