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by Damien Roustel

Guantanamo, 10 years of disregard for human rights

Translated Sunday 15 January 2012, by Elaine Scott and reviewed by Bill Scoble

On the tenth anniversary of the transfer of detainees to the American detention centre, Amnesty International and two former prisoners call for its closure due to the absence of legislation.

Nearly exactly ten years ago, on the 11th of January 2002, four months after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in New York, detainees were transferred to the American detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, on the island of Cuba. In the space of a decade, 779 people were held at this special prison, most of the time without charge and submitted to torture. Despite the promise of American President Barack Obama to close Guantanamo before 22nd January 2010, the detention centre still remains.

“Human rights are deteriorating in the United States”

In mid-December 2011, 171 suspects, of which the majority were of Yemen origin, were still being held in secret. Amongst these people, 48 would be “held indefinitely”, without charge or trial and six of them are now being judged by a military commission and risk the death penalty.

A situation which has been strongly denounced by the organisation for the defence of human rights, Amnesty International, which has also published a report in English entitled “Guantanamo: A decade of damage to Human Rights”. “For ten years, Guantanamo has become the symbol of the systematic disrespect for human rights in the United States’ response to the attacks of 11th September 2001. The American government has shown a complete disregard for fundamental human rights from the very first transfer of prisoners. Whilst Guantanamo enters into its eleventh year of existence, these breaches continue,” states Amnesty. “Human rights are deteriorating in the United States. The prospect of Guantanamo’s closure is growing more distant. This horror must be stopped,” declared Geneviève Garrigos, President of Amnesty International France.

The former prisoners’ ordeals do not end at leaving Guantanamo. Saber Lahmar and Lakdar Boumediene can bear witness. These two Algerian nationals, arrested in Bosnia and then found innocent of the charges of organising an attack on the American ambassador in Sarajevo, spent nine and seven years in illegal detention. Newly found innocent, they arrived in France in 2009. However, they were still not out of harm’s way. “Algeria is refusing to send my papers so that I can find my family again”, stated Saber Lahmar. “He has spent eight years without a lawyer. He has only temporary residency, he has no future. He isn’t able to rebuild his life”, explains his lawyer, Pierre Blazy. The two former Guantanamo inmates have not received a penny of compensation from the United States.

Lakdar Boumediene, a humanitarian worker for the Red Crescent in Bosnia, still does not know why he was blamed. “Why have I spent seven and a half years at Guantanamo? I don’t know anything. Even now, I don’t have any answers”, he says. Without work, he is living in Nice with his family but he isn’t able to turn over a new leaf. “I can’t forget the torture”, he confesses. He also awaits the delivery of an Algerian passport. “They tell me to be patient. But I have been waiting for two and a half years...”

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