Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

The Guantanamo detainee dilemmas Add to ...

There have been calls to close Guantanamo Bay's notorious detention centre since the first blindfolded, shackled detainees walked onto the base's tarmac in January, 2002. But what do you do with the 176 people remaining behind the razor wire and green mesh?

As the camp's population slowly dwindles and cases against those the U.S. government plans to prosecute inch forward, that question is becoming increasingly tricky to answer.

Who poses a risk - to the United States, or elsewhere? Who would be in danger if transported to their country of origin? What do you do if a detainee would rather stay, or if you can't find a country willing to accept released prisoners?

And what do you do if the prosecutors of one detainee can't agree with the people running the U.S. detention centre where they would like to keep him? That's the question the Pentagon now faces since the sentencing last week of Osama bin Laden's cook and driver Ibrahim al-Qosi, who pleaded guilty terrorism-related charges.

Prosecutors are happy to let him stay in Guantanamo's Camp IV, where he's now staying and which is reserved for the most "compliant" detainees. But the joint task force running Guantanamo objected to the idea of having a convict live communally with those awaiting trial or those never charged.

There still is no real policy on what happens to sentenced Guantanamo prisoners - a "troubling" omission, Mr. al-Qosi's military judge, Nancy Paul, noted, and one that will become more problematic as more people are tried.

The issue of what to do with detainees is not new. When the U.S. administration was deciding what to do with the 18 ethnic Uyghurs in Guantanamo, they were deemed not a threat, and China - their country of citizenship - asked for them back.

But the Uyghurs' lawyers and other human-rights advocates argued that sending back to China would be an effective death sentence. Beijing is not known for dealing kindly with minority dissidents from the Uyghurs' restive Xinjiang province.

In the end, they were transferred to other countries - including 17 to Palau, which received $200-million (U.S.) for its trouble.

Last month, Abdul Aziz Naji was repatriated to Algeria against his will after the 35-year-old detainee lost a court battle to let him stay in Guantanamo Bay. His lawyers argue he has "credible fears" he will be persecuted in Algeria, and he would rather be in the Cuban detention centre. The U.S. Supreme Court decided otherwise.

There appears to be an almost visceral opposition to transferring anyone to the United States.

"[People say] 'We don't want it in Illinois, we don't want it in California, we don't want it in our backyard' - that's the only thing you hear," said Colonel Jeffrey Colwell, in charge of Guantanamo's defence lawyers.

Alex Neve, a spokesman for Amnesty Canada, said Amnesty has been working with other NGOs to press multiple governments to help with the resettlement of Guantanamo's denizens.

"We really think Canada should be playing a much more constructive role here," he adds. "But we're hamstrung because if we're not even willing to entertain discussions about accepting the return of one of our own nationals, with what credibility are we going to become part of discussions about finding solutions for others?"

 

In the know

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular