[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Monday urged [press release] President Barack Obama make greater efforts to close Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] despite congressional opposition. In the press release, issued on the eve of the facility’s ninth anniversary in operation [JURIST This Day at Law report], HRW recommended that Obama should escalate efforts to prosecute Guantanamo detainees in federal court or return and resettle them in order to meet US obligations under international law. The rights organization recognized Obama’s commitment in closing the facility, but cited the continued practices of indefinite detention, use of military commissions [JURIST news archive] instead of federal courts, insufficient efforts to repatriate or resettle detainees and not acting forcefully enough to overcome obstacles from Congress as failures of the administration. HRW argued:
Closing Guantanamo is as essential today as it was when President Obama took office in 2009. But Obama can’t keep hoping that a political consensus will form and Congress will make it easy – he has to act to make it happen. Obama still has the authority he needs to bring Guantanamo detainees to justice in US courts or to send them home. If he truly believes that Guantanamo is a scar on America’s reputation, he should assert his authority now.
The press release went to outline the actions and policies already taken by the Obama administration to close Guantanamo but noted that they had not been fully carried out. These included the missed January 2010 deadline to close the facility, failed efforts to relocate detainees to a prison in Illinois, the continued use of military commissions to try detainees and the limited use of federal courts [JURIST reports] despite a stated preference for them.
As noted by HRW, Obama’s efforts to close Guantanamo have faced ongoing opposition from Congress. On Friday, Obama signed a bill barring the transfer of Guantanamo detainees [JURIST report] to the US for trial. The legislation authorized funding for defense interests abroad, military construction and national security-related energy programs and barred the use of funds to transfer detainees into the US and limited funds available for transfers to foreign countries. The administration plans to seek the repeal of these restrictions and opposes the extension or expansion of them in the future. In June 2009, the US House of Representatives denied an Obama administration request for $60 million [JURIST report] to fund the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, and required the president to submit a detailed plan to Congress documenting the costs and risks of transferring a detainee to the US for trial or detention at least two months before the detainee is to be transferred. The number of detainees at Guantanamo has been significantly reduced as the administration continues to transfer detainees to a growing list of countries including Germany, Italy, Spain, Maldives, Georgia, Albania, Latvia, Switzerland, Slovakia, Somaliland, Palau, Belgium, Afghanistan and Bermuda [JURIST reports]. There are currently 178 detainees awaiting transfer from Guantanamo.