Next U.S. president must scrap Guantanamo

The head of Amnesty International called on Thursday for the winner of next week’s U.S. presidential election to shut the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba within 100 days of taking office.

Irene Khan also urged the U.S. Congress to investigate human rights abuses at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo and by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan during President George W Bush’s administration, and take action against those responsible.

“I hope whichever candidate wins that they will pay very serious attention to restoring the U.S, as a human rights champion at home and abroad,” the veteran Bangladeshi human rights lawyer said.

Democratic candidate Barack Obama and his Republic rival John McCain have called for the closure of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo, which holds about 255 suspected members of al Qaeda, the Taliban and associated groups.

McCain has said the detainees should be moved to the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

“Both candidates have actually said they will look into the closure of Guantanamo … We certainly hope that they will give attention to it in the first 100 days,” Khan told Reuters and another news agency on the sidelines of a corruption conference in Athens.

“We would like to see them close it (in 100 days).”

More than 750 foreign captives have been held without trial at the base in the seven years since President Bush declared a war against terrorism in response to the September 11 attacks.

The prison and its military tribunals have been widely condemned by human rights groups and governments around the world, including close allies of the United States, who say they do not meet international legal standards.

“I hope that in the U.S. there will be a congressional investigation … and then action will be taken against those responsible for human rights abuses,” Khan said, citing the illegal detention of terrorism suspects and the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

She called on the eventual winner of Tuesday’s U.S. election to expose the secret detention of terrorism suspects and to make an immediate impact on foreign crises, such as the five-year-old conflict in the Darfur region of western Sudan, where experts believe 200,000 people have been killed.

She called on the international community to throw its support behind an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to face charges of masterminding a genocide campaign in Darfur.

The African Union has urged the U.N. Security Council to block the warrant, saying it could upset political efforts to end the fighting between rebels and government forces, but Khan said political discussions had proved fruitless.

Khan warned that global financial turmoil could distract Western governments from combating human rights abuses and cut aid budgets. In the developing world, it could increase poverty and social unrest and tempt governments into authoritarian crackdowns.

“Human rights are not a luxury for the good times and we need to focus on human rights when times get tough because that’s the real test,” said Khan, head of Amnesty since 2001. (Editing by Michael Roddy)

Reuters North American News Service