January 17, 2009

The Future of Guantanamo Bay and Cuba

POLITICS - When Barack Obama sweeps into power he will have to make some decisions for what to do about Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and its detainees.

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama recently said he could not close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in his first 100 days in office, but he didn't rule out eventually shutting down the place Amnesty International dubbed the "gulag of our times."

He isn't backing down on his promise and according to Obama aides will issue an executive order to close the prison as early as Wednesday, the day after his inauguration.

The 248 prisoners currently at Guantanamo Bay would then be moved and, presumably, finally given a trial. The process will probably be bogged down by political, legal and diplomatic problems so it will take time for the executive order to actually take place.

Some of the more dangerous Yemeni inmates cannot be tried for fear of them going back to Yemen where Al Qaeda has gained a strong foothold. Al Qaeda bombed the U.S. embassy in Sanaa Yemen in September 2008.

Then there are those from countries like Syria and Algeria who are cleared for release, but won't be sent home due to fears they'll be tortured or killed. They cannot stay in the USA either so they need to be sent to a third party nation, but none are willing to accept suspected terrorists even if they were cleared of charges.

The cases of 15 so-called "high-value" detainees who were in CIA custody before being transferred to Guantanamo will also be closely watched. Five are charged with plotting the 9/11 attacks and will appear in a Guantanamo court this coming Monday. It's likely their cases could be tried in U.S. federal courts or by military court.

Then there is the matter of Cuba itself, across the harbour from Guantanamo Bay. The USA has had a trade embargo against the Communist country since 1962, but with the decline of Communist leader Fidel Castro due to his failing health there is rampant speculation the USA may lift the trade embargo and open up trade with Cuba, a change which would sweep in a new era of democracy and economic stability in Cuba.

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