There are 13 days until Jan. 20, 2009.
Published on Tuesday, January 6, 2009 by Inter Press Service
Awaiting Gitmo's Closure
by Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI - "I've thought a lot about what my first meeting with my father
will be like after all these years. I don't know how I'd react. I don't even
know what to expect,'' said Muneeza Paracha, 26, daughter of Saifullah
Paracha, incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay since September 2004.
Activists from human-rights group Amnesty International staging a protest
against Guantanamo Bay in Vienna. (AFP/File/Dieter Nagl)
She was reacting to the numerous media reports regarding the possible
closure of the notorious prison in east Cuba run by the United States, as
soon as President-elect Barack Obama takes office on Jan. 20.
Malka, 27, is already preparing for a rousing welcome for her husband, Abdul
Rahim Ghulam Rabbani, also detained in Guantanamo. "He wrote two months ago
saying he was coming back soon,'' she told IPS.
"We were married for just over two years and I was pregnant with my second
son when he disappeared," said Malka. "Only I know what these past seven
years have been like. I've missed him every single day and since the boys
have grown older they are forever asking me about their father,'' said the
young unlettered woman.
Malka lived with her parents for the first two years and then decided to
live independently. She has managed to run her household and send her sons
to schools by "sewing and stitching" for the community and hopes that when
Rabbani comes back he will be "proud to see how well I have taken care of
There is widespread speculation that on Jan. 20, Obama will announce the
closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Defence secretary Robert
Gates has reportedly instructed his staff to develop a plan on "how to shut
It will be exactly seven years on Jan. 11, 2009 when the first 20 prisoners
were taken there from Afghanistan. As the 'war on terror' gained pace, the
number of prisoners grew to 779.
Former Pakistan president Gen. Pervez Musharraf, in his book 'In the line of
Fire,' released in 2006, has acknowledged that Pakistan had captured 689
al-Qaeda terror suspects and turned over 369 to the U.S., earning "millions
of dollars" as bounty money for the country.
Obama has been pledging the closure of the controversial detention centre
all along his campaign trail. "We're going to close Guantánamo. And we're
going to restore habeas corpus," he said in June 2007.
Then in August 2008, he suggested "swift and sure justice" be meted out to
terrorists "through our courts and our Uniform Code of Military Justice".
Paracha is among the four Pakistani detainees currently in Gitmo along with
Majid Khan, and brothers Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani and Muhammad Ahmed
Ghulam Rabbani, according to the Washington D.C.-based non-profit, public
policy organisation, the Brookings Institution.
Putting the number of Pakistani detainees at five (though he could not name
the fifth), Farhatullah Babar, spokesman for the ruling Pakistan People's
Party, told IPS over phone from Islamabad: "We have urged the U.S.
government to return these detainees. This has been our consistent demand."
Asked about the process of repatriation and whether families have been
informed about a possible reunion, or if there will be any rehabilitation
facilities, including financial assistance and psychological counselling,
Babar answered: "We have not gone into the micro-details of the plan of how
these people will be handled once they are back."
However, Babar said that those who have returned went through a few days of
"debriefing" and were then simply sent home.
There are, in all, 248 detainees in Gitmo. The Pentagon has said it plans to
try about 80 prisoners at military commissions.
About 60 cannot be repatriated to their home countries where they may be
tortured, victimised or even killed. Another 60 have been cleared for
release, but Muneeza does not know if her father is among them.
"Our hopes have been raised so many times, and then dashed, and despite
assurances from our government, and Barack Obama's plans to close the
prison, I cannot be sure till I see my father here," said Muneeza.
"His [Obama's] priority maybe different from mine," said Muneeza, adding,
"I'm not sure if he will be able to close Gitmo as soon as he steps into the
Oval Office, and then it may not be as easy either."
Closing the detention facilities is easier said than done, and the Obama
administration may have to wade through a sea of legal, diplomatic,
political and logistical issues.
Obama is expected to close Gitmo by an executive order and have the inmates
sent to other prison facilities in the U.S. They could be charged with
offences that can be tried in federal courts or court-marshalled under the
Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Among the thorniest of issues is that of 17 Chinese Uighurs, who were
detained by Pakistani officials seven years ago, following the U.S. invasion
of Afghanistan. No more considered "enemy combatants," they will now be
taken by the U.S. since no country will accept them and they cannot be sent
to China where they fear they will be persecuted.
Another is that of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad who is among the 30 to 80
detainees considered most dangerous. It is learnt that he will be among
those who will be tried in the U.S.
Obama must heed the heads of four prominent civil liberties and human rights
organisations -- the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International
USA, Human Rights First, and Human Rights Watch -- who have, in a letter to
the President-elect, reminded him of his promise.
The letter suggests that after stepping into office, Obama should
immediately set a date for the closure of the prison. The next step should
be a review of all detainee records by the justice department.
Where no evidence is found against the detainee he should be repatriated to
his home country for trial or release. If there is a risk of torture or
abuse, he should be transferred to a third country that will accept him or
be admitted to the U.S.
Copyright © 2009 IPS-Inter Press Service
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always
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lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to
lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs