Obama orders closure of Gitmo prison camp
Published Thursday, January 22, 2009 9:26PM EST
The U.S. detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba will be closed within a year following an order signed by U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday.
Obama signed three presidential orders and a presidential directive Thursday in a move to overhaul how terror suspects are treated while in U.S. custody.
"The message that we are sending the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism and we are going to do so vigilantly and we are going to do so effectively and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals," Obama said.
A draft of the order pertaining to the closure of Gitmo, which was obtained by The Associated Press, requires that the case of each detainee held at Gitmo be reviewed to decide whether they should be returned to their home country, released or transferred to another U.S. prison.
An estimated 245 men are been held at the base in Cuba, including 22-year-old Canadian-born Omar Khadr.
Ahead of the signing Thursday, the Tories reaffirmed that they won't pressure the Americans to send Khadr back to Canada.
Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Thursday that Ottawa won't get involved in Khadr's case "until such time as the Americans and the judicial system has gone and run its course."
He said the Tories' position has not changed.
"Our position is this individual of course has been arrested, he's being held by the Americans and he's facing serious charges," Cannon told CTV's Canada AM.
"...Fundamentally, this is a case that is in front of an American justice system and we're going to follow it until the end."
But Khadr's U.S. military lawyer, Lt.-Cmdr. William Kuebler, rebuffed Cannon's argument Thursday, saying there was no "legal process" anymore against his client.
"The reality as of today is that there is no ongoing legal process against Omar Khadr and so that is simply no longer a justification or reason for not acting," Kuebler said, referring to the position stated by Cannon.
"There is no concern with interfering in some sort of a process because whatever process the U.S. government ultimately elects to employ against Omar Khadr, it's not the process that was terminated yesterday."
On Wednesday, a Gitmo military judge agreed to a request from Obama to adjourn the war-crimes proceedings against Khadr, and five others, for 120 days.
Kuebler says the adjournment is akin to a dismissal of charges against his client.
Still, without action from Ottawa, Kuebler said his client remains in limbo.
"It is quite stressful and quite difficult for him right now as we go forward," he said.
"... He stays there (at Gitmo) without any kind of an ongoing or real due process proceeding which again undermines the comments the Canadian government is making today about waiting for a process to unfold that doesn't actually exist anymore."
Khadr is accused of killing an American soldier in Afghanistan in July 2002, when he was 15. The Tories have faced intense criticism for not pressuring the U.S. to release Khadr so he could face a trial in Canada.
"Our government has dragged its feet in the most inexplicable way," Amir Attaran, law professor at the University of Ottawa, told CTV's Canada AM on Thursday.
He said Khadr is the only inmate left at Gitmo from a Western country. All of the other Western countries sought for their prisoners to be returned.
"It's just inevitable that Omar Khadr will come back to Canada," Attaran said.
"The only issue is whether Mr. Harper, who is actually the only person to blame for this blight on our national performance compared to our allies, will make that phone call sooner rather than later and ask for him back."
During his presidential campaign, Obama vowed to close the facility, which has been subject to harsh international criticism claiming it violates the rights of detainees.
In an interview published Thursday by the Russian news agency Itar-Tass, Cuban leader Raul Castro said he wants the U.S. out of his country entirely.
"We demand that not only this prison but also this base should be closed and the territory it occupies should be returned to its legal owner -- the Cuban people," Castro said, according to The Associated Press.
Two U.S. government officials close to Obama confirmed to AP the contents of the two other executive orders and a presidential directive.
The measures, according to AP, include:
- An executive order creating a task force that would have 30 days to recommend policies on handling terror suspects who are detained in the future. Specifically, the group would look at where those detainees should be housed since Guantanamo is closing.
- An executive order to require all U.S. personnel to follow the U.S. Army Field Manual while interrogating detainees. The manual explicitly prohibits threats, coercion, physical abuse and waterboarding, a technique that creates the sensation of drowning and has been termed a form of torture by critics.
- A presidential directive for the Justice Department to review the case of Qatar native Ali al-Marri, who is the only enemy combatant currently being held on U.S. soil.
"We believe that the Army Field Manual reflects the best judgment of our military, that we can abide by a rule that says we don't torture, but that we can still effectively obtain the intelligence that we need," Obama said.
"We intend to win this fight. We're going to win it on our terms," he added as he signed the three executive orders and a presidential directive.
Richard Weitz, director of the Center for Political- Military Analysis at the Washington-based Hudson Institute, said on CTV's On the Hill that Obama's moves are making some veterans within the intelligence agencies nervous about their past actions or associations.
"(However), the president has tried to make clear he wants to change policies and he's not out for a witch hunt," he said.
With files from The Associated Press