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According to the White House, the US will not hand back the Guantanamo Bay naval base as part of efforts to improve relations with Cuba.

Cuba’s President Raul Castro included the demand in a speech on January 28, calling also for the US trade embargo to be lifted.

President Barack Obama “does believe that the prison at Guantanamo Bay should be closed down… but not the naval base”, the White House said.

The land on which the base stands was leased to the US by Cuba in 1903.

The Cuban government which came to power in the revolution of 1959 has long demanded its return, saying it is a violation of international law, but the US points to a legal provision making the lease permanent unless it is terminated by mutual agreement.

Photo US Navy

Photo US Navy

Last month the two countries announced a thaw in relations, agreeing to restore diplomatic ties severed in 1961. Delegations have begun negotiating the re-establishment of embassies.

In his speech on January 28, Raul Castro said: “The re-establishment of diplomatic relations is the start of a process of normalizing bilateral relations.

“But this will not be possible while the blockade still exists, while they don’t give back the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo naval base.”

This condition was rejected by White House spokesman Josh Earnest in remarks to the media on January 29.

Josh Earnest agreed that President Barack Obama was seeking to shut the prison at Guantanamo Bay, as it “only serves as a recruiting tool for al-Qaeda and other extremist organizations”.

“But the naval base is not something that we believe should be closed,” the White House spokesman said.

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Cuban leader Raul Castro has demanded the US hand back the Guantanamo Bay military base before relations with Washington are normalized.

In a speech, President Raul Castro also called for the lifting of the US trade embargo and Cuba’s removal from a terror list.

Last month Cuba and the US announced a thaw in relations, agreeing to restore diplomatic ties which were severed in 1961.

High-level talks were held last week.

A Congressional delegation arrived in Havana to begin negotiations aimed at reopening embassies in the two countries’ capitals.

Meanwhile, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro appeared to signal his approval for the political rapprochement.

Cuba’s state-run newspaper Gramma published a letter on January 27 in which he wrote: “We will always defend co-operation and friendship with all the people of the world, including with our political adversaries.”

He wrote that although he did not “trust the policy of the US”, it did not mean he rejected a “peaceful solution to conflicts”.Barack Obama and Raul Castro

Fidel Castro’s brother, Raul, who succeeded him as president in 2008, made his demands at the summit of Community of Latin American and Caribbean States in Costa Rica.

“The reestablishment of diplomatic relations is the start of a process of normalising bilateral relations,” he said.

“But this will not be possible while the blockade still exists, while they don’t give back the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo naval base.”

The land on which the base stands was leased to the US government in 1903 by Cuba’s then-rulers.

US officials have so far not responded to Raul Castro’s remarks.

President Barack Obama has called on Congress to put an end to the trade embargo, which has been in place since 1962.

Earlier this month President Barack Obama also used his executive powers to loosen trade and restrictions on travel to Cuba.

President Barack Obama has used his public speech in Berlin to propose cuts of one-third in American and Russian nuclear arsenals.

Speaking at the Brandenburg Gate, Barack Obama called for reductions in the number of tactical warheads deployed in Europe.

The US president also pledged to boost efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention centre and tackle climate change.

Earlier, Barack Obama met Chancellor Angela Merkel, who criticized the broad scope of US surveillance programmes.

This is Barack Obama’s first visit to Berlin as American president.

His address to students and government officials at the Brandenburg Gate, which once divided East and West Germany, comes almost 50 years after President John F. Kennedy’s celebrated “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech.

In a speech which centred on a theme of freedoms, Barack Obama said the gate was a symbol that “no wall can stand against the yearnings for justice… that burn in the human heart”.

“Today’s threats are not as stark as they were half a century ago, but the struggle for freedom and security and human dignity, that struggle goes on,” he said.

“We may no longer live in fear of global annihilation but so long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe,” calling for intensified efforts to limit their spread.

Barack Obama said he had determined that the US could ensure its own and its allies security and maintain a credible deterrent “while reducing our deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one third”.

“I intend to seek negotiated cuts with Russia to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures,” he said.

Under the New Start treaty which the US signed with Russia in 2010, each side is allowed a maximum of 1,550 warheads and no more than 700 deployed launchers.

The new limit on delivery systems is less than half the ceiling of 1,600 specified in the original Start treaty from 1991.

Barack Obama spoke at Brandenburg Gate 50 years after JFK's "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech

Barack Obama spoke at Brandenburg Gate 50 years after JFK’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech

Barack Obama added that the US would also work alongside NATO allies to seek “bold reductions” in the use of tactical weapons in Europe, and would also seek to forge a new international framework for the use of peaceful nuclear power.

