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August 7, 2009

Canada needs a Guantanamo Justice Center

Scott Stockdale

Scott StockdaleSince early 2002, when prisoners were first moved to Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba, it has been and, continues to be, heavily criticized by human rights activitists and experts in international law, around the world.

In February 2006, a United Nations human rights report called on the United States to immediately close Guantanamo detention centre, saying that some of the treatment meted out to detainees there amounted to torture.

The U.N. said the U.S. should release the 500 prisoners or bring them to trial. The U. S. rejected the report's findings.

Claims that the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay is a violation of international law and human rights has manifested in the Guantanamo Justice Center (GJC), launched July 30, 2009, in London.

At the London launching, the GJC's press release states: “Under the pretext of fighting the “War on Terror”, prisoners were subject to different types of abuse and torture, various types of humiliation and distress as well as neglect and deprivation.

However, the attack on justice did not end at this low point: it went further with the classification of prisoners outside of the standards provided in humanitarian law, denying Guantanamo prisoners the slightest legal and judicial protections guaranteed to prisoners even in the U.S. Constitution.”

In order to deny prisoners legal protections, the U.S. government arbitrarily declared the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay “unlawful combatants.”

GJC chairperson, Sami al-Haj, an Al Jazeera journalist and cameraman who was imprisoned in Guantánamo for more than 6 years, said the purpose of the Guantanamo Justice Centre is to obtain the closure of Guantanamo, the liberation of those prisoners who are still being held there, plus the recognition of their innocence and of the abuses they were subjected to by the United States administration.

An additional objective is to obtain reparations for  the financial  and moral damages inflicted on ex-prisoners and to provide them with psychological support.

Most of the prisoners who have been released from Guantanamo Bay have agreed to work with GJC officials to prepare and implement rehabilitation and reintegration programs; to establish their complete innocence against accusations made by the U.S. government; to obtain compensation appropriate to the level of abuse they suffered; and to seek the release of the remaining prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, as well as providing support for their families.

Along with former Guantanamo prisoners, GJC is planning to take joint legal action against former President Bush and other members of his administration for the illegal detentions and the abuses inflicted.

Mr. al-Haj said collecting all available information, particularly medical reports, is proving to be very time-consuming. He added that there is an immediate need to provide material assistance and moral support to all the victims who have been left without a solution, who believed in the promises made by President Obama in January and hoped that their fate would improve.

On January 22, 2009, when President Obama signed an executive order to close Guantanamo Bay detention center within a year, the number of detainees had fallen to 245.

According to the Brookings Institute, a non-profit public policy organization in Washington D.C., the population rose to 558 in 2004, when the Pentagon instituted a review system and the number began to decline, however slightly.

According to the U.S. state department, in April 2005 there were about 520 detainees, from 40 countries, in Guantanamo Bay. At that point, 232 detainees had left Guantanamo Bay: 149 were released and 83 were transferred to other governments.

By late 2008, 779 detainees had passed through the facility. To date, only 11 Guantanamo inmates have been charged with crimes, although U.S. military prosecutors say they have viable cases against 66 of the men. And this is a military prosecution which doesn’t adhere to rules of evidence such as the pretrial release of the evidence against an accused or the right of an accused to face his or her accuser.

Moreover, one has to wonder about the status of the other Guantanamo inmates, whom the U.S. government admits it has no case against.

With GJC headquarters in London and branches in Geneva and Paris, one has to wonder if there is a need for a GJC branch in Canada.

After all, Canadians were and are among the detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

In late October 2003, a Canadian, Abdurahman Khadr, was released from Guantanamo Bay, but sent to Bosnia. Upon returning to Canada, he told the CBC he was recruited by the U.S. as a double agent.

Meanwhile, Mr. Khadr’s younger brother Omar Khadr, now 22, and also a Canadian, remains at Guantanamo Bay, where he is the last Western prisoner.

He arrived at Guantanamo Bay on October 29 or October 30, 2002, as a 15-year-old, accused of killing a U.S. Serviceman, in Afghanistan, in 2002.

In July of this year, the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) completed its report into the treatment of Khadr by CSIS agents. The report criticized the agents for not taking into account the Toronto-born teen's age of 15 when he was interrogated.

Now 22, Khadr faces five war crimes charges under the current Guantanamo system, which former U.S. president George W. Bush established in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

A Canadian Federal Court Judge has ordered the Canadian government to seek the younger Khadr’s repatriation to Canada and, despite some initial reluctance to comply with the court order, the Harper government has agreed to bring Mr. Khadr back to Canada, although he remains in limbo in Guantanamo Bay; and no one knows for how long.

U.S. Task force is studying the possibility of moving some suspected militants from Guantanamo Bay to a maximum security prison in the U.S.

Notwithstanding President Obama's pledge to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, U.S. lawmakers are fighting against a plan to move the remaining 240 prisoners to U.S. soil for detention and trial.

President Obama has suspended prosecutions at Guantanamo pending his administration's review of the first U.S. War crimes tribunals since WWII.

Scott Stockdale is a freelance writer based in Toronto.

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