Obama’s Order to Close Guantanamo Is an Important Step, But Only One of Many More to Take

FIDH and CCR welcome President Obama’s first executive order to close Guantanamo and the CIA secret detention sites, but express caution.

Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President, declared:

By ordering the closure of the shameful detention center of Guantanamo, the United States is at last sending a strong sign of political will to reintegrate human rights in US policy in conformity with international human rights obligations under the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture.

We now need concrete guarantees that this is not a mere symbolic gesture, but that a full repudiation of the Bush administration’s illegal and arbitrary policies in the so-called "war on terror" will follow. That means affirming a clear point of no-return to Bush’s practices.

History has shown that impunity favours the repetition of crimes It is therefore fundamental that the Obama administration immediately launches a criminal investigation into the torture allegations and other grave violations of law committed by the Bush administration’s high-level civilian and military officials, starting with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

FIDH and CCR regret that no concrete steps for closing the base were given, leaving one entire year to sort out its plans. "It only took days to put these men in Guantanamo, it shouldn’t take a year to get them out", said Vince Warren, executive director of CCR.

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) issued the following statement:

The order to close Guantánamo, though it provides little detail and allows perhaps too much time to get it done given the pressing issues at stake, is a good start. We believe the president will be able to close Guantánamo in less than a year: the priority must be to repatriate the many men who can go home and find safe havens for the approximately 60 who would face torture or persecution.

The government has to charge the rest of the detainees in federal criminal court. There can be no third way, no new schemes for indefinite or preventive detention or alternative national security courts. Any move in that direction would discredit all of the new administration’s efforts in the eyes of the world.

The order to close the CIA black sites where people were held in secret for the purpose of torture is to be applauded. There is no place for such black holes in a democracy. Their intended purpose is to circumvent the Geneva conventions and our own laws. If the order leaves the option of reviving those sites, it is more symbolic than a true reversal.

The order to make all agencies abide by the Army Field Manual’s acceptable interrogation tactics is perhaps the most important gesture toward restoring our moral authority as a nation. The Center for Constitutional Rights represents so many men who were brutally tortured by our government that this hits home for us in a way that it may not for those with no faces and lives to attach to the story.

Today’s orders are filled with promise. In addition, to ensure no future administration will take us back to these dark times, there needs to be individual accountability for the torture program, and other crimes committed. Prosecution is the only way to deter future lawbreakers. These orders are the right start, let us make sure this does not happen again.

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