He said the US rejected the nuclearisation of countries like North Korea and Iran.

Shortly before Barack Obama spoke, Russian President Vladimir Putin was quoted as saying that Moscow “cannot allow the balance of the system of strategic deterrence to be disturbed or the effectiveness of our nuclear force to be decreased”.

A senior foreign policy adviser to Vladimir Putin said other nuclear-armed countries would have also have to reduce their stockpiles for such a plan to work.

“The situation now is not like in the 1960s and 1970s when only the United States and the Soviet Union held talks on reducing nuclear arms,” Yury Ushakov told a briefing in Moscow.

“Now we need to look more broadly… and increase the circle of participants in possible contacts on this matter.”

Barack Obama said that for the US, moving beyond the Cold War “mindset of perpetual war” also meant redoubling efforts to close the US prison camp at Guantanamo, tightly controlling the use of new technology like drones and “balancing the pursuit of security with the protection of privacy”.

In her morning meetings with Barack Obama, Chancellor Angela Merkel had criticized PRISM, the recently exposed US phone and internet surveillance programmes, saying: “We do see the need for gathering information, but there is a need for due diligence and proportionality.”

The chancellor grew up in Communist East Germany, where police surveillance was widespread.

Angela Merkel acknowledged that the internet “enables enemies of a free liberal order to use and abuse and bring threats to all of us”, but “an equitable balance must be struck”.

Barack Obama said the monitoring applied within narrow limits to do with national security. It had detected 50 potential threats and saved many lives, he emphasized.

“This is not a situation where we simply go into the internet and begin searching any way we want,” the US president told a news conference in Berlin.

Barack Obama’s visit comes after G8 leaders backed calls for holding Syrian peace talks in Geneva “as soon as possible”.

Speaking earlier, Barack Obama said the US was confident that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons during the 26-month-old conflict, but refused to spell out what aid might go the rebels.

“I cannot and will not comment on specifics on our programmes related to the Syrian opposition,” Barack Obama said, stressing his support for a political transition.

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Clashes between prisoners and guards have erupted at Guantanamo Bay as authorities moved inmates, many of whom are on hunger strike, out of communal cellblocks.

The move came after detainees covered surveillance cameras and windows, a US Army spokesman said.

He said some prisoners used “improvised weapons” and in response “four less-than-lethal rounds” were fired.

The Pentagon says 43 prisoners are on hunger strike, but lawyers for the detainees say the number is higher.

Almost a dozen are being force-fed, according to military officials.

Clashes between prisoners and guards have erupted at Guantanamo Bay as authorities moved inmates, many of whom are on hunger strike, out of communal cellblocks

Clashes between prisoners and guards have erupted at Guantanamo Bay as authorities moved inmates, many of whom are on hunger strike, out of communal cellblocks

There were no “serious injuries to guards or detainees” in Saturday’s clashes, according to Capt Robert Durand of the US military’s Southern Command.

“I know for sure that one detainee was hit but the injuries were minor, just some bruises,” another spokesman, Col. Greg Julian, told the Associated Press.

Lawyers for some of the detainees condemned the camp authorities’ actions.

Carlos Warner, who represents several detainees, told AP that “the military is escalating the conflict”.

Hunger strikes have happened frequently at the US military prison, but this protest, which began in February, is reportedly one of the longest and most widespread.

However, Guantanamo officials deny claims that the strike began after copies of the Koran were mishandled during searches of prisoners’ cells.

Human rights groups and lawyers representing the prisoners say it reflects growing frustration at the US military’s failure to decide the detainees’ future.

Nearly 100 of the detainees have been reportedly cleared for release but remain at the facility because of Congressional restrictions and also concerns of possible mistreatment if they are sent back to their home countries.

The military detention centre opened in 2002 to hold suspects captured in counter-terrorism operations after the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US.

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Omar Khadr, the youngest prisoner to be held at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre, has been returned to his native Canada.

Omar Khadr had been held at the US base in Cuba since 2002, after being detained in Afghanistan aged 15.

A military plane flew Omar Khadr, the last Westerner at Guantanamo, to Canada early on Saturday.

He will serve the rest of his eight-year jail term in Canada. He pleaded guilty to killing a US soldier in Afghanistan.

Omar Khadr left the prison on a US military plane and arrived at a Canadian air base in Trenton in Ontario province, from where he was transferred to the Millhaven maximum prison, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told a news conference.

