January 21, 2009 (Washington D.C.)-- On his first day in office, President Barack Obama ordered that the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay be closed down within a year. Closure of the now-infamous detention facility could result in some of the 245 prisoners held there being transferred to Camp Pendleton in San Diego, according to a Pentagon study. Newly elected Congressman Duncan D. Hunter (R-Alpine) has introduced a bill, coauthored by San Diego Republican Congressmen Darrell Issa and Brian Bilbray, to block transfer of detainees from Guantanamo to Pendleton. Although the Marine Corps Base is not in his district, Hunter has been named to the House Armed Services Committee formerly chaired by his father.
Prior to Obama taking office, Hunter sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates stating that "Any attempt to accommodate detainees at Camp Pendleton would create an unnecessary distraction for the Marine Corps and interfere with its primary mission, which is to combat terrorism." He added, "Redirecting these detainees to Camp Pendleton would also present a serious threat to surrounding military installations and resources, as well as the community's civilian population. San Diego is not the place to transfer these terror suspects and experiment with new detention procedures." Hunter, a Marine combat veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, has called Obama's decision to close Guantanamo "a serious mistake," adding, "Suspected terrorists should continue being held at Guantanamo Bay, where they can be safely contained."
But Defense Secretary Robert Gates has rejected arguments by Hunter and other area Congerssman. According to an article in the North County Times on January 22, Gates stated, "The challenge that faces us and that I've acknowledged before is figuring out how do we close Guantanamo and at the same time safeguard the security of the American people," Gates said during a Pentagon news conference. "I believe that there are answers to those questions."http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2009/01/22/military/z631b407c01498949882...
The U.S. prison at Guantanamo has become an international symbol of oppression and controversy following repeated allegations of prisoner abuse and torture. United Nations human rights investigators have called for the camp's closure after announcing they found evidence that torture had occurred. In a report in May 2005, the human rights group Amnesty International called the camp "the gulag of our times" and also called for it to be shut down. Torture allegations, if true, would be a violation of international law and arguably the Geneva Convention, which requires humane treatment of prisoners.
An FBI memo, reported in the New York Times, described incidents of abuse involving strangulation, beatings and the placing of lit cigarettes into detainees' ears. A sergeant also complained of seeing an inmate's head slammed against a cell door.
According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), allegations of torture or abuse included "the force-feeding of hunger strikers through nasal tubes and the simultaneous use of interrogation techniques such as prolonged solitary confinement and exposure to extreme temperatures, noise and light." Three inmates have committed suicide and others had mental breakdowns, the BBC reported.
A CIA video reportedly contained footage of "horrific injuries" inflicted by torture-- including brutalized genitals, according to the UK independent. The British paper also reported that the CIA destroyed tapes allegedly containing evidence of other torture incidents. Many detainees have also claimed they were denied access to a lawyer.
The Bush administration argued that the U.S. is entitled to hold prisoners indefinitely without charges as "enemy combatants" who do not have the rights afford to either prisoners or war or to U.S. citizens accused of crimes. President Bush rescinded habeus corpus, the right of detainees to seek relief in court from unlawful detainment.
More than 750 prisoners have been detained since the 911 attacks in 2001; only 10 have been brought to trial. Some have been released, but 245 are still incarcerated. Those included suspected 9-11 hijackers as well as alleged enemy combatants in Afghanistan--a nation where bounties were paid, providing incentive for potential false claims by people seeking money or revenge against another person.
"We need to bring a close to this sad chapter in American history," Obama stated in May 2007. "We can close down Guantanamo and we can restore habeas corpus and we can lead with our ideas and our values."
Obama's executive order also halts the military tribunal of an inmate held at Guantanamo until the military commission process is reviewed. The process has been criticized because the military serves as jailer, judge and jury. A judge has suspected the case for 120 days.
Closure of the Guantanamo prison is expected to take up to a year. Some of the remaining prisoners could be returned to their home countries or granted asylum in other nations if their home countries refuse to take them. Prisoners not released could also be transferred to military prisons or possibly private prisons in the mainland U.S., where they could ultimately face charges in U.S. courts.
During a debate with John McCain last year, Obama praised a recent Supreme Court decision allowing detainees to challenge their imprisonments in U.S. Courts (a direct repudiation by the Court of the Bush policey to hold terror suspects without the protection of U.S. law. Even when the Nazis' atrocities were revealed after World War II, Obama observed, "We still gave them a day in court--at the Nuremburg trials. That taught the entire world who we are."
In his inaugural address, President Obama again emphasized the need to respect justice as well as rights of individuals, rejecting as â "false the choice between our safety and our ideals."