Statement in response to the announcement by the Department of State that the responsibilities of the Office for the Special Envoy for the Closure of Guantánamo Bay will be assumed by the Department's Office of the Legal Advisor

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February 7, 2013

Statement in response to the announcement by the Department of State that the responsibilities of the Office for the Special Envoy for the Closure of Guantánamo Bay will be assumed by the Department's Office of the Legal Advisor

In response to the announcement by the Department of State that the responsibilities of the Office for the Special Envoy for the Closure of Guantánamo Bay will be assumed by the Department's Office of the Legal Advisor, Amnesty International USA issued the following statement:

It is difficult to view the re-assignment of Ambassador Fried away from his Guantánamo portfolio as anything but an indication of the administration de-prioritizing resolution of the detentions at the naval base. In any event, however successful Ambassador Fried was or could have been in relation to his particular remit to reduce the detainee population at Guantánamo by finding other countries willing to accept some released detainees, the bigger picture is one of utter failure on the part of the US authorities to address the detentions as a human rights issue.

The absolute refusal of the US authorities to accept into the USA even those detainees it has been willing to release but who cannot be repatriated because of the human rights violations they would face in their home countries has been a travesty. The USA set up the Guantánamo detention facility and subjected hundreds of people to unlawful detention in it, and yet having committed itself to closure has been unwilling to do what it has called on other countries to do. Undoubtedly this can only have made Ambassador Fried's job even more difficult as he sought third country solutions.

But even if the US government had been able to find lawful solutions for all those it has "approved for transfer," the fact remains that unless it commits itself to closing the Guantánamo detention facility while at the same time meeting its international human rights obligations, unlawful detentions and unfair trials by military commission will simply be relocated not terminated. Unless it rejects the notion that under its unilateral interpretation of the laws of war it can continue to hold dozens of Guantánamo detainees in indefinite detention without charge or trial, or prosecute others under a military commission system that does not meet international fair trial standards, the US government will remain on the wrong side of its human rights obligations.

In his memoirs, former President George W. Bush asserted that from early in his second term, he "worked to find a way to close the prison" at Guantánamo "in a responsible way." By the time those memoirs were published, his successor's deadline to close the facility had already been missed. We are now into another presidential term, and the possibility now looms that before too long we will be marking a decade since the USA committed itself to closing this detention facility. Clearly, something is missing from its approach. The missing ingredient is respect for human rights.

From a human rights perspective—a perspective the US government generally claims to champion—the way forward is clear: all those held in Guantánamo must be released immediately to countries, including the USA if necessary, that will respect their human rights unless, without further delay, they are to be charged with recognizably criminal offences and brought to trial in a US federal court in proceedings that comply with international fair trial standards. In no case should the US government resort to the death penalty.

The assertion that the administration's hands are tied in resolving the Guantánamo detentions in accordance with human rights standards is unacceptable. Under international law, domestic law and politics may not be invoked to justify a failure to comply with treaty obligations. It is an inadequate response for one branch of government to blame another for a country's human rights failure. International law demands that solutions be found, not excuses.

The US administration is currently telling the world, in effect, that "resolving the Guantánamo detentions is not a priority, the domestic political climate is not right." The USA has not been willing to accept such excuses from other governments seeking to justify their systemic human rights failures, and it should not be accepted when it is put forward by the USA.

For more information, see Amnesty International's report "Guantánamo: A Decade of Damage to Human Rights."