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A National Disgrace
Gitmo: A National Disgrace
Published: June 6, 2007
Ever since President Bush
rammed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 through
Congress to lend a pretense of legality to his detention
camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, we have urged
Congress to amend the law to restore basic human rights
and judicial process. Rulings by military judges this
week suggest that the special detention system is so
fundamentally corrupt that the only solution is to tear
it down and start again.
The target of the judges’
rulings were Combatant Status Review Tribunals, panels
that determine whether a prisoner is an “unlawful
enemy combatant” who can be tried by one of the
commissions created by the 2006 law. The tribunals are,
in fact, kangaroo courts that give the inmates no chance
to defend themselves, allow evidence that was obtained
through torture and can be repeated until one produces
the answer the Pentagon wants.
On Monday, two military
judges dismissed separate war crimes charges against two
Guantánamo inmates because of the status review
system. They said the Pentagon managed to get them
declared “enemy combatants,” but not “unlawful
enemy combatants,” and moved to try them anyway under
the 2006 law. That law says only unlawful combatants may
be tried by military commissions. Lawful combatants
(those who wear uniforms and carry weapons openly) fall
under the Geneva Conventions.
If the administration loses
an appeal, which it certainly should, it will no doubt
try to tinker with the review tribunals so they produce
the desired verdict. Congress cannot allow that. When
you can’t win a bet with loaded dice, something is
wrong with the game.
There is only one path
likely to lead to a result that would allow Americans to
once again hold their heads high when it comes to
justice and human rights. First, Congress needs to
restore the right of the inmates of Guantánamo
Bay to challenge their detentions. By the
administration’s own count, only a small minority of
the inmates actually deserve a trial. The rest should be
sent home or set free.
Second, Congress should
repeal the Military Commissions Act and start anew on a
just system for determining whether prisoners are
unlawful combatants. Among other things, evidence
obtained through coercion and torture should be banned.
And Congress should shut
down Guantánamo Bay, as called for in bills
sponsored by two California Democrats, Representative
Jane Harman in the House and Senator Dianne Feinstein in
the Senate. Both lawmakers are intimately familiar with
the camp and have concluded it is beyond salvaging.
Their bill would close Gitmo
in a year and the detainees would be screened by real
courts. Those who are truly illegal combatants would be
sent to military or civilian jails in the United States,
to be tried under time-tested American rules of justice,
or sent to an international tribunal. Some would be
returned to their native lands for trial, if warranted.
The rest would be set free, as they should have been
The Guantánamo camp
was created on a myth — that the American judicial
system could not handle prisoners of “the war against
terror.” It was built on a lie — that the hundreds
of detainees at Gitmo are all dangerous terrorists. And
it was organized around a fiction — that Mr. Bush had
the power to create this rogue system in the first place.
It is time to get rid of it.
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