Tunisia announced its intention Wednesday to plead for the return of its remaining citizens being held at the Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detention facility. A Justice Ministry representative, speaking at an awareness conference in Tunis, called for the repatriation [AP report] of the five Tunisian detainees still being held at the prison and indicated the nation's intention to send a mission to the US to achieve their release. The conference was organized by Reprieve [advocacy website; press release], a British humanitarian group and legal action charity that seeks to enforce human rights and due process for prisoners worldwide. In the past, such groups had been against repatriation due to reports of torture and abusive interrogation [JURIST reports] upon prisoners' return to Tunisia under the regime of ousted dictator Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. However, with the fall of the former regime and its reputation of human rights abuses, Reprieve claims there is no longer a reason to hold the remaining prisoners:
On the night the Tunisian people successfully overthrew Ben Ali's dictatorship, five Tunisian men had just spent their ninth anniversary of imprisonment in the notorious US naval base. To date, they have had neither charge nor trial. Members of the interim government, international and national human rights activists, lawyers, ex-detainees and family members have all pledged their support for this cause. Today's conference will examine how this support can be turned into action.There have been 12 Tunisians imprisoned at the Guantanamo facility [NYT backgrounder] since it opened in 2002, two of whom were returned to Tunisia and imprisoned [JURIST reports] in 2007. The other five released detainees have been extradited to third countries [JURIST reports] for various reasons.
The continued operation of Guantanamo Bay remains controversial. In February, JURIST Guest Columnist Naureen Shah [university profile] from the Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School wrote that some Guantanamo detainees cannot go home [JURIST op-ed], and the US should design smarter monitoring protocols, let courts and the public test decide whether diplomatic assurances can prevent abuse, and resettle detainees who face too great a risk of torture. In January, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] criticized US President Barack Obama for failing to shut down the facility altogether, as Obama's stated desire to close the Guantanamo prison [JURIST reports] has faced heavy opposition in Congress. Earlier in January, Obama signed a bill barring the transfer of Guantanamo detainees [JURIST report] to the US for trial. The legislation authorized funding for defense interests abroad, military construction and national security-related energy programs and barred the use of funds to transfer detainees into the US and limited funds available for transfers to foreign countries. The number of detainees at Guantanamo has been significantly reduced as the administration continues to transfer detainees to a growing list of countries including Germany, Italy, Spain, Maldives, Georgia, Albania, Latvia, Switzerland, Slovakia, Somaliland, Palau, Belgium, Afghanistan and Bermuda [JURIST reports].