Groups urge closure of Guantanamo

Detainees at a U.S. military prison camp in Guantanamo Bay need to be charged or released and the jail shut down, human rights groups said on Wednesday ahead of the fifth anniversary of the camp's opening in Cuba.

Groups urge closure of Guantanamo

Global vigils have been planned by Amnesty International -- in countries including Australia, Israel, Italy, the United States, Japan, Paraguay, Spain, Tunisia and Britain -- to mark the anniversary on Thursday and urge closure of prison.

"No individual can be placed outside the protection of the rule of law, and no government can hold itself above the rule of law. The US government must end this travesty of justice," said Amnesty International's Secretary General Irene Khan.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also want the U.S. Congress to restore the rights of detainees in the naval base camp to contest their imprisonment -- known as Habeas Corpus -- removed under tough new anti-terrorism laws signed by President George W. Bush in October of last year.

The first detainees flown to Guantanamo five years ago were captured in the U.S.-led war on Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001, hijacked airliner attacks on the United States.

Since then more than 770 captives have been held there and of those 10 have been charged with crimes, sparking criticism by foreign governments and rights groups. About 395 suspects remain in the dry, dusty camp in southeast Cuba.

"The rules that were used to put them there have not been rescinded by the United States," Katherine Newell Bierman, Human Rights Watch counter-terrorism counsel, told Reuters. "I don't think any government should have that much power to act on a whim. They can make mistakes," said Newell Bierman.

THREATS THWARTED

Human Rights Watch said military hearings that allow prisoners to challenge their detention before a neutral decision maker are inadequate.

"Without Habeas Corpus proceedings there is no check on the executive power or decisions just to lock people up indefinitely," Newell Bierman said

In 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled detainees could go to American courts to seek their release or changes in confinement conditions. But in October 2006 Bush signed new anti-terrorism laws that suspend prisoners' rights to Habeas Corpus.

"There is no requirement under the law of war ... that a detaining power charge enemy combatants with crimes, or give them lawyers or access to the courts in order to challenge their detention," said Pentagon spokesman Chito Peppler.

"The information gathered from detainees at Guantanamo has undoubtedly saved the lives of U.S. and coalition forces in the field. That information has also thwarted threats posed to innocent civilians at home and abroad," he said.

The charges against 10 Guantanamo detainees were nullified in June when the Supreme Court struck down the military tribunal system created to try the suspects, but the military expects to file revised charges by February.

Amnesty International said the U.S. operation at Guantanamo Bay had weakened human rights and the rule of law and undermined Washington's moral authority to speak on other human rights issues such as the fighting in Darfur, Sudan, which Washington has described as a genocide.

(Additional reporting by Kristen Roberts in Washington)

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Source:Reuters

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