Protests mark anniversary of Guantanamo detention center

Saturday, January 12, 2008

A protester in front of the Supreme Court, Washington DC
Image: takomabibelot.

The human rights group Amnesty International staged protests around the world yesterday to mark the sixth anniversary of the first arrival of detainees at the U.S. detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The group is demanding the prison be shut down. Meanwhile, a U.S. appeals court in Washington has ruled against four British men who allege they were tortured during their detention at Guantanamo.

Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, and other rights organizations used the anniversary to again call on the Bush administration to close down the Guantanamo facility. A crowd of about 200 protesters, many dressed in orange jumpsuits similar to the ones worn by Guantanamo prisoners, gathered in the pouring rain in Washington, D.C. yesterday. Around 80 were thought to have been arrested, as protests are forbidden in the area surrounding the courts. Larry Cox, the Executive Director of Amnesty International USA said Guantanamo has become a symbol.

"It's become the symbol of everything that's wrong with the U.S. approach to fighting terror and making people safer," said Cox. "It's become a symbol of human rights abuses, it's become the symbol of things which deviate so grossly from the values that this country has always upheld that people are horrified and shocked."

Amnesty also staged protests Friday in the Philippines, Sweden, Paraguay, Bahrain, Ireland, and Israel. Major events included a gathering outside the American embassy in London, UK and a walking protest through the streets of Sydney, Australia

Protesters kneeling in front of the Supreme Court, Washington DC
Image: takomabibelot.

President Bush and several senior members of his administration have repeatedly said they would like to close Guantanamo down, but there is the question of how to make sure the terrorist suspects detained there do not return to target the United States if handed back to their countries of origin.

Defence Secretary Robert Gates said last month there has not been much progress in efforts to close the prison down because of legal concerns in Congress.

Amnesty's Larry Cox says his organization has worked out an action plan to close it, which has been endorsed by lawmakers from 30 countries.

"There is an easy answer to this, which is to shut down Guantanamo, to put people into U.S. detention centres, to charge them if they're guilty of crimes, they should be charged, and to bring them to trial," said Cox. "And to let other people, either go back, if they can, to their countries or to get asylum in other countries."

Democratic Senator Tom Harkin has introduced legislation that would close the detention centre and restore due process to the detainees, but it is not clear if and when it will come to the floor for debate.

Meanwhile, a U.S. appeals court in Washington, D.C. has thrown out a lawsuit filed by four British ex-prisoners who say they were systematically tortured during their two-year detention at Guantanamo Bay. The four plaintiffs are all British nationals and residents, who were released from Guantanamo in 2004.

The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering another case that involves other prisoners still at Guantanamo Bay and if they have a right to challenge their confinement in U.S. courts.