As the presidential election season heats up, Republican candidates have opted for “Guantanamo-forever” policy positions. Retiring Republican Senator Chuck Hagel recently complained that the notorious detention facility — once the proud public face of the President’s attempt to move incarceration and mistreatment offshore and beyond the reach of American courts — has bizarrely enough become “a Republican litmus test.” At the same time, at Guantanamo itself, anger and factionalism are on the rise, not among prisoners but warders, while the attempt to set up what Wall Street Journal reporter Jess Bravin calls “a free-standing court system to try alleged foreign terrorists” founders for the nine hundredth time. More than five years after being inaugurated, th! e prison complex has so far adjudicated exactly one case to the point of conviction — a simple plea bargain (essentially negotiated between President Bush and Australian Prime Minister John Howard) that transferred small-fry Taliban follower David Hicks back to Australia where he is to be freed at the end of this year.
In the meantime, the Pentagon official overseeing Guantanamo’s nonexistent terrorism trials and the chief prosecutor of those trials are, reports Bravin, at each other’s throats. Wrote Col. Morris Davis, the prosecutor, to the Wall Street Journal: “If someone above me tries to intimidate me in determining who we will charge, what we will charge, what evidence we will try to introduce, and how we will conduct a prosecution then I will resign.” He’s also lodged a formal complaint against Gen. Thomas Hartmann, legal adviser to the administrator running the trial system, “refused to file any additional charges against Guantanamo inmates until the dispute is resolved,” and sent a separate complaint to the Pentagon inspector general. Time-consuming investigations are slated to follow.
And so it goes in George Bush’s offshore Bermuda Triangle of Injustice where infamy, fiasco, mismanagement, and incompetence have been stirred into a fatal brew, discrediting a country — ours — that has proven, as Karen Greenberg, the Executive Director of the Center on Law and Security at New York University (whose last Tomdispatch piece was “Gitmo Decorum“) makes clear, incapable of asking basic questions about this administration’s detention policy. Tom
Guantanamo’s Not Closing
By Karen J. Greenberg
“Some people have said, we ought to close Guantanamo. My view is, we ought to double Guantanamo.” — Mitt Romney, Republican presidential debate, May 15, 2007
Take a breath, Mitt. Whatever you may think, your bravado statements about doubling the size of Guantanamo — part of your bid to lead the American people faster and farther into the Global War on Terror — are by no means completely off-the-wall. True, President Bush and Secretary of Defense Gates have both stated that closing Guantanamo might be the best way out of the legal limbo we’ve been in ever since that facility opened five and half years ago as the crown jewel of the administration’s offshore network of secret prisons. But forget what they say. Check out what they’re doing. The closing of Guantanamo — and a winding down of the administration’s detention and interrogation policies — may be farther away than most of us think. As elsewhere in this administration’s record, casual talk of refashioning a failed policy masks an inflexible commitment to “staying the course.”
Bear with me a moment, Mitt, and let’s consider the alleged signs of impending closure that evidently worry you greatly. As a start, out of a total of 759 detainees acknowledged to have been at Guantanamo at one time or another, more than half have been released to their home countries or to a third country. According to the Department of Defense, “approximately 340” detainees remain, 120 of whom are deemed no longer a threat and will assumedly be released once Condoleezza Rice’s State Department can find homes for them. Approximately a dozen detainees are now let out every month.