Guantanamo Gulag. (Comment)

By Cole, David | The Nation, June 9, 2003 | Go to article overview

Guantanamo Gulag. (Comment)


Cole, David, The Nation


Whatever happened to the "worst of the worst"? When the military started bringing captives to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in January 2002, it claimed that the detainees were dedicated to killing millions of Americans, and so suicidal that they would "gnaw through the hydraulic lines" of their transport plane to bring it down. Yet in recent weeks, the military has released eighteen detainees from Guantanamo, bringing to thirty-six the total number it has permitted to check out of Camp Delta since it opened. If they were the "worst of the worst," why have forty-two now been allowed to go free? Unless we are to believe that the military is intentionally setting loose suicidal killers bent on murdering us, the only conclusion one can draw is that the military's initial assessment of a significant number of detainees was mistaken. Other reports confirm that conclusion. Military officials have admitted that there are in fact no "big fish" on Guantanamo and that many of the detainees may be there by mistake. Some were brought in for rewards by bounty-hunters. One of the men released claimed to be over 100 years old. And in recent weeks, the military has confirmed that among the detainees still held are juveniles as young as 13. The worst of the worst?

These developments only underscore the legal and moral bankruptcy of the government's position on the Guantanamo detainees. From the outset the Bush Administration has invoked the law of war to justify their detention but has refused to comply with the most basic obligations of that law. It is true, as the Administration argues, that the law of war permits detention of "enemy combatants" for the duration of a conflict and that those who violate the laws of war are "unprivileged" combatants not entitled to prisoner-of-war status. But where there is any doubt about a detainee's status, the Geneva Conventions require a hearing before a competent tribunal--hearings we have routinely held in prior conflicts.

The Administration claims it has determined categorically that all Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters were "unprivileged combatants" and therefore no purpose would be served by holding such hearings. But that assumes everyone held at Guantanamo was fighting for the Taliban or Al Qaeda. …

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