Trump tweet signals ongoing support for Guantanamo

US military guards walk within the Camp Delta military-run prison, at the Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base, Cuba, in this file photo. (AP)
Updated 08 March 2017
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Trump tweet signals ongoing support for Guantanamo

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump appeared on Tuesday to reinforce his campaign support for the continued use of the Guantanamo Bay detention center, using an early morning tweet to discuss the facility, which his predecessor had vowed to close.
The tweet decrying the release of Guantanamo detainees who returned to the battlefield was the first time Trump mentioned the detention center since he took office. And it came with little insight into any new administration policy on how the center will be used.
On Tuesday, Trump tweeted: “122 vicious prisoners, released by the Obama Administration from Gitmo, have returned to the battlefield. Just another terrible decision!”
While the tweet pins the blame on the wrong president — the bulk of detainees who returned to the fight were released under then-President George W. Bush — it also suggests that Trump has not given up on the idea that Guantanamo should remain an active facility.
There has been no recent discussion of the draft executive order that surfaced shortly after Trump took office. The draft, which was obtained by The Associated Press, endorsed the continued use of Guantanamo to hold enemy combatants including those from Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the Daesh group.
It has been a consistent message from Trump.
During the campaign, Trump said he not only wanted to keep the detention center open, but “load it up with some bad dudes.” He returned to that thought in an early January tweet, calling for an end to detainee releases, insisting that dangerous people should not be allowed back on the battlefield.
Asked on Tuesday about the status of the executive order, the White House declined to comment or say if one is in the works. When the draft leaked out in January, the White House said it was not official.
Commanders at Guantanamo have made clear that if needed they have the space and ability to take on more detainees. At its height in 2003 the facility held about 680 prisoners.
“I’m confident that I will get a little more notice than ‘there is a plane in the air that’s going to land in four hours’ or whatever the case may be. The few days, if that’s all I have, will be adequate for me to receive a small number of detainees,” Rear Adm. Peter J. Clarke, the commander at the detention center, told reporters.
There is immediate room available for 150 prisoners in Camp 6, as well as about 80 cells in the adjacent Camp 5, where the military is building a new detainee medical clinic. There is also unused space encircled by razor wire and empty guard towers in nearby Camp Delta.
The US, however, has not been capturing a large number of prisoners as it did in the early days of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, so it is not clear where the Trump administration would find many new people to put in Guantanamo.
Former President Barack Obama had promised to shut down the facility and had pressed the Defense Department to get more of the detainees transferred out to other nations. There were 201 transfers during his eight years in office, and the 41 detainees who now remain include 10 who are facing criminal charges and five who are currently eligible for transfer.
The Obama White House and human rights groups argued that Guantanamo was a waste of money and a “recruiting tool” for terrorists.
Obama called for a plan to close the facility and transfer the remaining detainees to a prison in the US. The plan, which considered more than a dozen locations in the US and laid out potential construction costs of up to $475 million, hit a wall of opposition from Congress, which passed a law prohibiting the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to America.


Poor air quality: Malaysia tells citizens to stay indoors

Updated 17 min 28 sec ago

Poor air quality: Malaysia tells citizens to stay indoors

  • Nearly 1,500 schools closed as haze continues to plague the country

KUALA LUMPUR: As Malaysia’s haze problem worsened on Wednesday, some areas of the country recorded readings above 200 on the Air Pollution Index (API), which officials told Arab News is considered “very unhealthy.”

More than a million primary and high-school students stayed home as 1,484 schools remained closed in seven states, including Selangor and Sarawak — the two worst-affected states. 

In some areas of Sarawak, API readings were above 300, which is considered hazardous to the environment and human health. 

The Ministry of Education advised all higher education institutions in the haze-affected states to postpone their classes, while some companies and institutions, including the Ministry of Youth and Sports, asked employees to work from home.

Responding to the worsening situation, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Muhamad stressed that Malaysia must deal with the haze issue on its own.

“We will have to find ways to deal with the haze, through cloud seeding, asking people to stay at home, and school closures,” he said at a press conference in Putrajaya. 

The Malaysia government also stressed that it will take legal action against Malaysian companies that own estates and plantations outside Malaysia which have contributed to the problem. 

“We will ask them to put out the fires (they have set). If they are unwilling to take action, we may have to pass a law that holds them responsible,” the 93-year-old Malaysian leader said.

The ASEAN Specialized Meteorological Centre reported that forest fires in Indonesia’s Sumatera and Kalimantan regions have intensified, leading to an increase in the haze across the Southeast Asian region. Those fires, coupled with the dry weather conditions in certain areas, mean the air quality is expected to continue to deteriorate. The general public have been advised to stay indoors and to wear facemasks if they do have to go outside.

Benjamin Ong, a Kuala Lumpur-based environmentalist told Arab News that many Malaysians are concerned about the ongoing and worsening issue of haze, which has become an annual occurrence despite efforts by Malaysia, Indonesia and other Southeast-Asian governments to tackle the transboundary problem. 

“Outdoor activities are badly affected, including environmental activities like hiking and outdoor classes for kids,” Ong said, adding that many families are especially concerned about the pollution’s impact on their children’s education.

“The haze has been hanging around for at least 20 years, but the root causes have never been systematically tackled,” he added. “Distribution of masks, school closures and cloud seeding are only treating the symptoms, so to speak, and do not in any way make society more resilient to haze if and when it returns.”