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Americas

Rights campaigners slam Trump pledge to keep Guantanamo open

media Detainees in the open-air yard at the Camp 4 detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in 2009 REUTERS/Brennan Linsley/Pool/File Photo

Human rights campaigners have slammed a decision by US President Donald Trump to keep the Guantanamo Bay prison camp open indefinitely. Trump justified the move with a claim there was a rise in jihadists returning to combat.

"It's profoundly disappointing," investigative journalist and author Andy Worthington told RFI Wednesday, in reaction to US President Donald Trump's new executive order to keep Guantanamo Bay open indefinitely.

"Guantanamo isn't going to close without the president wanting it to close, anyway, says Worthington, who is the cofounder of the Close Guantanamo campaign. "So, on one level, it's completely pointless to issue an executive order keeping it open when it was going to stay open."

In 2009 Trump's predecessor Barack Obama signed an order calling for the detention facility to be shut but was not allowed to do so by Congress.

"It's been almost 10 years since then and Guantanamo is still open," says Pakistani activist Amina Masood.

"Whether they say it or not, they don't mean it," is her conclusion.

A point of view shared by former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg, who is now the director of outreach for the prisoner rights organisation, Cage.

"Guantanamo never closed," he told RFI. "The fact that other prisoners will be sent there perhaps from Isis, Al Qaeda, or from the Syrian and Iraqi conflict will essentially mean that the restart button on Guantanamo has just been pressed."

New suspects may be interned

The order, issued at Trump's first State of the Union address, suggests that he may use the facility to house new terrorism suspects for the first time in a decade.

However, a number of questions remain about the treatment of previous and current prisoners, many of whom are held for years without charge or trial.

"I think it's absolutely horrifying that people who may be completely innocent of anything can be held for years and years without any form of judicial process," British human rights lawyer Louise Christian told RFI.

That this has happened at the hands of "what is supposed to be the leader of Western democracies," is equally disturbing for her.

"It sends completely the wrong signal around the world. We try to fight a war against terrorism, we have to respect human rights. If we don't, then we are playing right into the hands of the terrorists because we're behaving like them."

Torture and abuse

The internment camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba opened during George W Bush's presidency in 2001, following the 9/11 terror attacks.

It was intended to be a place where suspects in the war on terror could be interrogated but ended up becoming synonymous with torture and abuse.

Suspects, mainly from Afghanistan and Pakistan, were identified as "enemy combatants", a term which meant that they were not protected by international law.

Obama himself recognised that the detention facility breached international law, as well as undermining America's global leadership on human rights.

Yet, despite this, critics like Moazzam Begg still faults Obama's record.

"Obama never said the one word which was really crucial in holding people without trial and that is to say that they are innocent."

The British Pakistani, who was held in extrajudicial detention by the US government in Guantanamo Bay for nearly three years, also blames Trump's predecessor for failing to establish prosecutions for people who were wrongly imprisoned.

"Because there's no precedent for prosecuting people for war crimes," he says. "Donald Trump can say all these things and do all these things and accept absolutely no accountability."

The news is likely to damage Trump's relations with his allies, Worthington reckons.

"It's going to make it difficult for him to cooperate with other intelligence agencies," he argues. "Because people are going to be worried that Donald Trump will be locking people up and sending them to Guantanamo Bay and starting this whole cycle of indefinite detention without trial all over again."

Pakistan connection

Beyond what it will do for the US's image, the other concern is the impact keeping Guantanamo open indefinitely will have on so-called "terror sponsor" countries.

"The so-called war on terror was fought on the front lines of Afghanistan and Pakistan," says Amina Masood.

"There’s a clear nexus between the US’s war on terror and cases of forced disappearances in Pakistan."

Masood, a mother of three, campaigns to find Pakistan's "missing persons". Like her husband, Masood Janjuar.

The last time she saw him, he was being whisked away in a car with a friend after being stopped on their way to the north-western city of Peshawar in 2005.

“I still don’t know whether my husband is alive, whether he’s been given over to America, or for what and why," she explains. "But, if he’s in Pakistan, where is he? This uncertainty is just killing me. It’s killing me from inside.”

Masood's is just one of over 1,000 cases which were directly affected by the US War on Terror.

"A lot of the people who were seized were not fighting at all," says Louise Christian. "They were simply sold to Afghan warlords who were offered large sums of money to bring foreigners to the Americans. That really caused the feeling of huge injustice."

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