Source: The News Online,10117,21047657-2,00.html

January 12, 2007

By staff writers with wires

DEMONSTRATIONS around the globe overnight have called for the closure of the US prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on the fifth anniversary of the first "war on terror" detainees' arrival.

Around 350 people are still being held at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, where most are detained without legal rights such as access to courts or legal counsel.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has called for the facility to be shut down, saying "like my predecessor (Kofi Annan), I believe the prison should be closed."

His comments came as the London-based human rights group Amnesty International appealed to world powers to pressure the United States to close Guantanamo.

"The US government must end this travesty of justice. Equally, it is not enough for world leaders to express concern about Guantanamo and carry on business as usual with the USA," said the group's secretary general, Irene Kahn.

Outside the base, a former inmate and other activists headed to its gates to demand the closure of the facility which received its first inmates on January 11, 2002.

Cindy Sheehan, whose anti-war activism was inspired by her army son's death in Iraq, marched to the security fence around the US military enclave in eastern Cuba chanting "Guantanamo prison, place of shame, no more torture in our name."

"If dogs were treated like this in my country, there would be an uprising," said Ms Sheehan.

The group, which also included a former US colonel and relatives of a detainee currently behind bars, were set to stage a symbolic march to the barrier that separates the US enclave from the rest of Cuba.

Wearing a scarf with the message "Don't give up" in Arabic, Zohra Zewawi, the mother of prisoner Omar Deghayes, broke down as she put her hand on the gate leading to the out-of-sight Guantanamo base.

"I am so glad to be close to my son. ... I am also very sad because I cannot see my son," she said.

In London, some 200 people demonstrated in front of the US embassy on overnight, demanding the closure of the camp, where many British nationals have been held - some in solitary confinement - only to be released without charge after months of harsh treatment.

Amnesty International organised a mock-up of life at the much-criticised camp which saw demonstrators playing the roles of guards and detainees wearing orange overalls and white masks over their mouths.

"Scum, face down!" the "guards" shouted before an audience of protesters, photographers and camera crews.

A similar demonstration took place in the US capital, where 200 to 300 people dressed in orange overalls called for the facility to be shut down. A lawyer read a letter from a Guantanamo detainee summing up his despair: "I would rather die than stay here forever, and I've tried to commit suicide many times. The purpose of Guantanamo is to destroy people, and I've been destroyed," wrote Jumah al-Dossari.

The US government established the secure facility in the months after the September 11, 2001 attacks to interrogate the prisoners rounded up in countries such as Afghanistan as part of the US war on terror.

In all, nearly 800 prisoners have passed through the camp since it opened. The US government says about 395 detainees remain at Guantanamo. Washington hopes to prosecute 60 to 80 before military tribunals, while another 86 could soon be repatriated.

A 10-year-old boy whose father is detained at the camp personally delivered a letter to British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Thursday asking for help in securing his release.

"I want to know if Mr Blair cares after four years," Anas al-Banna wrote as he visited Blair's office at 10 Downing Street with his nine-year-old brother Mohammed and Sarah Teather, a member of parliament.

Their father, Jamil al-Banna, was arrested with a friend during a business trip to Gambia in 2002, on suspicion of links to terrorism, before being handed over to US security officers and transferred to the camp in Cuba.

Russian President Vladimir Putin criticised the camp as "a sad situation" in a speech on human rights in Moscow.

Prisoners "are held without trial or investigation. People who are released from there and enter national justice systems are found innocent. It's a sad situation," Mr Putin said.

In Madrid, a march organised by Amnesty was expected to deliver 150,000 signatures demanding that the camp be shut down. Activists were also rallying in Oslo, Copenhagen and other European capitals to press for its closure.

In Prague, a handful of Amnesty International members released 430 orange balloons in Wenceslas Square to represent the prisoners still being held.

"These people are usually referred to as terrorists, but they have never had a fair trial, and the presumption of 'innocent before proven guilty' does not seem to apply here," spokeswoman Evan Dobrovona said.

Although located on a US base, the camp does not fall under the jurisdiction of US courts, a fact that has allowed President George W. Bush's administration to interrogate and hold suspects there indefinitely.

Terry Hicks joins Melbourne march

In Melbourne, protesters gathered outside government buildings to demand that Australia's only Guantanamo detainee, David Hicks, be brought home immediately.

"Bring David home, close Guantanamo now," they chanted. Hicks, 31, was arrested in Afghanistan in late 2001 and accused of fighting for al Qaeda.

Charges against Hicks of conspiracy, attempted murder and aiding the enemy were dropped when the US Supreme Court last June rejected the military tribunal system set up by Bush to try foreign terrorism suspects.

"They've been bullying David for five years," his father Terry Hicks told Channel 10.

With Reuters, AFP

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