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Legal limbo of the Guantánamo detainees continues

USA: one year on - the legal limbo of the Guantánamo detainees continues

The US government must end the legal black hole into which it has thrown hundreds of detainees in Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, Amnesty International said today, the first anniversary of the first prisoner transfers from Afghanistan to the US Naval Base. There are currently more than 600 detainees of around 40 nationalities held in Guantánamo.

"This legal limbo is a continuing violation of human rights standards which the international community must not ignore", Amnesty International said.

"No access to the courts, lawyers or relatives; the prospect of indefinite detention in small cells for up to 24 hours a day; the possibility of trials by executive military commissions with the power to hand down death sentences and no right of appeal: is this how the USA defends human rights and the rule of law?", Amnesty International asked, recalling the Secretary of State's promise last year that the USA would 'not relax our commitment to advancing the cause of human rights'.

Amnesty International has repeatedly written to the US authorities calling for the detainees to be treated in accordance with international law and standards, and has also requested access to the Guantánamo facility. It has received no response.

Recent reports have suggested that up to 10 per cent of the detainees were transferred to Guantánamo despite having already been deemed to have been of no intelligence value during interrogations in Afghanistan. Ten months ago, a deputy commander at the base was reported to have said that some of the detainees appeared to be 'victims of circumstance'.

"The importance of allowing these detainees to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in a court of law cannot be overstated", Amnesty International continued. "That is a fundamental human right, and one that protects against arbitrary arrest and detention".

Among the early transferees were six Algerian nationals seized by US officials in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Their case was described by a representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights as one of 'extrajudicial removal from sovereign territory'.

Amnesty International is currently investigating reports that two men, of Iraqi and Jordanian nationality, arrested and held incommunicado in Gambia in November 2002 on suspicion of having links to al-Qa'ida, have secretly been transferred to Guantánamo Bay.

"In his State of the Union Address last year, President Bush said that the USA will lead by defending justice everywhere", Amnesty International recalled. "It is time his government looked to its actions with regard to the Guantánamo detainees."

Amnesty International has called for the voluntary repatriation of all those detained as combatants during the international armed conflict in Afghanistan, as required under the Geneva Conventions, unless they are to be charged with criminal offences or would face serious human rights abuses if returned to their country. Any other of the Guantánamo detainees should be charged with recognizably criminal offences and tried within a reasonable time, or released, but not returned to any country where they would be at risk of torture, execution or other serious human rights abuses.

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