HUMAN rights activists hailed US President Barack Obama’s decision to suspend military trials at Guantanamo Bay as a “first step” towards closing the detention camp on Wednesday.
The White House has filed motions to suspend proceedings at the infamous camp for 120 days until Mr Obama’s administration completes a review of the system for prosecuting suspected terrorists.
Military lawyer William Kuebler said that the White House motions have “the practical effect of stopping the process, probably forever.”
Only about 20 have been charged.
Mr Obama’s nominee for attorney general Eric Holder has said that the so-called military commissions, which were created by former president George W Bush and congress in 2006, lack sufficient legal protections for defendants.
Mr Holder has argued that they could be tried in US federal courts.
British human rights group Reprieve, which represents 30 detainees at the camp, called on Mr Obama to “help to drain the poisoned chalice left to him by his predecessor.”
Reprieve director Clive Stafford Smith said: “This is a wonderful and historic first step, but it is much too early to cry: ‘Mission accomplished’.”
American Civil Liberties Union human rights programme director Jamil Dakwar agreed, noting that “the president’s order leaves open the option of this discredited system remaining in existence.”
According to Reprieve, British resident Binyam Mohamed has endured “medieval torture” at the camp and is currently on hunger strike.
Mr Mohamed is in solitary confinement, desperate for an idea of when he will be released.
Another prisoner represented by Reprieve, Mohamed el Gharani, has been held for seven years based largely on allegations that he was a member of the “London cell of al-Qaida” when he would have been 11 years old.
He was recently cleared for release by a federal judge, who noted that he had never been to London.
Pointing to CIA secret prisons in the Middle East, Africa and beyond, Reprieve observed that Guantanamo “is just the tip of the iceberg.”
“Many thousands of prisoners continue to be held by the US beyond the rule of law in sites across the world,” the group emphasised, describing every prisoner that languishes in a secret prison as “a corrosive legacy of the Bush era.”
Reprieve called on Mr Obama to “urgently close Guantanamo Bay and shine a light on the thousands of prisoners still held beyond the reach of our lawyers.”