Close Gitmo?

Posted: Jun 14, 2005 12:00 AM

The retreat is on. Even Republican Sens. Chuck Hagel (Nebraska) and Mel Martinez (Florida) are scurrying along with the panicked pack calling on the U.S. to close its detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.
Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden (Delaware) has been a leader of what should be loosely called the ?Release Suspected Terrorists Now!? caucus. Biden says everyone should be let go from Gitmo ? except, in a crucial caveat, ?Those we have reason to keep, keep.? Ah, there?s the rub.

We captured more than 10,000 people in Afghanistan. Roughly 750 ended up at Gitmo ? exactly because we had reason to keep them. The number now is down to 500, as cases are constantly reviewed. Unfortunately, the release process isn?t perfect. Two former detainees were killed in fighting in Afghanistan last year, and another was picked up in a raid on a terrorist training camp. A former detainee in Pakistan was suspected of involvement in the deadly kidnapping of two Chinese engineers.

Does Biden favor recapturing those ex-Gitmo detainees, and if so, where would we put them? Where is he suggesting we ?keep? all the Gitmo detainees we have now? If there weren?t Gitmo, they would have to be held somewhere very like Gitmo ? unless Biden wants to move them to a penitentiary in his home state of Delaware and afford them rights of American criminal defendants.

Which would effectively mean releasing them. Without Miranda warnings and all the rest of it, Gitmo defendants would very likely escape criminal charges on procedural grounds. Indeed, under our legal system, they would have reason to sue the U.S. government for unlawful imprisonment. In the Gitmo panic, the U.S. is taking a step toward becoming the first country in world history to prove itself incapable of the elemental act of self-defense of simply detaining its enemies.

The close-Gitmo crowd says Gitmo has bad p.r. ?It?s become an icon for bad stories,? says Martinez. Of course it has ? because people lie about it. Amnesty International calls it a ?gulag.? The foreign press makes up lurid tales about it. Newsweek falsely reports that Gitmo guards flushed a Koran down a toilet. Martinez himself would be an icon for bad stories if international organizations and the press spread falsehoods about him.

The U.S. has nothing to be ashamed of. As Rep. Duncan Hunter (R., Calif.), has pointed out, this last Sunday detainees were served orange-glazed chicken, steamed peas and mushrooms, and rice pilaf for dinner ? better fare than many U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Detainees are issued Korans and surgical masks in which to hang the holy books in their cells to keep them off the ground.

The call to prayer goes out five times a day, and detainees are instructed how to face toward Mecca. Guards are forbidden from walking in certain areas during prayer time, because the squeaking of their shoes might distract the detainees. They get excellent medical care. One released detainee had records showing he got psychological counseling for ?life circumstances issues.?

Time this week reports on an extreme Gitmo case, that of the suspected 20th hijacker who was captured at the battle of Tora Bora. He was subjected to special interrogation methods briefly approved, then revoked, by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Among other things, he was deprived of sleep. He was forced to watch a puppet show satirizing his involvement with al Qaeda and made to stand for the national anthem. A female interrogator invaded his personal space. He was made briefly to stand naked and occasionally told to bark like a dog. This was as bad as it got at Gitmo.

The administration should defend the facility there unabashedly. It should force Democrats to argue that the 9/11 hijackers shouldn?t have women stand too close to them and that rice pilaf isn?t good enough fare. It should make Democrats explain how to fight a war on terror without detaining enemy fighters, and work to stem the panic, rather than surrendering to it.