Thursday, December 25, 2008

Fate unknown for the Guantanamo Bay detainees when Obama takes office

In anticipation of President-elect Barack Obama’s potential decision to release more than 200 detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, many European countries are now debating whether they should assist in resettling some of the detainees.

The main motivation for doing so is the fear that once the detainees return to their homes, they risk being tortured. Only two countries have publicly announced their involvement in the resettling programme; Germany and Portugal. Meantime, Denmark has refused to have any form of involvement,  stating that it has nothing to do with the detainees.

I think much of the debate lies in defining the term “resettle”,  which raises much of my own curiousity.

Many questions need to be answered before any decision can be made.

1. If the US decides to release them, does that mean they will be free from any prosecution, whether in the present or future? If no, are they going to be detained indefinitely in countries that receive them and where will they be prosecuted?

2. Will the resettling package include reunification of family members, if they are free from any charges?

3. Will  the resettling package include assistance in integrating them in the community? Will they face stigmatization which can be equally bad as torture? The question is, will the society of the country which receives them accept them as part of their community?

4. What if the detainees want to go home? Will they be given that choice?

5. How and who will compensate for the time spent, treatment and status they have received during their detention in Guantanamo Bay, bearing in mind that some of them have been detained for more than 5 years without being charged?

These are pertinent questions that require careful consideration and answers, not just for the detainees but the rest of the world.

Barack Obama may have won the Presidential election and became the first African American president, but will he manage to clean up the mess left behind by the Bush Jr administration? Looks like the economic crisis is not the only problem America has thrown to the world.

Obama has inherited a country which has so much to account for and his charisma will not be the only thing which he can depend on.

Happy New Year, Obama! or should I say, bon courage?

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