Release Gitmo Prisoners Now

Sherwood Ross

Does it strike you as odd Defense Secretary Rumsfeld calls the 450 prisoners held in Guantanamo “the worst of the worst” but in four years has brought formal charges against only 10 of them?

If these suspects are guilty, what’s taking him so long to make his case?

Most got yanked from Afghanistan, hauled across an ocean, and jailed in a complex of open-air wire cages where their families can’t visit. They’ve been held without lawyers, trials, and no idea of how long they’ll do time. Many were tortured, some force fed, 23 attempted to commit suicide, and several succeeded. All have been denied due process.

The Army sought “Article 5” hearings to screen the men on the battlefields of Afghanistan, as mandated by the Geneva Convention, but The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer reports (July 3) “the White House cancelled the hearings.”

Was the reason that many men were swept up in dragnet arrests or turned in as “terrorists” by bounty hunters? (If you can’t find Bin Laden, grab some taxi drivers.)

In late 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney spoke frankly when, referring to the military commissions set up to try the men, he said: “We think it guarantees that we’ll have the kind of treatment of these individuals that we believe they deserve.”

Got that? Cheney knows in advance of trial what they deserve. Sure, just as he knew “for a certainty” Iraq had WMD. He long ago passed judgment on the captives: “Prison term first, trial later.” It’s right out of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

According to Mayer, Rumsfeld’s military tribunals were set up to try those who conspired to commit terrorism “without offering the right to seek an appeal” from anyone but Bush or Rumsfeld.

Conspiracy charges, as the famed defense lawyer Clarence Darrow noted, are inherently flimsy. Prosecutors bring them when they have no case.

And “conspiracy,” not deeds, may be all Rumsfeld has got. Marine Major Dan Mori, assigned to defend one of the 10 charged captives, said conspiracy “is the only thing there is in many cases at Guantanamo---- guilt by association.”

“I hope that nobody confuses military justice with these ‘military commissions,’ Mori added with a touch of scorn. “This is a political process, set up by the civilian leadership. It’s inept, incompetent, and improper.”

Fortunately, the Supreme Court last month trashed Bush’s military court scheme. Now, White House spokesman Snow muses how to bring the captives “properly to justice?”

No rush. Give Cheney and Rumsfeld a few more years to mull it over. Holding a man incognito half way across the world for four years isn’t punishment enough.

Rear Admiral Donald Guter, the Navy’s chief Judge Advocate General (JAG) until June, 2002, told Mayer he wondered if they were getting so little military intelligence from Gitmo prisoners because “it wasn’t there.”

In the Summer of 2002, an Arab-speaking CIA analyst dispatched to interview dozens of Gitmo prisoners concluded more than half of them didn’t belong there and wrote “a devastating classified report” that worked its way up to General John Gordon, deputy national security advisor with terrorism oversight, the magazine reported.

Gordon read it and met with White House officials. He warned potentially innocent men were locked up in violation “of basic notions of American fairness.” But according to Mayer, Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington rebuffed Gordon, stating, “They’ve all been through a screening process.”

Recently, the London Times reported, most Gitmo detainees “no longer face regular interrogation and some have not been questioned for six months.” In fact, Rear Admiral Harry Harris of Gitmo said 75% of the men aren’t useful intelligence sources.

It is, of course, contrary to international treaties signed by the U.S., to transport captives to a foreign country to be subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

And Title 18 of the U.S. Code, Section 2340A, makes it a crime punishable by up to life imprisonment for an American to torture. May we dare imagine Cheney’s choice language if he got arrested on torture charges and sent to a prison in Afghanistan for four years without ever being charged?

Fantasies aside, the Gitmo captives have all been denied due process. They should be freed, compensated, and repatriated immediately. Where there’s no due process, there’s no democracy.

Sherwood Ross is an American who writes on politics and military affairs. Contact him at

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