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Published: Friday, 7/7/2006

Guantanamo stands for everything Americans don't

GUANTANAMO Bay has become a recruitment poster for al-Qaeda and a sign to the rest of the world that America is not to be taken at its word. Would-be terrorists see freedom-exporting infidels boast of a culture that is decent and democratic. But Guantanamo exposes the truth. The international community hears Washington denounce rogue nations that operate outside the collective will of the international community. But Guantanamo exposes the hypocrisy behind the indignation.

The military prison at the U.S. Naval base in Cuba, which has been holding hundreds of detainees for years without charge, is more about the Bush Administration than about thwarting Islamic extremists.

Gitmo has always been, as one writer put it, a laboratory for the administration's edgiest ideas about how to fight the war on terrorism.

And with an ever pliant Congress, the White House can freely experiment with how far its power can go with all things terror-related.

It alone decides what rules or constitutional rights apply in the long-term confrontation with violent extremism. It alone can imprison detainees indefinitely, call them enemy combatants, and declare them ineligible for customary legal protections.

Despite admonitions from former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor that war does not give the President a "blank check" to limit rights or waive the rule of law, the Bush Administration has proceeded as if it does.

It assumed authority to interpret how detainees should be treated and to what extent torture prohibitions can be skirted. To avoid official scrutiny captured individuals can either be whisked to secret CIA locations abroad for interrogation or, like Guantanamo, outside access can be severely restricted.

Prisoner rights afforded by the Geneva Conventions do not apply and neither do fundamental American values like due process.

The Bush Administration schemed to legitimize its laboratory in Guantanamo with a judicial process unprecedented in U.S. history, one which gives detainees far less rights than if they went through the normal military system of courts-martial.

Ostensibly to protect classified information and introduce evidence that might not be admissible in the conventional system, the administration worked to bend the rule of law with more flexible military commissions.

Of less concern was the likelihood of compromised fairness in the legal war on terrorism.

But the Supreme Court spoiled everything. It rebuked the Bush Administration for declaring its commissions legitimate when they violate international law and are unsupported by any federal law.

Funny how the same administration that makes its own rules to fit its own agenda is quick to condemn those who do likewise.

Meanwhile, even though more than half of the detainees at Guantanamo reportedly never had any intention of committing hostile acts against Americans or their allies, they languish in legal limbo.

Doesn't matter to the GOP, which only has midterm elections on its mind.

Capitol Hill Republicans have already signaled their willingness to rush through legislative approval of the military-justice system advocated by the White House.

It's their way of showing toughness on terrorism as opposed to upholding the fundamental American value of due process.

What a shame. Congress finally has the opportunity to assert itself as an equal partner in the triumvirate of a government way out of balance.

But watch the legislative branch squander the chance in exchange for political expediency.

When the 9/11 terrorists attacked New York and Washington they aimed to destroy America's financial and government centers. Didn't happen. Five years later New York and Washington are resilient in their rebirth.

But with the administration's strategy of sustained intimidation, al-Qaeda may be succeeding beyond its wildest dreams in destroying America's will to fight for its own liberties.

Since 9/11 a steady erosion of hard-won freedoms has occurred without much of a struggle. Whatever the President wants in restricted rights and unilateral power he gets.

We get the disdain of the world for a government that preaches democracy but practices autocratic rule. The glaring hypocrisy is all al-Qaeda needs to field new recruits who hate what America represents.

We should hate that Guantanamo stands for everything we don't as Americans. But we don't have the fortitude to buck an imperious administration bent on winning its way.



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