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GUANTANAMO TO CLOSE?

18-11-2008

Doctor David Nicholl and guantanamo families

Could some of the inmates of America’s notorious Cuban prison camp be allowed into the US as asylum seekers? Dr David Nicholl ponders an unlikely scenario.

In his first major interview as President-elect, Barack Obama has announced that he will close Guantanamo as he wants to rebuild America’s “moral stature in the World” but what does this mean in practice?

Will all the 250 or inmates be transferred to a US federal prison on the mainland and face a proper trial and then be released. There is no simple answer. Just to take one example, what will he do about the Chinese Uighirs (pronounced ‘Weegers’) there?

The Uighirs are a Muslim sect in China, and although most of the human rights focus was on Tibet during the Olympics, there was trouble in the main Uighir province in China as there is severe oppression of any religious expression in China.

Several Uighirs who were escaping from China were sold onto the Americans as ‘Al Qaeda suspects’ by Afghan and Pakistani locals for lucrative bounty fees.

Even the US military now agree they are innocent, but they won’t send them back to China such is the risk of them facing human rights abuses in China, much to the Chinese authorities annoyance.

The US authorities have approached dozens of countries to take them, but none have been willing apart from one bizarre exception. Hardly surprising really given that President Bush has listed all the detainees as “Bad Men”, it wouldn’t look too good for any government to be taking them in.

Yet Dick Cheney and Bush did succeed in getting one country to take some of the Uighirs off their hands in Gitmo, Albania, a matter of days before Dick Cheney joined the Albanian President to support the Albanian bid to join NATO in May 2006. Not that there was any coincidence in this timing!

Some friendly folks in Florida have offered to take some of the Uighirs to their home town as asylum seekers, but so far, the US authorities have baulked at this suggestion even though a judge has said they should be released immediately.

Yet there is a historical precedent - in 1991, thousands of asylum seekers from Haiti ended up in Guantanamo Bay. Most were eventually repatriated to Haiti, 142 were sent to the US.

Only when it became clear that some of there HIV+ and were dying of AIDS that some eventually achieved asylum status and were transferred to mainland US after a lengthy Supreme Court case.

Could some of the residents of Guantanamo labelled by Bush as “the worst of the worst” end up being accepted as asylum seekers in the US?

Maybe not as far fetched as it sounds, after all, it happened before in Guantanamo. So although Obama says he will close Guantanamo, the devil is very much in the detail.

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