International conference opposes US Guantanamo policy [Archives:2008/1120/Local News]

January 14 2008

Mohammed Bin Sallam
SANA'A, Jan. 13 ) In a move organized by the National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms, known as HOOD, in cooperation with NGOs, Parliament and human rights groups, the International Action Conference on Guantanamo detainees urged the Yemeni government on Jan. 9 and 10 to designate its representative to the committee, formed by the conference, to be in charge of defending his compatriots detained in Guantanamo Bay.

According to the conference, the Yemeni representative has to free of other commitments in order to respond to any developments regarding Yemeni citizens detained in Guantanamo and other U.S. secret jails.

The international conference demanded that the Yemeni government prepare weekly reports on its efforts to release Yemeni citizens detained in Guantanamo. It also urged President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his government to send a message to the U.S. administration demanding that its citizens detained in U.S. jails be treated according to international law.

In the statement's conclusion, the conference called on the Yemeni government to have a clear position on conditions of its detained citizens, among them Aljazeera cameraman Sami Al-Haj, who are all going on a hunger strike. It recommended that the government warn the U.S. administration against mistreating its detained citizens or forcing them to eat in an inhuman way, claiming that this will complicate the issue.

The conference participants have undertaken to continue working hard on behalf of the detainees until the U.S. government sets them free and returns them home as soon as possible.

The Sana'a Conference selected February 4, 2008 to stage a protest in front of Parliament if the government doesn't respond to its listed demands.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi said that Yemen is one of the first countries that requested U.S. authorities to hand over its citizens detained in Guantanamo Bay. It is also one of the few countries that sent a security delegation to assess prisoner conditions and investigate their identities.

Giving a speech at the conference on the conditions of Yemeni detainees in Guantanamo, held under the slogan “Release Citizens”, Al-Qirbi noted that U.S. media claims that Yemen refused to receive its citizens detained in Guantanamo are fraudulent and baseless.

The event was organized by HOOD in cooperation with Reprieve, a British organization, and attended by representatives from London-based Amnesty International and New York-based Constitutional Rights Center, as well as many detainees' defense-advocates.

Yemeni Human Rights Minister Huda Al-Ban urged the U.S. government to allow a Yemeni team to visit the Guantanamo detention center and assess the conditions of Yemeni inmates there.

“There is no respect for the Universal Declaration for Human Rights, the 60th anniversary of which was marked by the international community on the 10th of last December. Inmates in this prison experience miserable conditions and mental disorders. They don't know whether they will face a fair trial or be released,” she added. “Now, we need an immediate solution to their problem.”

Al-Ban asked the U.S. Ambassador to Sana'a, Steven Seche, to provide adequate information about Yemeni citizens detained in Guantanamo, they way they are treated and the legal guarantees they are enjoying. She also demanded that the U.S. State Department free any inmates not connected with the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., which the Yemeni government strongly condemned after they occurred in 2001. The Human Rights Minister demanded that those found guilty of involvement in the event be handed over to the Yemeni judiciary for prosecution.

Delivering a speech at the conference, Parliament member Abdulbari Dughaish called for the formation of a national committee to handle the case of Guantanamo detainees, advocate their release and prosecute perpetrators who exercise human rights abuses in the detention center. According to Dughaish, the proposed committee can work in coordination with national and international organizations interested in human rights and public freedoms. He called on U.S. President George W. Bush to immediately shut down the prison and release the inmates.

Lawyer Clive Stafford, Reprieve chairman, said that U.S. authorities transferred as many as 776 detainees to Guantanamo Bay, among them 136 Saudis and 113 Yemenis, who stood first and second from among the multinational inmates in the detention facility. The U.S. government has released up to 501 detainees, including 123 Saudis and 13 Yemenis, since the prison was first opened on Jan. 11, 2002.

According to Stafford, 275 people are still detained in the U.S. military base, among them 100 Yemenis and 13 Saudis. He urged the Yemeni government to benefit from the experiences of European countries and Saudi Arabia in order to free its jailed citizens.

The British lawyer mentioned that Pakistani people collaborated with the U.S. in the arrest of nearly 47 percent of Guantanamo detainees for an amount of $5000 per detainee. He stressed that most of the inmates are innocent and that the U.S. Administration doesn't have adequate evidence to convict them.

Regarding the inmates' hunger strike, Stafford revealed that 880 days have passed since Yemeni detainee Tareq Ba Audha started the hunger strike. He disclosed that the American army fed detainees via pipes pushed through their nostrils with the malicious intention of torturing them.

David Rims, a military lawyer defending Yemeni detainee Salem Hamdan, said that his client fell victim to negligence exercised by the U.S. authorities, who allege that Al-Qaeda commander Osama Bin Laden was hiring engineers, drivers and cooks to work with him. He added that the U.S. government has no evidence convicting Hamdan except for a one-second video shot, which was displayed on CNN.

The military lawyer indicated that the Yemeni government may have a secret deal with the U.S. Administration and that the latter might have refused to release Yemeni detainees over the formers' failure to fulfill agreed-upon terms.