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Inside Story Americas

The quagmire of Guantanamo

As President Obama appoints an official to edge the closing of the facility, we ask if any real progress is being made.

Last Modified: 18 Jun 2013 13:11
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US President Barack Obama has appointed a Washington lawyer to oversee the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, but is he likely to succeed where others have failed?

Cliff [Sloan] has two challenges: one is obviously to see what can be done to resettle the detainees and to see whether there is an effective rehabilitation programme in place to accept them - but largely his challenge is to work with Congress [because] there is stiff resistance to closing Guantanamo.

PJ Crowley, former US assistant secretary of state for public affairs

The continuing hunger strike by over 100 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay has only served to draw attention to one of the most glaring unkept promises of Obama's presidency.

Last month, however, the president pledged to lift his self-imposed ban on transferring Guantanamo detainees to Yemen. He also promised to name envoys at both the state department and the Pentagon to expedite the prison's closure.

The Pentagon position remains unfilled, but Clifford Sloan was just appointed the state department's envoy.

Sloan, an attorney, has held a number of jobs in government and around Washington DC. He has worked for both Democrats and Republicans and was also an associate counsel to former President Bill Clinton, an assistant to the solicitor general in former president George Bush's administration, as well as an informal adviser to John Kerry. He is also a partner at a prominent Washington law firm and a former clerk for a Supreme Court justice.

When asked about a timeline for closing Guantanamo, state department spokeswoman, Jennifer Psaki, said there wasn't one, but that it is something the US is committed to: "Clearly, when the president of the United States talks about something in his speech, when we've taken follow-up steps like appointing this official to work here at the state department, this is something we are committed to. And we will be driving, moving forward."

Meanwhile, the hunger strike continues in a prison that was described as "a medical ethics-free zone" by a group of American doctors in the New England Journal of Medicine last week.

Enough with this argument with Congress. The president has an inherent authority to transfer individuals and the general public does not understand that he has waiver authority to do it now to transfer individuals that unanimously have been declared not dangerous.

Carlos Warner, federal public defender of 11 detainees

And excerpt of that editorial read: "Physicians at Guantanamo cannot permit the military to use them and their medical skills for political purposes and still comply with their ethical obligations. Force-feeding a competent person is not the practice of medicine; it is aggravated assault.

"Guantanamo has been described as a 'legal black hole'. As it increasingly also becomes a medical ethics–free zone, we believe it's time for the medical profession to take constructive political action to try to heal the damage and ensure that civilian and military physicians follow the same medical ethics principles."

It continued: "Using a physician to assault prisoners no more changes the nature of the act than using physicians to 'monitor' torture makes torture a medical procedure.

"Military physicians are no more entitled to betray medical ethics than military lawyers are to betray the Constitution or military chaplains are to betray their religion."

To discuss the latest developments around Guantanamo Bay, Inside Story Americas, with presenter Shihab Rattansi is joined by guests: David Remes, the legal director of Appeal for Justice, a human rights and civil liberties litigation firm which represents 18 Guantanamo detainees; Carlos Warner, a federal public defender who represents 11 Guantanamo prisoners; and PJ Crowley, who has served as US assistant secretary of state for public affairs between 2009 and 2011, and is currently a fellow at the George Washington University institute for public diplomacy and global communications.

"If the United States wants a rehabilitation centre, it could spend $50m on it and it could still save money compared to what it costs to house a detainee. I don't hear of movements of progress on transfers. Plus, the president would have to give Congress 30 days' notice in advance - so it would be a public thing."

- David Remes, legal director of Appeal for Justice

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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