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Published: Saturday, 6/9/2007

The shame of Guantanamo

THE suicide of a Saudi Arabian prisoner last week at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, once more reminded Americans of one of the most shameful aspects of the U.S. war on terrorists.

Abd al-Rahman al-Amiri was a nine-year veteran of the Saudi army. He reportedly had confessed to going to Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban against the U.S.-installed Afghan government and the Americans. He was captured in Pakistan more than five years ago and was then sent to Guantanamo. He was the fourth suicide at Guantanamo in the past year.

For context, prisoners held for long periods of time with no likelihood of release do sometimes commit suicide. But in U.S. prisons at least, with the exception of Guantanamo, this might occur after trial, with defense, appeals, and sentencing.

The situation of prisoners at Guantanamo is totally different, and a shame to American standards of justice.

Some 380 are still held although 400 have been released. Of the 380, the Department of Defense has scheduled 75 for trial, under the 2006 Military Commissions Act. Some of its provisions correspond to procedures in U.S. civilian courts. Some do not.

Evidence obtained by "coercion" - in other words, torture - is admissable, for example. "Classified" evidence will not be provided to the defendant, or censored. Another 80 prisoners are scheduled for transfer to other countries.

That leaves 225 with nothing to look forward to except more years at Guantanamo. It will not be surprising if more of them try to kill themselves, although many Americans may say "so what?"

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Colleen Graffy called last year's Guantanamo suicides "a good P.R. move" on their part although a Bush Administration spokesperson later criticized her characterization.

There is no question that some of the prisoners held at Guantanamo are enemies of the United States. If they weren't when they were brought there, they are now. But the way the Bush Administration has chosen to deal with the problem becomes worse, with each passing day, than the problem itself in its implications for the integrity of American justice, at home and abroad.

To hold hundreds of prisoners on a base in a foreign country without the usual safeguards of the American judicial system is simply wrong. It is, in fact, distinctly un-American.

Last month the House passed an amendment to next year's Department of Defense spending bill requiring that the Guantanamo prisoners be put on trial, transferred, or released within 60 days. That amendment has it right. Once it is achieved, and once Guantanamo's cells are emptied, the facility should be closed, once and for all.

Special offshore military courts are for countries that do not respect rights, not America.



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