There are many who dismiss the suicides of the three detainees at Guantanamo with a kind of "good riddance" wave of the hand, a casual shrug of the shoulders denoting indifference to the fate of those who, if given half a chance, would kill us all.
But it is by no means clear that those detainees and the others being held there pose that kind of threat. And the reason we aren't sure – sure enough to have a clear conscience as we lock them away for the rest of their lives – is because of the unconscionable foot dragging by the Administration on determining exactly what rights the prisoners will be granted before U.S. courts.
The Justice Department last year passed the buck to Congress, giving them the opportunity to determine how to go about judging the detainees on a case by case basis The Congress demurred, believing the matter to properly belong to the courts. And while lower courts have granted the prisoners some rights like habeas corpus and the right to an attorney, the legal limbo of the detainees won't be cleared up until the Supreme Court rules on the matter.
On Friday, the President acknowledged that Gitmo has got to be closed and offered his explanation as to why it still functions:
"We would like to end the Guantanamo — we'd like it to be empty," Bush said. But he added: "There are some that, if put out on the streets, would create grave harm to American citizens and other citizens of the world. And, therefore, I believe they ought to be tried in courts here in the United States."
Bush said his administration was waiting for the Supreme Court to rule on whether he overstepped his authority in ordering the detainees to be tried by U.S. military tribunals.
Even the President is now convinced Guantanamo needs to be closed and that the prisoners have their cases tried in American courts. The amazing thing about the President's statement is that if indeed the Supreme Court rules that the President "overstepped his authority" in using military tribunals to detain the prisoners illegally, there's a chance that there may not be any trials in US courts at all; that most if not all the prisoners will be released outright.
To forestall that possibility, the Supreme Court's ruling is likely to be hazy enough so that the prisoners will not be released due to any technical violation of their "constitutional rights" – an incendiary term when applied to accused terrorists – but will grant the detainees a habeas corpus hearing that will force the government to reveal in open court some of the evidence compiled against them.
This is also problematic as apparently much of the evidence is of a sensitive nature and revealing it in open court would compromise intelligence methods and assets. This puts the United States government squarely behind the 8-ball; in order to keep the accused terrorists in jail, we may be forced to reveal sources, allowing the detainee to "face their accuser." And since one study of detainee records shows that a sizable number of them were not captured on any battlefield in Afghanistan but rather handed over by warlords and tribal leaders, having the detainee "face their accuser" may indeed be a monumental problem resulting in the release of people who may very well pose a threat to the United States. As it stands now, only 10 detainees stand accused of any crime at all. The rest are being held as enemy combatants with evidence of a classified nature used to keep them in prison.
This has been the beef against military tribunals all along; evidentiary standards are much more lax than they are in any court in the United States. There have also been questions about the availability of defense counsel to the detainees during their hearings as well as other roadblocks which have made the tribunals seem more like drumhead court martials than legal proceedings in keeping with the honorable traditions of American jurisprudence.
Much as we loathe the men who have sworn to kill us all, we simply must come to grips with the idea that if we aren't able to kill them on the battlefield, they must be granted some of the rights guaranteed by international law and our own constitution. To do any less cheapens our entire justice system. It isn't a question of loving the terrorist. It is a question of loving liberty and the blessings granted by a constitution that recognizes value in every individual and equality before the law.
I don't know if the suicides at Gitmo were the result of despair, as the New York Times says or whether it was a public relations ploy as Colleen Graffy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy says. I do know that as long as the detention center remains open, it represents, in my opinion, a black stain on American justice and a sad chapter in the history of American jurisprudence that should be closed for good.Powered by Sidelines