U.S. Obligation to Freed Gitmo Detainees

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(Originally posted on Daily Kos)

Four Uighur former Guantanamo inmates are now in Bermuda, other detainees have been released to France, Chad, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Hungary, Italy and Palau appear to have joined the ranks of countries prepared to accept detainees cleared for release. The pace of releases finally seems to be picking up and that is a cause for optimism.

But, while groups like Amnesty are pleased to see these individuals finally released from wrongful detention, we are disturbed that there has been no public announcement that any of these individuals will receive compensation for their ill-treatment or any assistance from the United States in rebuilding their lives or coming to terms with their experiences.

Many of you reading this blog may feel that this is a side issue but it is not. International law requires the U.S. to provide remedy to those who have been wrongfully imprisoned.

Consider for a moment what the men recently released have lost. They have lost seven years of their lives. Quite apart from the personal deprivation of liberty that is also seven years of lost earning potential – one fifth of a working life. Their families too have been without their primary breadwinner all this time.

Furthermore, what kind of future do they have to look forward to? They certainly haven’t had the opportunity to learn or develop a trade while in detention, nor are many of them returning to a society they know well. Some may not even speak the local language. However idyllic Bermuda may appear in press photographs, it is a world away from the Central Asian steppe the Uighurs are used to.

Some released inmates may be grappling with medical or mental health problems. Defense attorney, Jeffrey Colman, a thirty-five year veteran of the criminal justice system who has represented four GITMO inmates this week described the facility as:

“Unlike any other institution… there is a level of hopelessness unlike anything I have ever seen.”

We know 5 inmates have committed suicide since the camp opened and in March this year the Department of Defense reported that 34 inmates were on hunger strike. Such figures give some insight into the harrowing nature of the detainees’ experiences – yet no provision has been made to support their rehabilitation.

Closing Guantanamo is not in and of itself enough. We have a moral and legal obligation to aid the reintegration of former inmates back into society. These men have been convicted of no crime. In our system that means they are innocent. No ifs or buts.

Innocent men wrongly held for seven years have a right to compensation. The Obama administration can’t simply shove them out the gates of Camp Delta and forget about them. The United States must take responsibility for rebuilding lives it has ruined.

Sri Lanka and the keeping of promises

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The U.N. said today (April 29) that two aerial bombardments were reported in the conflict zone in northeastern Sri Lanka on April 28.  This follows the Sri Lankan government’s statement last Monday that the security forces had been instructed to end the use of combat aircraft and aerial weapons, in their ongoing offensive against the opposition Tamil Tigers.  Is the Sri Lankan government keeping to its promise?  The Tigers are now confined to a small strip of coastal land, about 5 square miles, in northeastern Sri Lanka.  With the Tigers are an estimated 50,000 civilians, who’ve been prevented by the Tigers from leaving the area.

For their part, the Tigers had declared a unilateral ceasefire last Sunday.  The Sri Lankan government said today that the Tigers’ ceasefire was a bluff as the Tigers had reportedly carried out seven suicide attacks against government troops in the prior 24 hours.  Are the Tigers keeping to their ceasefire promise?

The foreign ministers of both Great Britain and France visited Sri Lanka today and tried to get the Sri Lankan government to halt its offensive against the Tigers and allow humanitarian aid into the conflict area.  The ministers later reported that they had failed to get the Sri Lankan government to make this commitment.  The U.N appealed again today for a humanitarian pause in the fighting to allow the trapped civilians to leave the war zone and to allow aid into the zone.  The Sri Lankan government has not promised to cease fighting, and the Tigers have not promised to let the civilians leave if the government did call a temporary halt.

In response to the over 100,000 civilians who’ve fled the war zone over the past 10 days, the U.N. and various international donors have pledged millions of dollars in emergency assistance in recent days.

There are promises that need to be made by each side in Sri Lanka’s conflict and promises that, having been made, need to be kept.  The international community should hold both sides to account and should be sure to honor its own pledges of assistance to the displaced civilians.