Status of Kuwaiti Inmates at Guantanamo Hangs in Limbo
By Velina Nacheva and Rania El Gamal
November 21, 2006
KUWAIT: The four Kuwaiti detainees held in Guantanamo pose a serious threat of return to acts of terrorism and that is why they have not yet been released, says John Bellinger, the US State Department's chief legal adviser. Bellinger WHO was speaking to journalists in Kuwait, on the issues of detainees held in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, via direct video conferencing from Washington, which was held in the US embassy yesterday evening.
Bellinger explained that the US will continue its discussions with the Kuwaiti government and, "will consider whether there is enough evidence" to try the four detainees held in Guantanamo "for crimes that they may have committed."
He declined to provide a specific timeline, though. Asked if any Kuwaiti detainee will be among the reportedly 80 detainees who are to be tried he said, "There have been only about a dozen individuals who have been designated for trials by a military commission so far." He argued that the reason being the completion of the military commissions legislation.
Opening the DVC, Tanya Anderson, Counsellor for Public Affairs at the US embassy, explained that the objective of the discussion "is to dispel some of the misperceptions about Guantanamo and explain the challenges we face in balancing our commitment to the rights of the detainees and our obligations to protect innocent lives from further acts of terrorism. Guantanamo, also known as Gitmo, was set up in 2001 to detain 'enemy combatants' in the war on terror. According to Amnesty International, Gitmo currently holds 430 detainees from some 40 different countries detained at the prison. Of all those kept in captivity about 300 have since been released or transferred to other countries.
The key to solving the almost five year detention saga is hidden in the new Military Commissions Act (MCA).
Referring to the MCA of 2006, US President George Bush recently signed to law, Bellinger explained, will allow the US to move forward with military commission trials next year. Bush signed the MCA into a law, which sets up commissions or tribunals to try terror suspects who are not US citizens. Although it explains which interrogation methods are regarded as illegal, it also allows the CIA to continue to interrogate suspects in secret locations. There have been important concerns, raised by international human rights organisations and legal experts such as limiting the detainees' access to counsel, encouraging abuse and withholding classified sources and evidences from the defendants and their counsels.
Responding to those concerns, Bellinger said: "There have a good deal of misinformation about the Military Commissions Act, because in a large part I think it is very complicated legally and as a result phoney descriptions of it have been provided by critics rather than the accurate ones. All the detainees in Guantanamo have access to lawyers, they can challenge their cases in our federal courts," he said. Bellinger also explained that if detainees were tried by the military commission and convicted, they still have the right to appeal to the US federal courts. He also denied that there would be any classified evidence withheld from the detainees.
Bellinger who is also the principal adviser on all domestic and international law matters to the Department of State, the Foreign Service, and the diplomatic and consular posts abroad provided two reasons to why the US insists on trying the detainees by a military commission saying, "In most cases these individuals held in Guantanamo were trained in Al-Qaeda training camps and could not be tried in our federal criminal courts because these courts did not have jurisdiction over their activities." He then elaborated on the second reason being the US' "parallel system of military justice" that, he said, goes back hundreds of years. "We have one of the largest military justice systems than any other country in the world with many lawyers, military judges and a completely separate and fair military system.
Asked about military prosecutors' concerns that they would not be able to prove conspiracy in a trial when the evidence was evicted with torture, he contradicted the argument saying, "We do not subject people to torture." Then he stressed that the incident of abuse at Abu Ghraib "were not approved interrogating techniques" but a just group of individuals who were mistreating and abusing the detainees. Bellinger, who is also the principal adviser on legal matters relating to the conduct of foreign relations to other agencies and, through the Secretary of State, to the President and the National Security Council admitted that Guantanamo "has a very bad image" in the Arab and Muslim world.
"Guantanamo is a conundrum for us because we need to continue to hold the individuals who have engaged in acts of terrorism and who pose a threat to us," he said adding that Gitmo has a bad image for a country like the US, which "has always stood up for democracy and human rights." He went on to say that because of the Abu Ghraib abuse "people naturally suspect that the same thing has happened in Guantanamo." "The two situations are completely different," he said adding that what happened in Abu Ghraib "is a disgrace, and terrible criminal acts committed, for which people have been prosecuted." He also explained that the Abu Ghraib incident has horribly damaged the name of the US around the world. Calling it just a maximum-security prison, Bellinger said that people there have exercise facilities, top quality health care and food. "Contrary to some of the allegations that we have seen, all of the detainees have the opportunity to practice their religion. They have all been given a Quran, there is a call to player numerous times a day at which time the individuals may not be questioned," he said explaining that they have access to a Muslim chaplain.
Questioned about previous comments made by Vice President Dick Cheney last month when he agreed in an interview that subjecting prisoners to "a dunk in water" is a "no-brainer" if it could save lives.
Bellinger denied that the comments made by the vice president mean that the individuals in Guantanamo have been dunked in water. "What he (Cheney) was saying that in the abstract that if any of our societies detained an individual who has information that could potentially save thousands of lives... that it was important to take the necessary steps to obtain that information, But was not refereeing to the individuals in Guantanamo," he said.
The US Department of Defence has announced on Friday Nov 18, 2006, that it has released three detainees - an Algerian, an Egyptian and an ethnic Uzbek born in the former Soviet Union - from Guantanamo after being determined that they are no longer enemy combatants. However, instead of handing the released detainees to their respective countries, they will be resettled in Albania. Asked about the reason why those released detainees have been transferred to Albania, Bellinger pointed out that the reason was due to the US concern about their safety after being released and whether they would be mistreated if returned to their country of origin.
"These additional three individuals from different countries had been approved to be released a long time ago and we were prepared to have them just walk out of the door from Guantanamo but they needed a place to go," he said.
He concluded saying, "Countries heap criticism upon the United States about Guantanamo but very few countries are willing to take the individuals that are there, and Albania was willing to resettle these individuals."