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EU Accepting Guantánamo Detainees Would Signal Global Support for Restoring the Rule of Law

Jennifer Turner,
Human Rights Researcher,
ACLU Human Rights Program
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February 2, 2009

(Originally posted in Jurist.)

President Obama’s recent executive orders to close the Guantánamo Bay prison camp within a year and to reverse many of the Bush Administration’s most egregious detention and torture policies were a huge first step in restoring America’s standing in the world. With his swift actions, Obama sent a message to the world that the U.S. is newly recommitted to the rule of law. In an encouraging sign, our European allies are now responding to that recommitment. On Monday, European Union (EU) Commissioner Javier Solana announced that several EU member states would likely be willing to accept former Guantánamo Bay prisoners.

The ACLU welcomes the interest of the European leaders, who are trying to assist Obama in making good on his promise to shut down Guantánamo. Their leadership signals a new day not just in America, but in relations with our European allies. Guantánamo was a problem created by the Bush administration, and the fact that several European countries are willing to assist in this uniquely American legal debacle should be welcomed and appreciated for what it is.

To encourage other countries to support the Obama Administration’s closure of Guantánamo and to facilitate swift restoration of the rule of law, the United States should also accept some of the former Guantánamo detainees cleared of wrongdoing for resettlement in the U.S. As a first step, the Obama Administration should respond to the EU’s offer by resettling in the U.S. the 17 Uighur Guantánamo detainees who are members of a long-persecuted Chinese Muslim minority. More than three months ago, a federal judge ordered the government to transfer the Uighurs to the U.S., but that order is on hold due to a pending Bush Administration legal challenge.

While it is positive news that progress is being made to implement the closure of Guantánamo, it should be noted that the executive order signed by the president merely outlines a process and not the complete plan for shutting down the prison camp. The executive order leaves open questions as to whether terrorism suspects may still be held indefinitely without charge or whether the military commissions will be ended and not just halted.

The Obama Administration must continue to take steps to fully restore the rule of law as it moves toward shuttering Guantánamo. That means full and fair criminal trials of Guantánamo detainees in U.S. courts, or repatriation to their home countries or resettlement in third countries in cases where detainees would face torture or indefinite detention at home. Assurances from the Obama Administration that indefinite detention will be unequivocally banned and that the Guantánamo military commissions won’t be shipped to American shores would help expedite the closing of Guantánamo and the long-delayed release of certain prisoners, and assure the world that the rule of law will be fully restored.

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