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My client is better off at Guantanamo – lawyer

James Calderwood, Foreign Correspondent
The National
December 19, 2009

KUWAIT CITY // US military lawyers for a Kuwaiti being held in Guantanamo Bay said that Barack Obama’s plan to relocate some of the remaining detainees to an Illinois prison will impede the defence of their client.

“We would argue that it makes things worse. Right now, in Guantanamo Bay, there’s a certain routine that’s developed. By putting the detainees in some super-maximum prison in the United States, starting anew, that actually makes it much more detrimental for our client,” said Lt Col Barry Wingard, the lawyer for Fayiz al Kandari, one of two Kuwaitis still being held at the US navy base in Cuba as an “enemy combatant”. The postal code and “paint on the building really isn’t the problem. By closing Guantanamo Bay, we want that to be the beginning of the end, not the end of the beginning,” Col Wingard said.

He said the jail staff at the Thomson Correctional Centre in Illinois would be unfamiliar with the routines that have been established in Guantanamo Bay. He said the conditions will be “very plastic, very sterile, very lighted and very segregated”, and he expects such privileges as being allowed to bring his client food and having contact visits to be removed.

“The living condition is going to be, I expect, much worse than it is in Guantanamo Bay,” he said.

“We’ve talked to several government officials in Kuwait who seem to think that closing Guantanamo Bay is synonymous with the return of their sons. We’re telling them in as loud a voice as we can: that’s not what we see,” he said.

Col Wingard was speaking at the end of a six-day trip to Kuwait last week to meet Mr al Kandari’s family members, officials from the ministry of the interior and the local press. He was accompanied by Lt Cmdr Kevin Bogucki, who has joined Mr al Kandari’s defence team after his first client in Guantanamo Bay, Fouad al Rabiah, was brought back to Kuwait by state security officials this month.

Lt Cmdr Bogucki said Mr al Rabiah is excited to be back and “remains an employee of Kuwait Airways”, where he worked before being detained, and he is now on “medical leave with a view toward returning to a managerial position”. He said Mr al Rabiah will also undergo a programme in Kuwait’s rehabilitation centre that was custom built for former Guantanamo detainees.

“It’s been easy to sort of label this whole problem with the name Guantanamo, but the problem is bigger than that,” Lt Cmdr Bogucki said. “The problem is the detention of foreign nationals without due process.

“The injustice is their lack of access to any sort of meaningful court proceedings, any requirement on the part of the government to prove their guilt by any reasonable standard of evidence. So we would say the fight continues on even after the Guantanamo Bay has been closed.”

The White House instructed the US attorney general to acquire the “nearly vacant” maximum security facility and prepare it for use by both federal prisoners and some Guantanamo Bay detainees last week.

The lawyers expect the prison to be opened in about eight months, but the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said he did not know when the prison would open during a briefing in Washington last week.

Dick Durban, a US senator from Illinois, said the facility will house about half of the 210 detainees who are still in Cuba.

Many of the remaining detainees are waiting to be freed or extradited to their home countries, others are thought to be too dangerous to release but cannot be tried because of a lack of evidence.

A letter from senior US officials including the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and the defence secretary, Robert Gates, to the governor of Illinois said procurement of the prison will help to achieve their goal of closing the detention centre in Guantanamo Bay in a “timely, secure and lawful manner”.

The closure will “protect our national security and help our troops by removing a deadly recruiting tool from the hands of al Qa’eda”, the letter said.

The Republican leader in the US House of Representatives, John Boehner, said to reporters on Thursday that at least two pieces of legislation would have to go through Congress before the detainees can be relocated, Reuters reported.

“I wouldn’t bet on when those two pieces of legislation will pass, if ever,” Mr Boehner said.

Democrats hold a majority in both houses of Congress, but some members of both parties are unsure of the president’s plan to close the controversial prison.

Don Manzullo, a Republican congressman of Illinois, said in a statement: “I continue to have serious reservations about moving Guantanamo Bay terrorists to Thomson.

“The hatred the terrorists have toward Guantanamo would transfer to Thomson, Illinois, thus creating a magnet for terrorist activity,” Mr Manzullo said.

Some Illinois Democrats have supported the plan, focusing on the economic benefits it could bring to the state.

“This is an opportunity to dramatically reduce unemployment, create thousands of good paying jobs and breathe new economic life into this part of downstate Illinois,” said Mr Durbin and the Illinois governor, Pat Quinn, in a joint statement.

They said the prison could create more than 3,000 jobs and inject US$1billion (Dh3.7bn) into the local economy.

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