U.S. Diplomats Urge Closure of Gitmo
Five former high-ranking U.S. officials agree Guantanamo Bay prison is a growing shame
By Mick Youther
Five former secretaries of state met in Athens, Ga. recently to formulate bipartisan foreign policy suggestions for the next president. All five former secretaries (Powell, Kissinger, Albright, Baker and Christopher) agreed on two important recommendations: The U.S. should open a dialogue with Iran, and the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay should be closed.
The first recommendation is a no-brainer, but it will have to wait for a new president because the only kind of diplomacy the Bush Administration understands is gunboat diplomacy. The second recommendation (closing the prison camp at Gitmo), should begin immediately. Guantanamo prison, and what has transpired there during George Bush’s war of terror, is an embarrassment to America.
“It gives us a very, very bad name, not just internationally. I have a great deal of difficulty understanding how we can hold someone, pick someone up, particularly someone who might be an American citizen—even if they were caught somewhere abroad, acting against American interests—and hold them without ever giving them an opportunity to appear before a magistrate,” said James Baker, secretary of state under George H.W. Bush.
Other nations have suffered terrorist attacks during the years since Sept. 11, 2001. In many cases, they have caught the terrorists, tried them in criminal court, convicted them and put them in prison. The Bush administration has spent those same years trying to invent new ways to withhold the normal protections of our judicial system from the hundreds of prisoners who have been held at Guantanamo.
Now, the Bush administration is preparing to compound the tragedy by putting on show-trials of six high-profile prisoners during the run-up to the elections in November. These will be nothing like the trials we are accustomed to seeing—where both sides see the evidence and it is possible that the defendant might be found innocent. These trials will be conducted under the rules of the Military Commissions Act, which was foolishly passed by Congress to keep from being labeled “soft on terrorism.”
These tribunals will routinely deny the defendants due process. They may proceed without the defendant. The secretary of defense will pick the judges, hearsay evidence and evidence obtained without a warrant are admissible. Defendants are not allowed to see all the evidence against them, and defense attorneys cannot meet with clients without a government monitor and are not even permitted to keep their notes of the meetings.
The Military Commissions Act does not allow evidence obtained by torture, but this is not a problem for the upcoming show-trials because none of the evidence was extracted by torture. Even though our government has admitted that evidence was obtained by waterboarding prisoners, President Bush has plainly stated that “we do not torture”—therefore: waterboarding must not be torture in the Bush world view).
In some of these cases, government prosecutors have had years to prepare for upcoming show-trials. The defense has not been so lucky.
“The military is speeding ahead with plans to try six men at Guantanamo Bay for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks but none of the defendants, who face possible execution if found guilty, has seen a defense lawyer yet,” Associated Press reported.
According to Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, who successfully represented Salim Hamdan in the case Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld, the Office of Military Commissions has no attorneys who are qualified to handle death-penalty cases. He says:
“The government seems to almost intentionally ensure that there [are] not sufficient assets to put on a credible defense.”
Even though Guantanamo prison is a military installation, and the trials are called military tribunals, it is the Bush administration that is pushing the agenda—not the military. Several honorable officers have voiced concerns about the fairness of the legal proceedings at Guantanamo.
“I expected there would at least be a minimal effort to establish a fair process and diligently prepare cases against significant accused. Instead, I find a halfhearted and disorganized effort by a skeleton group of relatively inexperienced attorneys to prosecute fairly low-level accused in a process that appears to be rigged.. . . You have repeatedly said to the office that the military panel will be handpicked and will not acquit these detainees and that we only needed to worry about building a record for the review panel,” said Capt. John Carr (USAF), in an e-mail sent to supervisors in the Office of Military Commissions in March 2004.
Capt. Carr, along with Air force Officers Maj. Robert Preston and Capt. CarrieWolf, requested transfers to other assignments, rather than participate in the charade of justice at Guantanamo.
Prosecutors will have one big advantage: They can’t lose. Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Morris Davis, who was the chief U.S. prosecutor for the Guantanamo military commissions, told The Nation that “the trials are rigged from the start” and “the process has been manipulated by administration appointees in an attempt to foreclose the possibility of acquittal.”
Col. Davis described what happened when he mentioned the possibility of an acquittal to the Pentagon general counsel William Haynes (a political appointee who was overseeing both the prosecution and the defense for military tribunal commissions):
“[Haynes’s] eyes got wide, and he said, ‘Wait a minute, we can’t have acquittals. If we’ve been holding these guys for so long, how can we explain letting them get off? We can’t have acquittals; we’ve got to have convictions.’” Davis resigned a few hours after being informed that he had been placed in a chain of command under Haynes.
In the event that a miracle occurred, and a defendant is found not guilty, the administration reserves the right to hold “enemy combatants” for the duration of hostilities—even if they are acquitted by the military commission. Since most of the prisoners at Guantanamo have been declared “enemy combatants” and there is no end to Bush’s “war on terror,” you can bet that no defendant is going to be released during the Bush administration—innocent or not.
There probably are terrorists and murderers in Guantanamo prison, but there are also poor slobs who are guilty of nothing except being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or were turned in to American forces for the big rewards that were offered.
Mick Youther is a retired researcher from Southern Illinois Univ.
(Issue # 17, April 28, 2008)