21 January, 08:31

Gitmo - we are not equal before the law

Gitmo - we are not equal before the law
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The most controversial military prison in the world – Guantanamo Bay – is marking its 12th anniversary. Despite the fact that US President Barack Obama pledged to close down the detention camp as far back as in 2009, 155 detainees still remain at Gitmo. Radio VR looks at how human rights are being violated in the place created to defend them. Tune in to our new project “Guantanamo: 12 years of the war on freedom”.

Every citizen of every civilized country knows that you can’t be closed up in prison unless your guilt has been proven in front of the court.

International conventions tell us:

“Everyone has the right to recognition before the law and is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him. Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile”.

Nevertheless, we are now in the 13th year of people being held at Guantanamo without charges, lawyers, or any chance for “a fair and public hearing”. Half of the prisoners – 86 to be exact - have been cleared for release, which means even the United States doesn’t think they ought to be there and yet they are. Murat Kurnaz, former Guantanamo detainee, says there are people who spend most of their lives in the camp but still don’t know why.

“When I used to be there, there were 48 different nations and the problem is that nobody of them got a fair trial. And that means there could be people who are guilty but most of them got sought by mistake. I myself had neighbours who used to be just 9 years old or 12 years old children, and I had many neighbours who were 14 year old kids. And they are still today over there and already are 23 years old,” Murat Kurnaz said.

The main argument used by the Obama administration to explain why the detainees cleared for release still remain in Gitmo, is that back in their homeland these people are going to take up arms and threaten American security. There is always a risk when somebody leaves prison that they might commit some violent activity, but that doesn’t give any country a right to hold people behind the bars unlawfully, argues Medea Benjamin, the co-founder of human rights organization Code Pink.

“I don't know that you are going to leave there thinking the US is a great place. But that is not the point. The point is you just can't hold people. Either you give them a fair trial, you convict them, you let them do their time, and then you still have to release them, unless they've been given life in prison, or you can't call yourself a civilized society. People have been fighting now for almost 800 years since the time of Magna Carta to have the right to a fair trial. And I think whether or not there is a problem that somebody might try fight back against the US, keeping them in prison is not the answer,” Medea Benjamin said.

For centuries constitutions, bills of rights and international declarations have been teaching us that we are equal before the law. For twelve years Guantanamo is showing us - we are not.

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