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Innocent, but still locked-up: Guantanamo prisoners stay behind bars years after being cleared for release

Published time: June 07, 2012 18:21
Edited time: June 07, 2012 22:21
AFP Photo / Jim Watson

AFP Photo / Jim Watson

President Obama didn't keep his promise of closing the Guantanamo Bay military prison, but has the White House even tried? A new report reveals that more than half of the detainees cleared for release from Gitmo are still imprisoned there.

Of the 169 international terror suspects still stuck behind bars at one of the world’s most notorious jails, 87 have been long-approved for release, some as far back as during the George W Bush administration. British journalist Andy Worthington writes on his website this week that not only has US President Barack Obama failed to keep his promise of closing down Gitmo, but his administration has had serious problems with processing prisoners.

During his second day as commander-in-chief, President Obama signed an executive order that he said would be the first step in quickly closing down Guantanamo Bay. Now as the president campaigns for reelection more than three years after taking the oath of office, not only is Gitmo still in operation but it its confines contain prisoners cleared for release before Obama was even elected for his first time.

Many Gitmo detainees, writes Worthington, were told they’d be let go half a decade ago.

“One of the greatest injustices at Guantánamo is that, of the 169 prisoners still held, over half — 87 in total — were cleared for release by President Obama’s interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force,” writes Worthington. That task force, he says, was established at the dawn of the Obama administration and has pulled minds from varying intelligence agencies and government departments to determine the fate of the prisoners. Even after being let off the hook, however, dozens of those detainees have been subjected to continuous imprisonment at the military jail.

“What this analysis makes clear is that almost a quarter of the prisoners still held at Guantánamo — men that the US government acknowledges it does not want to continue holding, or to put on trial — have been waiting for their freedom for between four and eight years, a statistic that ought to shock anyone concerned with fairness and justice,” says Worthington.

What’s more, he writes, is that the government is going to great lengths to keep the identity of those unjustly imprisoned detainees under wraps. The journalists explains, however, that through research accumulated by combing through the classified military files released last year by WikiLeaks and by documents made available by President George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Worthington has been able to identify 40 men— 23 Yemenis, and 17 from other countries — “who, between 2004 and 2009, were cleared for release by the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo, by military review boards under the Bush administration, or by President Obama’s Task Force.”

Worthington also says that he has identified the actual authorization forms where these decisions were noted yet apparently ignored.

Obama’s Task Force, he adds, has cleared 156 prisoners for release since he entered office in January 2009. In those three-and-a-half years, however, only 69 have actually been released from Gitmo.

“The majority of the 40 men identified through my research were cleared during the Bush administration, between 2004 and 2008, but although it is possible that some of them subsequently had the recommendations for their release withdrawn, it is, I believe, fair to assume that the majority did not, and that the Task Force largely concurred with the decisions made by military review boards under the Bush administration,” he adds. “I believe it is fair to say that the 40 names that I have identified clarify who has been cleared for release to a greater extent than has previously been revealed.”

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