The US Department of Defense said in a statement: “The United States government has returned Khadr to Canada where he will serve out his remaining sentence. The United States co-ordinated with the government of Canada regarding appropriate security and humane treatment measures.”

Omar Khadr was sentenced to 40 years in prison by a US military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay in 2010 on war crimes charges.

The charges against him were: murder in violation of the law of war; attempted murder in violation of the law of war; conspiracy; providing material support for terrorism; and spying.

But as part of his plea deal, his sentence was limited to eight years.

Under the deal, he became eligible to return to Canada last October.

Canada declined to intervene in Omar Khadr’s trial, despite federal court rulings in Ottawa that his rights were violated when Canadian agents interrogated him at Guantanamo Bay.

The majority of Canadians supported the campaign to repatriate Omar Khadr, now 26, though the country remains split over the case.

“Omar Khadr is a known supporter of the al-Qaeda terrorist network and a convicted terrorist,” Vic Toews said on Saturday.

Many still consider him and some members of his family a threat, while others see him as a child victim of both an extreme Islamist ideology and cruel and unusual treatment at the hands of the US authorities.

The Khadrs have been called Canada’s “first family of terror”.

Omar Khadr’s father, an associate of Osama Bin Laden, took the family to Peshawar, in Pakistan, to support the Afghan mujahideen in their war against the Soviets when Khadr was a child. The father died in a firefight with Pakistani troops near the Afghan border in 2003.

One brother is paralyzed from the waist down after being wounded in that same battle. Another has just been released from jail in Toronto after successfully fighting extradition to the US on terror charges.

Omar Khadr’s sister Zaynab and mother Maha are well-known in Canada for their extremist views.

Some 166 detainees remain in detention at Guantanamo Bay.



9/11 “mastermind” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men accused of plotting the 2001 attacks are appearing before a US military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay to be formally charged.

An earlier attempt to try the four in a civilian US court was halted in 2009.

New rules for Guantanamo trials have been since introduced, including a ban on evidence obtained under torture.

However, defense lawyers still say the system lacks legitimacy, because of restricted access to their clients.

President Barack Obama tried to shut Guantanamo at the beginning of his term. But his efforts to hold Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s trial in New York foundered in the face of political and public opposition.

A small number of victims’ relatives are attending Saturday’s hearing at the military complex.

Self-proclaimed 9/11 “mastermind” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is being tried with four others – Waleed bin Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali and Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi.

They are accused of planning and executing the terror attacks of 11 September 2001, which saw hijacked planes strike New York, Washington and Shanksville, Pennsylvania and left a total of 2,976 people dead.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other four men are accused of planning and executing the terror attacks of 11 September 2001, which left a total of 2,976 people dead

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other four men are accused of planning and executing the terror attacks of 11 September 2001, which left a total of 2,976 people dead

At Saturday’s arraignment, they face charges including terrorism, hijacking, conspiracy, murder and destruction of property.

Waleed bin Attash appeared in court while restrained in his chair. His lawyer asked for the restraints to be removed.

But when asked if the suspect would “behave” if unrestrained, the lawyer said he could not give that assurance.

The five are expected to be asked to enter a plea for the first time. The charges can carry the death penalty.

Ahead of the hearing, Jim Harrington, the civilian lawyer for Ramzi Binalshibh, told Associated Press that although his client had previously said he was “proud” of his role in the attacks he had “no intention of pleading guilty”.

“I don’t think anyone is going to plead guilty,” he added.

The decision to hold a military rather than a civilian trial remains controversial and follows a lengthy legal wrangle over where the five men would face justice.

Another of the defendants’ lawyers, James Connell, predicted the trial would take years to complete.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is of Pakistani origin but was born in Kuwait, was captured in Pakistan in 2003 and transferred to the Guantanamo base in Cuba in 2006.

During an earlier, controversial attempt to try him before a military tribunal in 2008, he said he intended to plead guilty and would welcome martyrdom.

In 2009 the Obama administration tried to move their trial into US civilian courts, but reversed its decision in 2011 after widespread opposition.

The five were eventually charged in June 2011 with offences similar to those they were accused of by the Bush administration.

The Pentagon has previously said Khalid Sheikh Mohammed admitted he was responsible “from A to Z” for the 9/11 attacks.

US prosecutors allege that he was involved with a host of other terrorist activities.

These include the 2002 nightclub bombing in Bali, Indonesia, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl and a failed 2001 attempt to blow up an airliner using a shoe bomb.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has alleged that he was repeatedly tortured during his detention in Cuba.

CIA documents confirm that he was subjected to simulated drowning, known as waterboarding, 183 times.