Obama’s struggle to close Gitmo

Obama’s struggle to close Gitmo
The US has been able to detain “enemy combatants” without charging them on the basis that they are not criminals but prisoners of war.

Dozens of people in orange jumpsuits, many with black hoods on their heads, marched outside the White House last week in a grim ritual that has become an annual affair for American groups demanding the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, or Gitmo.

On Jan 11, which marked the 13th anniversary of the prison, similar groups disrupted a session of Congress and held a protest outside the home of former vice-president Dick Cheney, the man they associate with the creation of the United States' most controversial facility.

That the protests are continuing six years after President Barack Obama pledged to shut it down reflects the complex nature of the issue.

On his second day in office in 2009, Mr Obama pledged to shut down the prison within one year. He would discover quite quickly how difficult it was to keep that promise.

Terrorism concerns are at a high in the week since the attacks in Paris: The US has arrested a man for allegedly plotting an attack inspired by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group on the Capitol building, and sentenced radical British cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri to life in prison.

Most agree that closing Guantanamo Bay will be harder than ever.

Professor Matthew Waxman of the Columbia Law School in New York said: "The rise of ISIS and the recent terrorist events strengthen the political hand of those in the US Congress who oppose closing Guantanamo and raise the political risks to President Obama of pushing forward."

Perhaps the most intractable problem the US administration faces is what to do with the 50 or so detainees it considers too dangerous to release, yet are unsuitable for prosecution.

Prosecutors say there is not enough admissible evidence to secure a conviction. Most evidence obtained through torture cannot be used in a trial.

The option of transferring them to US prisons so that Guantanamo can be closed faces strong political opposition from the Republicans keen to keep the facility open. With terror on the minds of Americans, the Republican arguments hold more sway now.

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