WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The "Blame America First" crowd is wielding the whip. The target: Camp Delta, the U.S. Military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Spurred by a false story in Newsweek and then Amnesty International's unsupported charge that it is the "gulag of our times," Guantanamo and the people it houses have become the left's latest "cause celeb." Kofi Annan, Old Europe's old leaders, Jimmy Carter, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and most of the so-called mainstream media have now declared that the facility must be closed.
President Bush, apparently smarting under the lash, now says such a move is "under consideration." If the White House goal is to make the pain go away, the Bush administration ought to think again. Before shutting down the Guantanamo facility and sending its 547 occupants to their home countries or, as some have suggested, a country of their choice, the administration ought to first try telling the American people more about what "Gitmo" is really like and why it's needed.
First, a truth check. When confronted with the facts, Amnesty International, once respected for holding the Soviet Union and other totalitarian regimes accountable for human rights abuses, backed away from its accusation. "Clearly, this is not an exact or a literal analogy," offered William Schulz, head of AI's U.S. branch. "In size and in duration, there are not similarities between U.S. detention facilities and the gulag. ... People are not being starved. They're not being subjected to forced labor." He could and should have gone further.
Here's Amnesty's "gulag:" Upon arrival at Camp Delta, detainees are issued a blanket, a sheet, two orange jump suits, flip-flops, a foam sleeping pad, two bath towels, a washcloth, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, a prayer rug and a Koran. They are allowed two 15-minute showers per week; they get recreation time and three culturally sensitive meals per day. Schedules are respectful of Islamic traditions, prayer calls are broadcast five times a day, and arrows painted on the floors point to Mecca. Their regular quarters include a flushing toilet, running water and an off-the-floor bed. Detainees who ask for them are provided with soccer balls, playing cards, chessboards and paperback books. All of this courtesy of the American taxpayers the detainees have sworn to kill.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld noted this week that our military has a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) governing every aspect of detainee treatment, including how Korans are to be handled, observing that he has not seen this brief document reproduced by the major media. Rules for handling the Koran include the requirement to wear "clean gloves," and instruct that "two hands will be used at all times when handling the Koran in a manner signaling respect and reverence" and to "handle the Koran as if it were a fragile piece of delicate art."
Add to these regulations stringent rules of engagement, the Geneva Conventions, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, hours of sensitivity training and allowing camera crews -- like mine with FOX News -- to tag along on combat missions, and it's apparent that ours is the most scrutinized, examined and professional force for justice and peace on earth. According to the Department of Defense, more than 68,000 terror suspects have been in U.S. custody at one point or another, and more than half a million young Americans have served overseas since Sept. 11. Yet, only 371 credible allegations of misconduct have been leveled against U.S. troops, and fewer than one-tenth of 1 percent of American service members have been found guilty of abuse or mistreatment.
The second challenge, responding to those like Jacques Chirac, Joe Biden and Fidel Castro who want to "release the detainees," should be even easier. Gen. Dick Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this week: "If you release them or let them go back to their home countries, they would turn around and try to slit our throats, our children's throats. These are the people who took four airplanes and flew them into three buildings on Sept. 11."
Though some in the media immediately charged the general with hyperbole, he's right. Of the 247 detainees who have been released thus far, 25, more than 10 percent, are believed to have returned to the jihad.
One of them, Abdullah Mehsud, spent two years in Guantanamo after being captured fighting with the Taliban. He was released after convincing U.S. interrogators that he was an innocent Afghan tribesman. Last October, after returning to Pakistan, his "country of choice," he kidnapped two Chinese engineers. He claims that he and his followers will "fight America and its allies until the very end."
Mullah Shahzada spent two years at a special "seaside house" with fellow teenage detainees. There, he was taught English, played sports (removed comma) and watched videos designed to make him "like us." After swearing an oath against violence, he was returned to Afghanistan. Just weeks later, he became one of 12 former detainees confirmed killed by coalition forces while fighting with Taliban Al (u/c) Qaeda units.
According to the Pentagon, Guantanamo detainees have provided useful information on locations of training compounds and safe houses, terrain features, travel patterns and routes used for smuggling people and equipment, as well as for identifying potential supporters and opponents. Evidence is also being collected on terrorist plans and operations in the United States and Europe.
As for all of the allegations of abuse: An Al Qaeda training manual captured by British intelligence instructs those who are captured, "at the beginning of the trial ...the brothers must insist on proving that torture was inflicted on them by state security before the judge. Complain of mistreatment while in prison."
This is an enemy that refuses to observe any conventions, treaties or rules of warfare. They lie, cheat and violate agreements. They slice off heads like raw meat. They murder women and children. They fly airplanes into buildings.
But we're the bad guys.