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Spain agrees to take in former Guantanamo Bay inmates

Spanish government agrees to house former terrorist suspects. Sydney bomb plotters sentenced. Tymoshenko accuses Yanukovych of vote-rigging. British journalist arrested in Gaza. UN sends envoy to Burma. All this and more in today's briefing.
Maddy Fry
15 February 2010

The Spanish foreign minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, has announced that Spain is prepared to take in five men formerly detained in Guantanamo Bay in support of US President Barack Obama’s attempt to close down the detention centre. The US leader had originally promised to clear Guantanamo of prisoners by 22 January 2010 but, even though over 40 terrorist suspects have been transferred elsewhere in the past year, over 200 are thought to remain.

The openSecurity verdict: Although American liberals and much of the international community rejoiced at the announcement that the detention centres in Guantanamo Bay would be decommissioned within the president's first year in office, many now see the target as having been overambitious. Small numbers of inmates have been repatriated in several countries but the reluctance of many others to accept inmates has stalled closure, meanwhile the US has so far refused to allow any foreign nationals into the country. Politicians on Capitol Hill will not risk a backlash among their constituents by being seen to invite former detainees on to American soil. As much as two-thirds of the American population are also thought to be against the closure of Guantanamo.

In the last few years memoirs published by former inmates have become international bestsellers, with many citing cruelty at the hands of US guards and inhumane practices. Writers like Moazzam Begg and Mullah Zaeef described being beaten up, stripped and forced to endure harsh and degrading conditions, such as sleep deprivation and exposure to extreme temperatures. The camp has irreparably damaged the US reputation across the world and made it considerably more difficult for the country to win over the ‘hearts and minds’, or to portray itself as the force of good and liberation within the pantheon of the ‘war on terror.’ President Obama is therefore faced with a dilemma of having to assuage US citizens that terrorist suspects will not be allowed entry into the country while trying to restore America’s crumbling public image. Given the importance of financial reform, economic stimulus, and health care legislation to the Obama administration, and the concurrent need for domestic support as his ratings fall, the detention camps at Guantanamo are unlikely to be out of business anytime soon.

Sydney bomb plotters sentenced

The five men arrested in 2005 on suspicion of conspiring to commit terrorist atrocities have been given jail sentences of up to 28 years by the Australian courts. They were said to have been planning violent jihadist attacks against various unspecified targets to protest against the Australian government’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Suspicion was aroused over the nature of their intentions when they began to order large amounts of firearms and chemicals from gun shops and hardware stores. Upon searching their homes, police uncovered literature that espoused violent actions such as “killing, mass murder and martyrdom” in the name of jihad. The trial of the men in question is thought to have been the longest in Australian history. 

Tymoshenko accuses Yanukovych of vote-rigging

Ukrainian presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko has announced her decision to appeal against the result of last week’s elections, which saw her lose to rival Victor Yanukovych. She claims that he only gained his 3.5% lead due to vote-rigging, insisting that in heavily Russian-speaking areas like the Crimea and Donetsk the polls were skewed and that the legal framework within which the elections were conducted was unsatisfactory. Despite international observers congratulating Yanukovych on what was seen as an “impressive display” of democracy, Tymoshenko has insisted that, although she will not call on her supporters to take to the streets as threatened last week, she will fight for victory in the courts.

British journalist arrested in Gaza

Freelance journalist Paul Martin has been detained by Hamas on the grounds that he had violated security regulations. Although Palestinian interior ministry spokesman Ehab al-Ghsain maintained that Martin had confessed to committing offences under Palestinian law, the nature of these offences or his confession were not revealed. Martin has contributed to various publications, including The Times, the BBC and The Mirror. Both Hamas, who have been ruling Palestine since 2007, and Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority have been criticised by human rights groups for imprisoning journalists in the past and placing restrictions on freedom of press.

UN sends envoy to Burma

The United Nations today sent Tomas Ojea Quintana on a five-day tour of Burma. He hopes to visit the ruling military regime’s notorious Insein prison and to meet with leaders of opposing political parties – in particular the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi remains under house arrest, with Quintana having been denied access to her on his two previous visits. The military junta recently released Tin Oo, the vice chairman of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party but keeps over 2,100 political prisoners behind bars. Quintana insisted that he would campaign for the release of political prisoners and the improvement of human rights within Burma as part of his visit.

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