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What to Do About Guantanamo?


The US Congress is refusing to allow President Obama to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, a symbol of torture and abuse. Apparently their vote was driven by fears of public backlash if those detained were brought to prisons in the US. Obama had failed to specify exactly what would happen to the prisoners when the facility was closed, but one is slated to be tried in New York for the attacks on the US embassies in East Africa in 1998.

I don’t understand the controversy. Perpetrators of the embassy bombings have already been tried and convicted in a New York court, some years ago, and are serving sentences in US supermax penitentiaries. Why would Gailani’s trial and, assuming he were convicted, imprisonment be different?

And, weren’t dangerous Nazis imprisoned in the US during WW II?

I don’t actually think the US public wants to go on torturing people and holding individuals indefinitely without trial and without rights. Uh, the Declaration of Independence didn’t speak of the rights of US citizens. It said "all men" have the rights it set out.

A federal judge has already rejected Obama’s right, which he recently asserted, to keep people in prison for having shown "substantial support" (but short of taking up arms) for e.g. the Taliban. If you wanted to jail people for thinking well of the Taliban, you’d have to imprison 5% of the Afghan population, or nearly a million and a half people, and 14% of the Pakistani population, or about 24 million people.

Obama had better do something quick or he’ll be forced just to let a lot of the prisoners go. Andy Worthington argues that many at Guantanamo were randomly picked up anyway, with some sold to the US by the Taliban!

I’m against the military tribunals. But why can’t you hold civilian trials at Guantanamo Bay? District it as part of some civil US jurisdiction US and send a jury over. You could declare all civilians at Guantanamo Bay under the jurisdiction of the Virgin Islands federal District Court, e.g. You could use the security and facilities of the military base for the civilian trials. Those convicted could go into a supermax penitentiary in the US, from which no one has escaped, and which already hold Ahmed Rassam and Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman (look them up; few at Guantanamo are more dangerous). Or maybe since the Congress is so exercised by this issue, they will want to refurbish and start back up Alcatraz…

Juan Cole is President of the Global Americana Institute.

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