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Obama on Guantanamo
I'll close down Guantanamo in two years, says Obama
By Paul Thompson, Evening Standard
BARACK Obama has said he plans to close the Guantanamo Bay detention centre and mark a "clear end" to torture in the US within two years of becoming president.
The president-elect told Time magazine he hopes to restore the balance between US security needs and the country's constitution.
In an interview with Time magazine, Mr Obama listed a series of benchmarks his team had set during his presidential campaign. Asked how voters would know whether his administration was succeeding in two years, he said: "On foreign policy, have we closed down Guantanamo in a responsible way, put a clear end to torture and restored a balance between the demands of our security and our constitution?"
Mr Obama was named the magazine's Person of the Year for what Time called "the confidence to sketch an ambitious future in a gloomy hour". Analysts say closing the military prison will not be easy. Some 250 men are still being held at the facility in Cuba and many fear persecution if they are sent home.
Dick Cheney, the departing vice-president, said he did not see how Guantanamo could be responsibly closed until the "war on terror" was over. He also tried to justify using "water-boarding" on some detainees during interrogation. He said the technique, which simulates drowning, was an appropriate means of extracting information from suspects such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 11 September attacks.
White House officials have detailed catastrophic events Mr Obama could face in his first 100 days in office, such as another terror attack on the US, a nuclear accident in North Korea or a cyber-attack on US computer systems.
The New York Times says President Bush has had his staff draw up as many as three dozen potential threats Mr Obama could encounter when he assumes power after 20 January.
Detainee: Guantanamo the 'worst place on Earth'
An Algerian-born man who has just been freed from Guantanamo Bay has described the US "war on terror" camp as the worst place on Earth, in an interview published in a Bosnian newspaper.
"For almost seven years, I was at the end of the world, at the worst place in the world,'' Mustafa Ait Idir told the Dnevni Avaz a day after arriving back in his adopted homeland of Bosnia.
"It would have been hard even if I had done something wrong (but) it is much harder if one is totally innocent,'' he said.
Mr Idir, along with two other detainees released from Guantanamo, Mohamed Nechla and Hadji Boudella, arrived in Bosnia yesterday.
The three, who were held at Guantanamo for almost seven years, were the first inmates to have been released by the US administration of President George W. Bush under a judge's orders.
"You can well imagine how happy I am now. We all cried together,'' Mr Idir said, referring to his wife and children.
On arrival at Sarajevo airport, the trio were questioned by police and then released to be reunited with their families.
The three were among six Algerians arrested in late 2001 on suspicion of plotting an attack on the US embassy in Sarajevo. They had been living in Bosnia where they had been given nationality.
In January 2002, although a Bosnian court released them due to lack of evidence, they were transferred to the US camp Bay in Cuba.
But on November 20, more than seven years after the opening of the Guantanamo prison, a US judge acknowledged that five of the six men had been illegally detained and ordered their release, in the first such ruling.
Bosnian Muslim politicians welcomed the trio's return.
"The United States found strength to admit that these people were not guilty and it is a great thing,'' Sulejman Tihic, the head of Bosnia's strongest Muslim political grouping, the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), told Dnevni Avaz.
SDA vice-president Bakir Izetbegovic told the daily that "their release is notably good for Bosnia-Hercegovina because it confirms that there are no terrorist cells here''.