Prague Twin

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Close Guantanamo Bay.... please.

International calls for the closing of Guantanamo bay are building. Recently, Peter Hain, has joined the chorus of voices opposed to the existence of the prison. He quotes in this linked article, "I would prefer that it wasn't there and I would prefer it was closed." Also in the article is a quote from Tony Blair that I think encompasses his desire to express his opposition to the prison without going on record in direct opposition to the Administration. He says, "I've said all along... that it [the prison] is an anomaly and sooner or later it's got to be dealt with." It is a bit cryptic, but when Hain was asked if he thought that meant he wanted it closed, he said, "I think so, yes." Now keep in mind, Hain is the highly respected Secretary of State for both Wales and Northern Ireland, and has a strong record of support for both the Iraq war, and counter-terrorism measures. Kofi Annan has also gone on record opposing the continuing operation of the prison. He has not backed all the findings of the UN report that the Washington post reports on here. But Mr. Annan apparently agrees with a key point made by the commission that issued the report which is that... "a legal regime applied to these detainees seriously undermines the rule of law and a number of fundamental universally recognized human rights, which are the essence of democratic societies."

And I think that really is the point. No matter the reason, keeping these prisoners indefinitely without charge, or without giving them Geneva Convention protections, just plain looks bad. It is a smear on the record of the United States that dwarfs such trivial matters such as holding journalists without charge or legal representation. The issue of Guantanamo Bay has become the ultimate public relations nightmare for the Administration. Indeed it has become difficult to find advocates for the continued operation of the prison. Roger Fraley, who writes XDA, does his best to explain why the prison is justified in this article. His rhetorical thrashing of Paul Campos notwithstanding, Roger misses the mark by resorting to saying "...we are at war". If indeed we are at war, then these prisoners should be given Geneva Convention protection. But very simply, the Administration cannot afford to do this for a variety of reasons, but most importantly, they will not be able to comply with the Geneva Convention with regards to the Treatment of Prisoners of War because of Article 17 which includes this paragraph:

"No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind."

The reward system that the Administration follows clearly violates this provision. Prisoners are given rewards for giving information in the form of increased contact with other prisoners and time outside their cells. There are reports of torture from those who have been released. The Administration is using disadvantageous treatment to coerce information from the prisoners. Therefore, they cannot afford to extend provisions of the Geneva Convention to these prisoners.

As a result, they are not considered prisoners of war, but rather "enemy combatants" which by domestic law apparently allows for the detention of people with whom we are at war to be exempt from Geneva Convention protection. This linguistic ruse is not hard for anyone to see through, and I suspect that when the terms "prisoner of war" and "enemy combatant" are translated into certain other languages, the distinction between the two becomes even less clear.

Quite simply, legal arguments notwithstanding, the damage to the reputation of the United States caused by the continued operation of Guantanamo Bay Prison, far outweighs the security benefits of it's continued operation.

The prisoners there should be either 1. Released to their home countries provided the countries are either US allies or neutral. 2. Tried as "enemy combatants" and incarcerated appropriately. Or 3. Declared "prisoners of war" and be granted Geneva Convention protection.

Otherwise, the US calls for "legal protection for all", ring hollow, and the "War for the Hearts and Minds," will be lost.


  • Excellent post. Thanks for the mention and link. I agree that G. Bay is becoming a PR nightmare, but I can't agree that your solutions are either workable or advantageous to us. We saw from the recent prison break in Yemen that allowing other countries to keep the prisoners is not the best solution. They tend to get out, a lot. We also need the ability to interrogate prisoners in this sort of war. Not torture, interrogate. The Geneva Conventions concerning prisoners of war contemplated large armies of conscripts wearing the uniform of their nation state. That's not what we have now. There are 4 things you have to do do get POW status and the protection of the Geneve Conventions and two of them are wear a uniform and don't target women and children. That leaves a lot of al Qaeda out. We did keep the worst guys in secret prisons in Eastern Europe but at least seditious editors of our larger papers blew the whistle on those and I imagine they are closed or are closing down prior to discovery and embarassment for the host country. So what do we do with the guys we capture? I guess if we executed them for waging war against us without wearing uniforms, that would solve the prisoner crisis, but something tells me that you would not support that solution (and neither would I). The distinction is the uniform between illegal or enemy combatant and POW. I see it as a pretty bright line distinction. And the second of your solutions is the one I think we've been forced to choose by the Supreme Court. I can't remember all of Hamdi, but I believe it required at least military tribunals to ascertain the status of the guy being held by us. Maybe I should find that out. Anyway, a great posting. Keep up the good work.

    By Blogger Roger Fraley, at 12:21 PM  

  • I don’t think there is any linguistic ruse here. There are "prisoners of war" individuals who are part of a uniformed military (Republican Guard) that do the bidding of a particular nation and "enemy combatants" people who are not uniformed representatives of a nations military (al Zarqaui). This distinction is in place so that saboteurs and spies may be dealt with swiftly. I am surprised that you don’t understand this.

    By Anonymous Arch Stanton, at 3:31 PM  

  • Roger:

    Thanks for the support. I think advantageousness can be multi-faceted. Security concerns have to be balanced with the damage that G. Bay is doing to the US public image. You know, in the cold war, the hawks did not want to go the "making the world safe for democracy" route for a very good reason: if this propoganda is dissmeminated, it will have to be followed. Books have been written on what an enemy we have been to freedom and democracy (i.e. in Chile and Nicaragua to name an obvious couple). I understand that you are a realist, and very concerned with security, and I understand and accept that view. However, if we are going around preaching the rule of law, we had damn well better follow it ourselves. And I don't mean Hamdi, but internationally accepted norms. The one in question is one where a detainee gets some form of trial at some point. Holding these guys in perpetuity is where the problem lies.

    My reading of the Geneva Convention doesn't yeild that pre-supposition. There are provisions even for civilians who support the army who can then be considered POWs. I think the secret prisons are even worse than Gitmo if hard evidence as to thier existence ever gets out. Damage is already done more or less though. Yes, the question is what do you do with these guys? Look, if they have enough on them to sentence them, then do it. If they don't, for better or worse, they have to spring them in the interest of the rule of Law. Sure, it burns me when a criminal gets sprung on a technicality, but that is the price we pay for freedom. Freedom is not safe. I think they should spring these guys and then keep tabs on them. Maybe that will lead us to bigger fish.

    I know you can see the distinction between enemy combatants and POWs and Arch does too (and I'm not stupid, Arch, I get it) but explain that to the masses of the world. Not gonna happen.

    We are at war, they are our prisoners and unless we give them some kind of legal protection as POWs or try them as criminals, we become the criminals in the eyes of the masses. (I contend we already have). The supreme court seems to agree with me on this point.


    Like I said, I understand it, but this situation is changing the playing field. A few spies or sabatuers, sure, but we are now talking hundreds, even thousands of people, and some of them are innocents that got caught up in the dragnet. We have to figure out something to save face. I.E. give them a tribunal at least. That is my basic contention.

    Thanks to both of you for reading.

    By Blogger Praguetwin, at 8:17 PM  

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