In December 2001, as the campaign to overthrow the Taliban regime in
Afghanistan was winding down, the Pentagon announced that it would use the
U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to hold prisoners swept up in
That seemed like a good idea at the time. In many cases, it is a good idea
now. But questionable arrests and recurring allegations of prisoner abuse
are beginning to undercut U.S. goals. With 550 men from 40 nations still
detained indefinitely three years after their arrest, a new approach is needed.
The Bush administration contends that the detainees are illegal enemy
combatants who can be held indefinitely. In spite of a U.S. Supreme Court
ruling in June that the prisoners may challenge their incarceration in U.S.
courts, Justice Department lawyers continue to tell federal judges that the
men have no rights that can be enforced by the courts.
Complaints of abusive treatment are rising and attracting headlines around
the world. A recently leaked summary of an International Red Cross report
complained of tactics “tantamount to torture.” Even the FBI has warned
Pentagon officials that harsh treatment would produce “unreliable results.”
Fresh claims of “systematic abuse” were raised Friday in front of Europe’s
top human-rights body by a former detainee from England who was released in
March. He and three other Britons are suing the U.S. government for $10
million each in damages. And The Washington Post reported Friday that the
CIA maintained a secret prison within a prison at Guantanamo, hiding some
al-Qaeda captives from outside observers.
Some of the Guantanamo detainees were seized not on the battlefield but
thousands of miles away in Africa and Europe. In one case, six men were
snatched by U.S. agents in Bosnia and taken to Guantanamo even though the
Bosnian Supreme Court had found no credible evidence to support a claim
that they were plotting to bomb the U.S. Embassy in neighboring Serbia.
A Justice Department lawyer told a federal judge this month that the United
States is entitled to grab anyone, anywhere in the world, it suspects of
aiding al-Qaeda, even inadvertently, and hold that person indefinitely