As uneasy as I feel featuring a scummy and self-defamed journalist, I do so in this instance. Having argued before about the wisdom and prudence of keeping Guantanamo open, and having received little or no support for this position, I'll go to the swamp if that's the only place I can find corroboration.
Look what happened the other day: Sixteen al-Qaida-affiliated prisoners, including five sentenced to death, escaped from a prison in Tikrit City. And that's just the most recent example. All over the world, terrorists are captured, convicted, and incarcerated. But they don't stay in the lock-up. Rather than having them taken out back and shot, which is a rather permanent disposition, I'm saying the civilized world needs a centralized holding facility like the Hague.
So, I am saying that Guantanamo fits the bill as a secure residence, for people we cannot afford to try, convict or release back in circulation. That includes some that have been tried and convicted but are incarcerated in less than politically or physically secure prisons throughout the world.
Therefore, don't end Gitmo! Instead, mend Gitmo! Rehabilitate Guantanamo!
Here's what the witch, Judith Miller, says about Keeping Gitmo (my excerpts):
.... The joint task force in charge of the 226 remaining detainees is spending about $440,000 to expand the recreation yards at Camp 6. At nearby Camp 4, which offers communal living for the most "compliant" captives, the soccer yard is being enlarged. At Camp 5, a maximum-security facility, a $73,000 classroom is under construction. In March, the task force added art classes to the thrice-weekly instruction it offers in Arabic, Pashtu and English, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer.There you have it:
Though President Obama vowed on his second day in office to close the detention center within a year, Gitmo's officers say they intend to continue spending previously budgeted funds to improve life at the center until the last detainee leaves. "It's business as usual around here," the task force's deputy commander, Brig. Gen. Rafael O'Ferrall, told me two weeks ago during one of the official tours that Gitmo offers outsiders.
The point of the tour is to show that Gitmo, which Obama called a "stain" on America's reputation, has become a model, if somewhat surreal, detention center.
My hosts would never dare publicly challenge their commander in chief's orders. But they clearly believe that Gitmo no longer deserves to be seen as a symbol of human rights abuses. "This place is synonymous with military abuse, and it's just not fair," said Rear Adm. Thomas H. Copeman III, the task force's commander.
Officers at Gitmo are eager to distance themselves from the "enhanced interrogation techniques" that senior Bush administration officials approved soon after 9/11. "No one was ever waterboarded at Gitmo," said Army Col. Bruce E. Vargo, commander of the Joint Detention Group.
.... Officials are sparing little effort or expense to improve Gitmo. They provide captives with prayer rugs, beads, caps and Korans in their native languages. Arrows point toward Mecca. The center spends about $4 million a year offering detainees a choice of six different halal meals a day. The kitchen prepares two Islamic "feast" meals a week and offers fresh food -- such as yogurt, veggie-burger patties with fresh garlic and onion, and scrambled eggs and waffles.
In fact, obesity is increasingly a problem, one Navy doctor said. He knows, because the detainees make roughly 7,800 visits a year to the medical center to receive state-of-the-art care. That includes colonoscopies for "age-appropriate" detainees; 25 have been performed so far. The medical center has one staff member for every two detainees.
Hunger strikes are allowed, but only along with "voluntary force-feeding" -- a phrase admittedly worthy of Orwell. Each day, most of the hunger strikers (about 18% of the detainees) line up for Ensure nutritional supplements. They ingest the supplements not through the mouth but through the nostril, via a yellow, spaghetti-size tube lubricated with olive oil. (Butter pecan is the most popular of the five available flavors, the doctor said.) Of course, those who don't "volunteer" are shackled and force-fed anyway. "They have a right to protest, and we have an obligation to keep them alive and healthy while they do so," Copeman explained.
Detainees are also screened for a variety of illnesses -- diphtheria, tuberculosis, flu and HIV. "This place embodies the best of what we do as Americans," the Navy doctor told me, without a trace of irony. Are the detainees grateful? "Some are, some aren't," he said. But like his clientele back in California, "most detainees don't want to die."
Still, some clearly do: There have been five documented suicides so far at Gitmo and many more unsuccessful attempts. The latest -- Muhammad Ahmad Abdallah Salih, a 31-year-old Yemeni held here since 2002 -- killed himself in June, apparently by hoarding pills and downing them all at once. (An internal investigation is ongoing.) Depression and other mental ailments among detainees are common, doctors acknowledged.
So Gitmo continues to expand its "intellectual stimulation program": a library of more than 15,000 books, magazines, puzzles, electronic games and newspapers, as well as satellite TV and more than 315 movies on DVD.
Gitmo's "compliant" detainees have access to recreational activity for as much as 20 hours a day -- including soccer, basketball, foosball, ping-pong and gardening. "Noncompliant" detainees are confined to individual cells, about 10 feet long by 8 feet wide, for 22 hours a day, with two hours of daily recreation. That's an hour more than most civilian prisoners get in American maximum-security prisons, officers pointed out -- but then, American civilian prisoners have been tried and convicted of crimes.
This is the real problem with Gitmo -- the fact that most of the detainees have not been charged with terrorism or any other crime. Satellite TV is all well and good, but not if you're being held indefinitely without trial.
Ending the detainees' legal limbo and ensuring them due process is far more important than closing down the prison they're being held in. Yet there is little difference between Obama and his predecessor on some of the key due-process issues. Not only has Obama embraced George W. Bush's notion of military commissions to try some detainees, with ostensibly bolstered rights for the defendants, but he has endorsed Bush's position on "renditions" to countries with suspect human rights records. And he agrees with Bush on preventive detention for a "fifth category" of detainee: captives who cannot be prosecuted by a civilian court or even by a military commission because of torture-tainted evidence or the need to protect intelligence sources and methods, but who "pose a clear danger to the American people," as Obama puts it, and may be too dangerous to release. It is unclear how many detainees fall into this category.
While the administration ponders the detainees' legal fate, it seems pointless to spend more money and energy moving them to "Gitmo North" -- maximum-security prisons in the United States where they may be far more harshly treated.
It's time for the Obama administration to acknowledge that Gitmo, or another center like it, will be needed as long as the war on terrorism -- no matter what our commander in chief calls it -- endures. But to ensure that such places do not become legal black holes, detainees should be assured of some kind of periodic, independent review of the allegations against them. They should have not only decent physical treatment but the legal right to challenge their detention in a way that does not jeopardize intelligence sources and methods.
Several legal experts have proposed legal compromises that would authorize preventive detention for terrorism suspects but with bolstered rights and a guaranteed, periodic, impartial review of the allegations that led to their detention. These schemes may not be perfect. But they may be the most effective way to protect American values while we continue fighting a war that we cannot afford to abandon.
- internationalize staffing
- indefinite incarceration with periodic review;
- voluntary interviews;
- transparent oversight through un-announced visits by the International Red Cross;
- nutritious diet;
- diverse reading materials;
- Islamic religious observances;
- monitored correspondence with families.
That's my case. And this is not the last time circumstances will call upon me to restate it.