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Expert: Try Gitmo Detainees or Free Them

All detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison should be freed or transferred to U.S. federal courts for trial by the Jan. 22 deadline set by President Barack Obama, a U.N. human rights investigator said Monday.

Martin Scheinin, who reports on the protection of human rights in the war on terror, said the U.S. Navy-run prison in Cuba should not be closed by trying to prosecute detainees through military commissions, which he said do not meet international human rights standards despite "small fixes."

The prison was created by former President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks as a detention center for suspected al Qaeda, Taliban and foreign fighters captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere. But it has since become a lightning rod of anti-U.S. criticism around the globe because of reports of torture during interrogations and lengthy detentions without trial.

Guantanamo now holds about 223 men, and according to a list released in late September at least 75 have been cleared for release.

Obama promised soon after taking office - and many times since - to close the prison, arguing that doing so is crucial to restoring America's image in the world and to creating a more effective anti-terror approach. The White House has said it still hopes to meet the deadline, but senior officials say it may slip because a number of difficult issues remain unresolved.

Scheinin, who reports to the Geneva-based Human Rights Commission, said he believes all the hurdles and problems can be overcome by Obama's Jan. 22 deadline.

Administration officials and lawyers have been reviewing the files on each detainee. At issue: which prisoners can be tried, and whether to do so in military or civilian courts; which can be released to other nations; and - the hardest question - which are too dangerous or their cases too compromised by lack of evidence that they must be held indefinitely.

Scheinin said all the remaining detainees should either be sent to trial by U.S. federal courts on the mainland or released - either in the United States or third countries - and no prisoners from Guantanamo should continue to be held indefinitely.

"To be very clear - and I've been blunt - I would say that the assumed very dangerous people who have been subject to interrogation methods that may make the evidence inadmissible in court ... belong to the category of persons who should be tried," he said.

"Then, it should be left to the hands of the judiciary to apply the law," he said. "I know it would be a risk for the prosecution to introduce a trial, but I think between those two options that still is the correct course of action."

The Obama administration is expected to announce a decision on which prisoners will be prosecuted by Nov. 16, but new problems arose this month.

The U.S. Congress decided to forbid the administration from spending any money to send detainees to the United States, other than for prosecution, and requiring a detailed plan in advance of sending them anywhere in the world.

The U.S. Supreme Court, meanwhile, agreed to decide whether Guantanamo detainees who are considered no threat can be ordered released in the United States - over the objections of the Obama administration and Congress - if the prisoners have nowhere else to go.

Scheinin, a Finnish law professor who visited Guantanamo in 2007 to attend military commission proceedings, said he and Manfred Nowak, the U.N.'s top investigator on torture and punishment, have been trying to get unhindered access to the Guantanamo detainees to study practices of secret detention. The Obama administration is saying "let's talk about this," he said.

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