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Economist on Guantánamo

This is a few weeks old, but better late than never. The Economist wrote an opinion piece on Camp X-Ray, the US detention facility at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba:

America seems to have no plans to shut the prison, or to alter significantly how it deals with the people held there. The administration should think again. America's handling of the prisoners at Guantanamo is wrong in principle, and a tactical error in its broader fight against terrorism...

Held on a perpetual lease from Cuba, which has no control over the base, [Guantánamo] was chosen deliberately as a legal loophole. Those imprisoned there, the Bush administration has argued, are beyond the reach of any court, and so effectively beyond the law. They have no rights.

The Geneva Conventions, the administration says, do not apply to the Guantanamo prisoners. The captives can be held indefinitely, without access to a lawyer or even, if American authorities so decide, to consular officials from their own country. After 16 months, none of those detained at the camp has been charged. But if any prisoners are ever brought to trial, it will be before a military commission chosen by the Pentagon, which can hold its proceedings in secret and, if it chooses, condemn prisoners to death with no right of appeal to any civilian judge aside from the president himself, who would have made the decision to put them on trial in the first place.

This claim that America is free do whatever it wishes with the Guantanamo prisoners is unworthy of a nation which has cherished the rule of law from its very birth, and represents a more extreme approach than it has taken even during periods of all-out war. It has alienated many other governments at a time when the effort to defeat terrorism requires more international co-operation in law enforcement than ever before. America's casual brushing aside of the Geneva Conventions, which require at least a review of each prisoner's status by an independent tribunal, made America's invocation of these same conventions on behalf of its own soldiers during the recent Iraq conflict sound hypocritical...

The Guantanamo prison itself should be dismantled. It symbolises a legal limbo into which no law-abiding society should ever willingly stray. Even those accused of terrorism have rights, however egregious their alleged crimes.

As I wrote back in March:

[T]hese men -- however grave their alleged crimes -- are human beings with certain rights. If they are prisoners of war, then they must be treated in accordance with the guidelines to which we have agreed for the treatment of such prisoners, including contact with the outside world and release after the end of hostilities. If they aren't prisoners of war, then they must be treated in accordance with our own laws for criminal suspects, including the right to legal counsel and the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.


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