GENEVA, (AP) – Former detainees, human-rights advocates and government officials around the world welcomed President Barack Obama’s decision to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center, saying Thursday it helped restore their faith in the United States.
The U.N.’s torture investigator, Manfred Nowak, said news that Obama will order the prison closed, review military trials of terror suspects and end harsh interrogations was a sign of goodwill by the new American administration. But he warned that shutting the prison will require difficult decisions and said freed inmates should be allowed to sue the United States if they were mistreated.
“Justice also means to look into the past,” Nowak told The Associated Press. Nowak, an Austrian law professor, has previously said he had reliable accounts to indicate that Guantanamo detainees have been tortured.
Pentagon official Susan Crawford told The Washington Post in an interview published last week that the United States tortured one inmate, a Saudi named Mohammed al-Qahtani, in 2002. She was the first senior Bush administration official to make such a statement.
Attorneys for two other inmates, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Mohammed Jawad, say their clients too were tortured.
A senior Obama administration official said the president would sign an order Thursday to shutter Guantanamo within one year, fulfilling his campaign promise to close a facility that critics around the world say violates the rights of detainees. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because the order has not yet been issued.
“We were overjoyed when we heard the news,” said Ali al-Shamrani, who is from the Saudi capital, Riyadh. He said his nephew Mohammed al-Shamrani, 35, has been held at Guantanamo for eight years after being picked up in Afghanistan, where he was doing relief work.
“Obama’s decision is a very good one and we are optimistic that Mohammed will be released soon. Obama is correcting the mistakes of his predecessor,” al-Shamrani said.
Jomaa al-Dosari, 35, from the eastern Saudi Arabian city of Dammam, was released from Guantanamo about a year ago, after six years.
“When I heard the news I said to myself, ‘I wish Obama was elected years ago. Guantanamo would not have happened,'” he said.
Husain Naqi, an official with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said the decision shows Obama to be a man who keeps his promises.
“It has harmed the U.S. image worldwide. The decision to close the center may help improve the image and confidence of the U.S. administration,” Naqi told The AP by phone.
Reaction in Europe was positive. The European Commission said in a statement it “has been very pleased that one of the first actions of Mr. Obama has been to turn the page on this sad episode of Guantanamo.” The European Union had criticized the Bush administration for alleged human rights abuses at the jail.
The French Foreign Ministry also welcomed the decision.
“The essential fight against terrorism must be conducted in all circumstances with respect for human rights, international humanitarian law and the rights of refugees,” spokesman Frederic Desagneaux said in an online briefing.
And Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini called the move “a good decision,” but said it might force Europe take in some of the inmates.
“Obama’s multilateralism will call us Europeans to our responsibilities: If Guantanamo closes, what are we going to do with those inmates, if for instance they are European citizens?” Frattini said in an interview with Sky TG24.
Spain’s top-selling newspaper, El Pais, said in an editorial: “Closing Guantanamo and renouncing torture are two essential steps for the United States to recover its capacity for international leadership, and the new president seems to have understood this.” Spanish public opinion ran strongly against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Pierre Kraehenbuehl, head of operations for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said Guantanamo’s closure would be closely followed by his organization.
“Indeed the question now will be how it will be closed down and what it will mean for the detainees that are in there,” he told reporters during a brief visit in Stockholm.
“It is certainly an issue we are keen to discuss with the new administration,” he said.
China has demanded a swift return of its detained nationals once the facility is shut down.
“China is against any country that accepts these prisoners,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters at a regular news briefing Thursday.
Some 17 Chinese detainees have been cleared for release but Washington fears they could be mistreated or tortured in China and has been trying to find another home for them.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda told reporters that his country is hoping it will now be able to question one of its nationals who is still detained at Guantanamo.
The Southeast Asian country is keen to question alleged top al-Qaeda operative Hambali, suspected of links to Sept. 11 hijackers, he said.
“Until now there has been no communication at all from the American side,” he said.