United States President Barack Obama found himself in a deeper hole than ever on the subject of Guantanamo Bay prison this week, after he issued an executive order allowing indefinite detention without trial of inmates being held at the U.S. military installation.
The order, which will be applied to 47 out of the 172 prisoners being held at Guantánamo, militates against Mr. Obama's campaign promise to eventually close the Bush-era prison.
While on the one hand the order sought to institute periodic reviews of the case of each inmate, it also recognised that military commissions, not only civilian courts, are an “important tool in combating international terrorists that fall within their jurisdiction.” While 36 inmates at Guantanamo Bay are already due to be tried before military commissions, the remaining 89 were reportedly cleared for eventual release.
In January a civilian court sentenced Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (36), a Guantanamo Bay detenu and alleged Al-Qaeda member involved in the 1998 bombings of the U.S.' embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, to life in prison despite being acquitted on all 276 murder and attempted murder charges and four conspiracy charges brought against him.
Both with Ghailani and with numerous other prisoners at Guantanamo legal cases against have been fraught with “evidentiary problems,” which in most situations has implied that the evidence available had been obtained via the use of torture, and could thus be inadmissible in court. While Mr. Obama's latest order requires prisoners to submit documentary evidence every six months their cases will only be reviewed every three years, reports said, leading human rights campaigners to criticise the order for amounting to a volte-face by the White House.
Reports quoted Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union as saying, “It is virtually impossible to imagine how one closes Guantánamo in light of this executive order... In a little over two years, the Obama administration has done a complete about-face.”
Yet Mr. Obama in a statement defended the order, arguing, “From the beginning of my Administration, the U.S. has worked to bring terrorists to justice consistent with our commitment to protect the American people and uphold our values. Today, I am announcing several steps that broaden our ability to bring terrorists to justice, provide oversight for our actions, and ensure the humane treatment of detainees.”