View Full Version : Close Guantanamo now

10-02-06, 16:49
The Boston Globe

Close Guantanamo now

February 10, 2006

THE NEW chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, was expected to sweeten relations with the United States that had been strained by her predecessor's outspoken opposition to the Iraq war. But in her first meeting with President Bush last month she gave him this unsolicited advice: Close down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Just how wise her council was becomes clearer with every revelation about the purgatory the United States has created for hundreds of individuals swept up during the Afghanistan war more than four years ago. So far, the government has managed to bring criminal charges against just a handful of the detainees. The rest are held thousands of miles from their homes and families with no prospect of any resolution of their cases.

Not surprisingly, many are driven to go on hunger strikes. Concerned that starvation deaths would further discredit US policy toward the detainees, US officers take extreme steps to keep the strikers alive with force-feeding. According to US officials interviewed by The New York Times, plastic tubes are forced down prisoners' throats and they are strapped into special ''restraint chairs" for hours on end. These keep them from intentionally vomiting after a force-feeding. A detainee lawyer told the Times that one of his clients said officials would purposely insert so much food that prisoners would defecate on themselves.

Many of the detainees are undoubtedly terrorists or supporters of the Taliban, who continue to foment trouble in parts of Afghanistan. In such cases, tribunals meeting due process standards should be held. If detainees are found guilty they should be sentenced and transferred to prisons in Afghanistan. There is a risk they would escape, like the Al Qaeda members who broke out of a Yemeni prison last week, but that risk is eclipsed by the continuing black eye the United States suffers internationally by holding some 500 detainees in indefinite confinement.

The most heart-rending cases are the dozen or so Chinese Muslim Uighurs at Guantanamo. Captured at a time when the United States was offering Afghans $5,000 bounties for detainees, the Uighurs have even been declared by the US government not to be enemy combatants. But the government does not want to send them back to China, where Uighurs are persecuted, and won't give them asylum status that would allow them to join a small Uighur community near Washington, D.C. So they stay in their cells.

Merkel's advice to Bush that he close Guantanamo might have been unwelcome, but it came from a friend. Every day this script by Franz Kafka and Joseph Heller goes on, the United States loses credibility as a champion of human rights.

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