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Ex-detainees launch Gitmo inmates' rights group

Published: Wednesday, July 29 2009 9:41 a.m. MDT

GENEVA — Former Guantanamo Bay detainees have launched an organization to help released inmates return to normal life and to lobby for the release or trial of those still held at the U.S. military prison, one of the founders said Wednesday.

The Guantanamo Justice Center aims to help over 500 men who have been released from the prison get medical and psychological treatment and find jobs, said Sami al-Haj.

Al-Haj, a Sudanese national who spent more than six years at Guantanamo, said only one in 20 former inmates has a job, and many have received no psychological or medical assistance.

"If you lock someone up in a normal prison for six months they need help," he told The Associated Press. "These people have been in jail for more than six years in an institution that's much worse than a normal jail."

Many have received no explanation or apology, despite having never been charged with a crime, al-Haj said.

The group, which will have offices in Geneva and London, will also lobby for the release or court trial of the 229 remaining inmates, he said.

In the long term, the group will explore ways of suing officials in the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush for allegedly ordering the mistreatment of detainees at the camp, he said.

Several former inmates who claim to have been mistreated while in U.S. custody after being swept up in anti-terror operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have tried to bring legal actions against U.S. officials, so far with little success.

President Barack Obama has ordered the Guantanamo facility closed by January 2010.

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