50 identified for detention without trial at Guantánamo


A US justice department-led task force has concluded that almost 50 detainees at the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, should be held indefinitely without trial under the laws of war, according to Obama administration officials.

The task force’s findings represent the first time that the Obama administration has clarified how many detainees it considers too dangerous to release but unprosecutable because officials fear trials could compromise intelligence-gathering and because detainees could challenge evidence obtained through coercion.

Human rights advocates have bemoaned the administration’s failure to fulfil President Barack Obama’s promise last January to close the Guantánamo Bay facility within a year as well as its reliance on indefinite detention, a mechanism devised during George W Bush’s administration that they deem unconstitutional.

The task force has recommended that Guantánamo detainees be divided into three main groups: about 35 who should be prosecuted in federal or military courts; at least 110 who can be released, either immediately or eventually; and the nearly 50 who must be detained without trial.

Administration officials argue that detaining terrorism suspects under Congress’s authorisation of the use of force against al-Qaeda and the Taliban is legal and that each detainee has the right to challenge his incarceration in habeas corpus proceedings in federal court.

“The task force recommendations are based on all of the known information about each detainee, but there are variables that could change a detainee’s status, such as being ordered released by the courts or a changed security situation in a proposed transfer state,” an administration official said.

Moving a significant number of detainees to the United States remains key to the administration’s now-delayed plan to empty the military facility. The federal government plans to acquire a state prison in Thomson, Illinois, to house Guantánamo detainees, but the plan faces major hurdles.

Congress has barred the transfer of Guantánamo detainees to the US except for prosecution. And a coalition of Republicans opposed to any transfers and some Democrats critical of detention without trial could yet derail the possibility of using the Thomson facility for anything other than military commissions, according to congressional staffers.

Some European officials, who would like to see Guantánamo Bay closed without instituting indefinite detention, are advocating the creation of an internationally funded rehabilitation centre for terrorism suspects in Yemen and possibly Afghanistan. They say such a facility would gradually allow the transfer of all detainees from those countries back to their homelands, according to two sources familiar with the plan.

A clear majority of the detainees slated for prolonged detention are either Yemeni or Afghan, and European officials think the others could eventually be resettled under close supervision.

European officials hope to raise the issue at an international conference in London next week that will address the situations in Yemen and Afghanistan.