The United Nations Human Rights Commission has issued a report demanding that the 500 remaining prisoners being held by the United States at their Guantanamo Bay facility be released “without further delay”. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan commented that it was inappropriate for prisoners to be held incommunicado “in perpetuity” by the US Government, regardless of their past actions, pending trials or danger as potential terrorists.
Among the 53 members of the Human Rights Commission are:
• China which holds more political prisoners than all other nations in the world combined and is currently holding over 1000 political prisoners in Tibet alone, being held prisoner merely for supporting traditional Tibetan religion including such crimes as being an 8 year old who some recognize as the reincarnation of a famous Lama. This is in addition to uncounted tens of thousands of ethnic Chinese and other groups in forced detention for political crimes with no right to a trial or outside communication.
• Congo where are there no tedious political prisoners. They just ‘disappear’ hundreds of politically inconvenient people every year, which means raping them, killing them and dumping them in unmarked mass graves.
• Cuba where laws controlling freedom of movement put the entire population under effective house arrest, and where tens of thousands of political prisoners have been executed and imprisoned by the current regime, including for such crimes as homosexuality. In the latest roundups of dissidents over 100 were jailed for disagreeing with the government.
• Ethiopia whose government recently arrested all of the leaders of the political opposition and jailed without trial or outside contact thousands of students from the Oromo tribe, after shooting a number of them during political demonstrations.
• Nigeria where they’ve just reinstated the death penalty for extramarital sex – only applying to women, of course.
• And of course Sudan, whose government presides over the ongoing genocides and human rights abuses in Darfur, which have already led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands.
You don’t get much more hypocritical than the UN, where a group which includes the worst human rights abusers in the world – who regularly ‘disappear’ innocent people, shoot whole villages and throw them in mass graves and jail religious leaders and political critics indefinitely without trial – thinks that the US should immediately free 500 dangerous prisoners taken in war, fighting as non-uniformed combatants and connected to ongoing terrorist operations, who are even being treated far more humanely than they likely deserve. Rather than backing their demands, wouldn’t it be refreshing if Kofi Annan just once took some of these nations to task for their own much more serious human rights abuses?
Now having gotten that off of my chest, the Guantanamo prisoners still need to be dealt with. It’s not much publicized, but many of the prisoners have already been returned to their homes or to neutral nations. Some others have been put on trial and more are likely to be tried in the near future. It’s also become very clear that in the light of the Quirin ruling and other legal precedents there’s no ambiguity about their status and the legitimacy of holding them and trying them outside of our civilian justice system.
But the fact is that these prisoners are being held by the United States government, on US territory, and we can afford to give them some basic semblance of due process, even if they aren’t strictly entitled to it under our law or under the Geneva Convention. This is a situation where it does us as a nation no harm to be generous, and where we could draw the line even more clearly between the United States and the vermin who infest the UN Human Rights Commission.
Every prisoner who is not going to be put on trial in the next year for an identifiable crime ought to be returned to their home country if that country will accept them. This may be a problem, because many of their countries of origin don’t particularly want these violent fanatics back, but in those cases some alternative should be found for them – for example letting their home countries imprison and then deal with them under local law with the US covering any expenses. It’s likely cheaper to keep them in foreign jail than Gitmo anyway, and also far less pleasant for them. A perusal of the list of prisoners shows some of the problems with releasing prisoners. An awful lot of them are from Yemen, which is basically in the business of exporting terrorists and isn’t going to cooperate with keeping any terrorists we give them under control. There’s also the problem that some of those we’ve already released immediately returned to their terrorist careers, like Abdullah Mehsud who was released and immediately returned to his position as one of the leaders of Taliban terror groups in Afghanistan.
Those who are held for trial ought to be given access to lawyers and translators so that they have the ability to prepare a decent defense for when they go to court. The charges against them and the documentation associated with those charges should be made public. This should be done as a courtesy or an act of compassion without any implication that they have any right to any of these considerations.
Then, as quickly as possible, trials should be arranged before military tribunals with the option of either convicting them based on evidence, holding them for the gathering of additional evidence, or releasing them alltogether. This would satisfy most critics by providing a clearly defined legal process and assigning a meaningful status to each prisoner. Clearly under international law there’s no requirement that they be released with any great haste, but they ought to at least know what their status is and what they have to look forward to. In addition, I would start first by reviewing the cases of the youngest detainees. More than a dozen of them are under the age of 16, and they ought to be dealt with first.
Dealing with this situation ought to be a high priority for the administration, not because of the whining of the UN, but because it’s such an easy public relations boost for them at a time when they could certainly use one. They would gain a lot of good press at very little real cost and they don’t even have to free all that many prisoners – and certainly not any dangerous ones – if they handle it right.Powered by Sidelines