Issue #69

Last Update October 31, 2010

National Guantanimo by Gerry Krownstein January 10, 2009   What's the big problem with closing down Guantanimo? Everyone is acting like this is a hot potato that Mr. Obama should handle very carefully. There are mysterious "risks to our country" in precipitate action to eliminate this blot on America's honor., they say, and maybe we should keep it open for at least another year under we figure a way out of this very difficult problem. Bull! The real problem is that closing Guantanimo quickly leaves too much egg on too many faces. A delayed closing would show that really dangerous characters were kept in check; maybe we went a bit far, but it was all in a good cause, and was almost all necessary. None of this is true.

There are three kinds of prisoners in Guantanimo: innocents swept up in the passions of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, low-level Taliban and/or Al Qaeda functionaries, who are equivalent of privates in a real army, have no real power and very little useful information, and a very few significant figures whose intelligence potential was long ago exhausted, but who may have been instrumental in the loss of American lives. This last group (and some in the other groups) break down further into two groups: those who have been tortured and those who haven't.

The first two groups should be disposed of quickly by repatriating them to their home countries. The only risks to the US from doing that are that those who were tortured will go public with their experiences, causing bad PR to an administration now repudiated by the American public as well, and that their Guantanimo experiences may have further radicalised these people, making them into cannon fodder (or IED fodder, as the case may be). Since there seems to be no shortage of people willing to commit suicide in the Middle East, a few hundred more is not going to shake the foundations of our country. In fact, in the waning days of the Bush administration, hundreds of Guantanimo prisoners were set free; the Obama administration should complete the process.

The last category gets most of the arguments for delay and caution. These are "the worst of the worst", in Dick Cheney's view. The have committed crimes of some sort, generally unspecified. We have evidence to prove it, say those in favor of indefinite detention, or outsourcing of justice to countries with no discernable tradition of justice, but we can't use it in a normal trial because it would either expose and jeopardize our intelligence gathering assets, techniques and personnel, or would be inadmissible because the evidence was obtained under torture.

The rule of law is a large part of what we are fighting to preserve. These "worst of the worst" should be evaluated by civilian prosecutors as to their convictability. "National Security" excuses, used to hide government malfeasance and error, should be ignored. There are, in fact, no major national security issues at risk. Those that are triable as criminals should be tried in a regular civilian court, not in a military court with fewer protections for the innocent or a special, FISA court that operates under Star Chamber secrecy. The American public, at long last, should be able to see what is being done in its name, and the world should see what real justice looks like.

Guantanimo should be closed down in a matter of months. Then, given its permanently tainted nature, it should be returned to Cuba.

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