Today's leader in the Times tells it like it is; Guantánamo is a national disgrace. The editorial is dead-on when it comes to the CSRTs, which it accurately describes as "kangaroo courts that give the inmates no chance to defend themselves, allow evidence that was obtained through torture and can be repeated until one produces the answer the Pentagon wants." As those who have followed Mr. Al-Ghizzawi's sad story know, he was found to be a non enemy combatant by his CSRT. It was only through a rigged do-over tribunal that he was classified as an EC.
Gitmo: A National Disgrace
Published: June 6, 2007
Ever since President Bush rammed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 through Congress to lend a pretense of legality to his detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, we have urged Congress to amend the law to restore basic human rights and judicial process. Rulings by military judges this week suggest that the special detention system is so fundamentally corrupt that the only solution is to tear it down and start again.
The target of the judges’ rulings were Combatant Status Review Tribunals, panels that determine whether a prisoner is an “unlawful enemy combatant” who can be tried by one of the commissions created by the 2006 law. The tribunals are, in fact, kangaroo courts that give the inmates no chance to defend themselves, allow evidence that was obtained through torture and can be repeated until one produces the answer the Pentagon wants.
On Monday, two military judges dismissed separate war crimes charges against two Guantánamo inmates because of the status review system. They said the Pentagon managed to get them declared “enemy combatants,” but not “unlawful enemy combatants,” and moved to try them anyway under the 2006 law. That law says only unlawful combatants may be tried by military commissions. Lawful combatants (those who wear uniforms and carry weapons openly) fall under the Geneva Conventions.
If the administration loses an appeal, which it certainly should, it will no doubt try to tinker with the review tribunals so they produce the desired verdict. Congress cannot allow that. When you can’t win a bet with loaded dice, something is wrong with the game.
There is only one path likely to lead to a result that would allow Americans to once again hold their heads high when it comes to justice and human rights. First, Congress needs to restore the right of the inmates of Guantánamo Bay to challenge their detentions. By the administration’s own count, only a small minority of the inmates actually deserve a trial. The rest should be sent home or set free.
Second, Congress should repeal the Military Commissions Act and start anew on a just system for determining whether prisoners are unlawful combatants. Among other things, evidence obtained through coercion and torture should be banned.
And Congress should shut down Guantánamo Bay, as called for in bills sponsored by two California Democrats, Representative Jane Harman in the House and Senator Dianne Feinstein in the Senate. Both lawmakers are intimately familiar with the camp and have concluded it is beyond salvaging.
Their bill would close Gitmo in a year and the detainees would be screened by real courts. Those who are truly illegal combatants would be sent to military or civilian jails in the United States, to be tried under time-tested American rules of justice, or sent to an international tribunal. Some would be returned to their native lands for trial, if warranted. The rest would be set free, as they should have been long ago.
The Guantánamo camp was created on a myth — that the American judicial system could not handle prisoners of “the war against terror.” It was built on a lie — that the hundreds of detainees at Gitmo are all dangerous terrorists. And it was organized around a fiction — that Mr. Bush had the power to create this rogue system in the first place.
It is time to get rid of it.