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The U.S. military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has held hundreds of detainees without charging them with a crime. The White House conceived of Guantanamo as an extralegal zone for hardened terrorists whom it unilaterally declared were exempt from the Geneva Conventions. There, terrorists would have no recourse to the American legal system, lawyers at the Department of Justice argued; instead, they could be imprisoned for as long as the government saw fit. In June 2004, the Supreme Court struck down the administration’s plan and declared that the foreign nationals held at Guantanamo had the right to petition for their release in U.S. courts. Once forced to confront the legal status of its prisoners, the Department of Defense (DOD) began releasing or transferring many of the inmates. By October 2004, the United States had released 202 detainees from the prison camp and between late 2004 and March 2005 the remaining 558 detainees passed through “Combatant Status Review Tribunals,” which determined that 520 of these prisoners were “enemy combatants.” By 2008, however, after further review of cases and intervention by U.S. courts, the number of prisoners held at Guantanamo dropped to approximately 255, according to the Pentagon. Another 60 or so have been cleared for release but can not be repatriated because their home country refused to accept them or due to other diplomatic complications. Lawyers for Guantanamo detainees have struggled to obtain documents from the U.S. military believed to contain evidence against their clients, and in some cases, the United States has had to drop prosecutions of Guantanamo inmates because much of their case was built on evidence obtained through interrogation methods widely considered to be torture. Asked to comment, a DOD spokesman directed the Center to a factsheet on Guantanamo: “Detainees held at Guantanamo Bay are not only afforded the majority of the protections granted to prisoners of war,” it states, “but many additional privileges that exceed the requirements established by the Geneva Conventions.”

President-Elect Obama has made clear his intention to close the Guantanamo prison camp; his administration will likely seek to release some detainees while bringing others to the United States for criminal trials. As a result of habeas corpus proceedings, the Bush administration is transferring certain prisoners from Guantanamo: In December, three of five Algerian detainees ordered released by a federal judge were sent to Bosnia, their adopted homeland.

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