One of Barack Obama’s first pledges upon becoming president at the beginning of this year was to close the illegal prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, by 22 January 2010. Now, with only weeks to go before the deadline, this is proving to be easier said than done.
Several dozen prisoners have been released during this year, including two who were captured at the age of 14, yet more than 200 still remain. Their situation is more precarious than ever. The US has been reluctant to allow any prisoners into the mainland. Congress recently voted for only prisoners facing trial to be allowed in for this purpose only.
However, after eight years of torture, abuse and arbitrary detention, less than a handful face any charges and all are still stuck in legal limbo.
The US administration recently stated that at least 75 prisoners had been cleared for release, but it has come up against reluctance from other countries to take them.
Several European countries have accepted a token prisoner and smaller nations such as Bermuda and Palau have done much to help shoulder the burden.
Britain has two residents still held prisoner there: a 38-year-old Saudi national who has a British family, including a seven-year-old son he has never met, in south London; and an Algerian asylum seeker from Bournemouth, who was cleared for release from Guantánamo Bay almost two years ago but has nowhere to go.
Elsewhere progress has also been slow and more or less a continuation of Bush’s policy. Illegal prisons have closed down in Iraq, but most prisoners, held without charge or trial for indefinite periods, have just been transferred elsewhere.
Bagram, in Afghanistan, is the new Guantánamo. With limited access to medical care and the Red Cross, no access to their families or legal assistance, the numerous and unknown, mostly Afghan, prisoners held there have no status at all.
Most of the Guantánamo prisoners previously held at Bagram, have reported that the torture was worse there than elsewhere. Extraordinary rendition is also still official policy.
The London Guantánamo Campaign does not intend to allow the eighth anniversary of Guantánamo Bay opening up in its current incarnation to go unnoticed.
On Monday 11 January, we will be holding a lunchtime demonstration outside the US embassy in Grosvenor Square, London between 12.30-2pm. Confirmed speakers include Andy Worthington and Bruce Kent.