Monday, February 20, 2006

Casually Destroying Lives. 


Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick summarizes the Albatross that Gitmo is. It is heavy, embarrassing and hung on the necks of the administration by themselves- Barney Fife shooting himself in the foot.

Guantanamo Bay currently holds over 400 prisoners. The Bush administration has repeatedly described these men as "the worst of the worst." Ten have been formally charged with crimes and will someday face military tribunals. The rest wait to learn what they have done wrong. Two major studies conclude that most of them have done very little wrong. A third says they are being tortured while they wait.

No one disputes that the real criminals at Guantanamo should be brought to justice. But now we have proof that most of the prisoners are guilty only of bad luck and that we are casually destroying their lives.

Excerpts and link on the slip

The government's final argument is that we are keeping them from rejoining the war against us, a war that has no end. But that is the most disingenuous claim of all: If any hardened anti-American zealots leave Guantanamo, they will be of our own creation. Nothing will radicalize a man faster than years of imprisonment based on unfounded charges; that's why Abu Ghraib has become the world's foremost crime school. A random sweep of any 500 men in the Middle East right now might turn up dozens sporting olive drab and Casio watches, and dozens more who fiercely hate the United States. Do we propose to detain them all indefinitely and without charges?

The only real justification for the continued disgrace that is Guantanamo is that the government refuses to admit it's made a mistake. Releasing hundreds of prisoners after holding them for four years without charges would be big news. Better, a Guantanamo at which nothing has happened in four years. Better to drain the camp slowly, releasing handfuls of prisoners at a time. Last week, and with little fanfare, seven more detainees were let go. That brings the total number of releasees to 180, with 76 transferred to the custody of other countries. Are these men who are quietly released the "best of the worst"? No. According to the National Journal one detainee, an Australian fundamentalist Muslim, admitted to training several of the 9/11 hijackers and intended to hijack a plane himself. He was released to his home government last year. A Briton said to have targeted 33 Jewish organizations in New York City is similarly gone. Neither faces charges at home.

Guantanamo represents a spectacular failure of every branch of government. Congress is willing to pass a bill stripping courts of habeas-corpus jurisdiction for detainees but unwilling to probe what happens to them. The Supreme Court's decision in Rasul v. Bush conferred seemingly theoretical rights enforceable in theoretical courtrooms. The right to challenge a government detention is older than this country and yet Guantanamo grinds on.

It grinds on because the Bush administration gets exactly what it pays for in that lease: Guantanamo is a not-place. It's neither America nor Cuba. It is peopled by people without names who face no charges. Non-people facing non-trials to defend non-charges are not a story. They are a headache. No wonder the prisoners went on hunger strikes. Not-eating, ironically enough, is the only way they could try to become real to us.

Dahlia Lithwick is a Slate senior editor.

Article URL: http://www.slate.com/id/2136422/
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