KABUL (Reuters) - The closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison will do little to erase the blot on the U.S. rights record unless other U.S. detention centers are also shut and inmates compensated, Afghan and Pakistani campaigners said on Thursday.
The comments come as President Barack Obama is expected to issue orders later in the day to close the Guantanamo prison and overhaul the treatment of terrorism suspects; a move aimed at swiftly restoring a U.S. image hurt by charges of torture.
“He is closing it in order to put an end to the criticism from human rights groups and also to get rid of the bad image it created for the Americans,” said Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan who spent more than three years imprisoned at Guantanamo.
“But he needs to restore justice for prisoners who were persecuted there during investigations,” he said. “There were innocent people imprisoned there. He needs to put on trial those who were involved in the persecution of inmates.”
“The prison in Guantanamo is a flagrant violation of international and American laws,” said Lal Gul Lal, the head of the Afghanistan Human Rights Organisation, an independent non-governmental organization.
“If Obama’s administration wants to get rid of the criticism and wants to implement justice then it should hand over to their respective countries all the prisoners it has in various prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere,” he said. “If that does not happen the closure of Guantanamo will have no meaning.”
Some 600 prisoners are currently detained at Bagram, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, Lal said, with more held at bases in Kandahar in the Afghan south and Khost in the east, some of them for long periods without charge.
A draft presidential executive order obtained by Reuters on Wednesday sets a one-year deadline to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo, where foreign terrorism suspects have been detained for years without trial.
Obama is expected to issue the order on Guantanamo on Thursday. He will also ban abusive interrogations and order a review of detention policies for captured militants, said congressional aides and a White House official.
Obama has pledged to make a priority of winning the war in Afghanistan where Taliban militants and their al Qaeda allies are fighting a virulent insurgency against the Afghan and Pakistani governments along the two countries’ rugged and porous border.
The detention of suspects for long periods without charge along with the accidental killing of scores of civilians in air strikes is one of the main factors fuelling resentment against the presence of some 65,000 U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Hundreds of Afghans and dozens of Pakistani Taliban fighters were detained by U.S. forces and their allies when they toppled the Taliban government in late 2001 for harboring al Qaeda leaders behind the September 11 attacks on the United States.
More militant suspects have since been seized in Afghanistan or handed over into U.S. custody by the Pakistani government.
More than 200 Afghans and 68 Pakistanis have been released from Guantanamo, but many Afghans and five Pakistanis are among about 250 men still held at the U.S. naval base in Cuba.
Amina Masood Janjua is a Pakistani campaigner for the release of scores of people who have gone missing after being detained in Pakistan, including her husband. She said the closure of Guantanamo would be a positive development.
But, she said, “those governments which are running illegal torture cells and safe houses set up by intelligence agencies and militaries should be forced to close them too.”
A former Pakistani security agent and supporter of Islamist causes, dismissed the prison closure.
“It’s nothing. It’s a media stunt. After brutally and inhumanely treating inmates, now they’re pretending that they believe in justice and human rights,” Khalid, who now heads the Defence of Human Rights group, told Reuters.
“What about the human rights crimes committed there? What about those who have seen the worst time of their lives there? Is it that easy to ignore or forgive?”
Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Jeremy Laurence